The intricacies of the language, the culture, les bonnes manières in France are absolutely fascinating to me. My-Reason-For-Living-In-France knows all the nuances of what can be, even for the French I’m told, a complex labyrinth of what one does and what one does not do.
Little clues of the language misspoken or inappropriate gestures, ever so subtle or indiscernible by someone like me can signal a great deal to the French. One may “eat” an apple, but when it comes to dinner, one dines, for example.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m addicted to the petit books that are published with the expressed purpose of correcting oft forgotten good and bad (bonnes et mauvaises) manners in this complicated society.
I think these books are being written because the French, probably like other citizens of the world, are slowly seeing their culture slip away into the abyss of cell phones at table.
Back to my latest read then for more comportment counsel:
- In France, men enter restaurants before women. The tradition dates back to the 19th century when auberges could be of questionable reputation and the man would decide whether he should enter with a lady.
- In a restaurant with banquettes, women are always given that most comfortable seat. (I’ve often seen men leap into the banquette, forgetting their bonnes manières.)
- It’s freezing outside. Acquaintances, a man and a woman, meet on the street. Both are wearing gloves. They shake hands. The man removes his gloves, the woman does not. Life isn’t fair. . .
- The famous “baisemain” or kiss “on” the hand, three rules apply:
- The man lowers his head to the woman’s hand. She does not raise her hand to his lips in anticipation of the gesture.
- A baisemain is never performed in public, i.e. on the street.
- A man’s lips hover over a woman’s hand, never actually touching her skin.
Finally — at least for today, because I haven’t finished reading my book — Madame Caracalla cautions us not to “abuse” the application of our perfume. “A few drops and no more,” the author tells us, “and in the morning opt for a light fragrance.”