Travel Tales: A French Eating Quirk
An interesting thing I learned while being in France and being with French people is the following:
French people on the whole, hate eating and touching food with their fingers.
Let that sink in.
It’s not to say that ALL of them won’t ever touch food with their fingers, or that they are ALL like that, but apparently, the majority of French folk, abhor dishes that do not allow them to use cutlery to eat.
It is something I see over and over again, even if the French person is in another country like in Spain or Canada, they will pretty much do everything possible to avoid touching food with their fingers, even if it means wasting half of it.
I witness time and time again, friends & even family members of my partner, being served chicken wings, and refusing to use their fingers like everyone else, opting to fight with the bone using a knife and fork.
In the end, most of the meat is left on the one chicken wing they’ve done battle with the entire meal, and they’re too exhausted to try again with another.
Some French people are okay with touching little things like chips, pieces of chorizo (a sausage) sliced up, to eat as-is or to put it on bread… or even eating little raw cherry tomatoes with their fingers instead of using a spoon or a fork, but when it comes to actual, hot, meals.. forget it.
Even pizza, is eaten with a fork and knife, not with your fingers. NO JOKE.
My partner remembers this, and told me that it was true, even if I didn’t believe him.
I’m pretty sure burritos would also be eaten with a fork and knife, if they did not already have a good wrapping of tortilla (a bread substitute) around the food, and a foil covering as well for easy eats.
That said, there are two main staples in cuisine that simply do not allow the use of cutlery, and you absolutely HAVE to use your fingers. You can argue with me how you wish, but you cannot argue that chicken wings and ribs, two beloved menu items in North America have to be eaten with your fingers.
A funny story of cultural shock is when my partner first came to Canada from France.
He told me that in France no one ate with their fingers (I laughed so hard at this my belly hurt), and when he saw a Chicken Wings ‘n’ Ribs Shack in Canada for the first time, he did a double-take and took a picture.
He simply could not believe that we would so blatantly advertise for eating foods with your fingers here, that he went in and had to eat a meal there to see it for himself.
He saw people happily stuffing themselves on chicken wings and ribs, and he remembers feeling exhilarated to see people actually gnawing on the ribs to get all the meat off (DEFINITELY a no-no in France, even in casual dining).
As a side note, my partner also told me that along with not eating with your fingers, you are also not allowed to use bread to wipe up your plate to get the last bits of the good gravy or sauce.
You have to use a little trick where you throw the piece of bread discreetly onto the plate, pretend it was there to begin with, and then use your fork to casually drag it through the sauce to absorb as much as possible, then pop it in your mouth.
Under no circumstances are you allowed to actively be seen doing this, or to purposefully use your fingers with a hunk of bread to wipe your plate clean.
This is why he says, “French people are generally not adventurous travellers“, they simply cannot believe it at first when people eat with their fingers in other countries (like on banana leaves in Malaysia), or share a large communal bowl of food to dip into with their fingers without separate, individual plates (in Middle Eastern or African countries).
The ones who DO travel and come across this, are very open-minded, but probably surprised for the first time and then embrace it heartily for the most part.
Another funny story:
I remember a French co-worker at work telling me once how he went to a chicken and ribs place for the first time in his life in Canada for lunch with co-workers, and after eating the food, he could still smell the sauce on his fingers the entire day while working in the office. His wife (French), refuses to go to those establishments to eat.
I told him a little slice of lemon and proper cleaning under the nails works wonders. 🙂
Another time, we were all eating together, and a Chinese girl was chewing off a piece of chicken that happened to have a bone in it.
She chewed off the meat in her mouth and then spat the bone onto her plate with a solid THUNK (which is absolutely normal and acceptable in China and I would do the same had I been in China, just as I would have slurped my soup noodles in Japan if it is acceptable and encouraged).
That French co-worker of mine saw that, dropped his fork, gave a gasp, had a shocked look on his face, followed by chagrin, and said:
“Oh la la… you absolutely cannot do that.. *laugh*
You absolutely cannot….
Wow. Oh my god.“
I couldn’t control my guffaws at first, but I ended up being able to calm myself down enough to explain what eating etiquette is like in France, and why what she did was so funny to the both of us.
(For the record, if using your fingers is considered bad table manners in France, can you imagine if someone spat a bone on their plate?)