advice to daphne – a french dinner

by Sharon Santoni
romantic centerpiece with blue candles in glass vases and lavender in tin pots
My dear Daphne,
Delighted to hear that you’re beginning to invite the locals to dinner. Good for you old girl, nothing like grabbing the ‘vache’ by the horns.
You asked me about dinner étiquette, and I am very flattered that you think me so worldly wise. Here in the country of course, things can be kept fairly simple, but I should imagine that in your lah-di-da  apartment in Versailles, you’re going to come across some real French bourgeois, totally ‘fanatiques’ about ‘les bonnes manières’.
linen napkin in a jeweled napkin ring, with crystal flowers on a metal branch



Of course you could always play ‘l’eccentrique‘ who does her own thing, but the French will be more comfortable if you follow some of their rules too.
You should invite your guests for 8 to 8.30pm. They won’t arrive until 8.45 to 9 –    whatever you do, don’t tut-tut or  look surprised.
They will bring you small or not-so-small gifts, which you either open straight away, or maybe with coffee after supper.  If there are any extremely polite single men invited,  they’ll have flowers delivered to your home during the afternoon, so that you have time to arrange them before everyone  arrives.
You should serve an apéritif…. Champagne always goes down well, wine is acceptable, cocktails a guaranteed success.  Little ‘amuse-gueules’ are an excellent idea. ‘La femme française’ will order these from her ‘boulangerie‘. If you have a good cheese pastry recipe, you could always try makng some of those. Peanuts and crisps are better avoided, fresh ‘crudités’ with fat-free dips will be appreciated by the slim parisiennes, always careful with their silhouette.
Sometime after 9.30 you can lead your guests to the table where they will expect to be placed, either by you or by your homme.   Separate the couples, place the most amusing ones in the centre.   A perfect hostess (ie you cherie!) will bite the bullet and place the most boring guest next to her.  By the way darling, I know you’re very good at telling jokes, but please refrain. ….In France, only men are meant to tell jokes at the dinner table.
Now,  you’re a marvellous cook so I don’t need to advise you on the menu. Don’t forget though that the French take their cheese before dessert, and it’s considered a huge and, to my mind ridiculous, faux pas, to pass the cheese platter around more than once.   Don’t ask me why – c’est comme ça!
sorbet with mint in a champagne flute
They will expect water available on the table, with a separate glass, and a different wine for each course.
By the time they’ve nibbled and chatted their way through your delicous 4-courser it will be near one in the morning.  

Time to invite your guests to return to the living room where (in your spare time!) you’ll have cleared away the apéritif and  rekindled the fire!

You may offer coffee, but should also have a choice of tisanes and even tea. The men will appreciate a ‘digestif’ , such as a cognac, and a few good chocolates won’t go amiss.

Expect them to leave sometime between 1 and 2 am.  If they’re gone before midnight, you’ve done something wrong – if they’re still there chez toi at 3 you’re a star!!
Voila darling, wish I could be there, please let me know how it goes…
Ton amie
(Daphne is my new imaginary friend, freshly arrived in France, trying to understand not only the lingo but also the do’s and dont’s of polite French society.  Hope you enjoy!)
photos thank to Sia


Sanctuary Home February 11, 2011 - 6:35 pm

That was very interesting read. I don't think I'd do well entertaing the French Bourgeois…too many expectations…and I would probably fall asleep at the table. However, I'm looking forward to Daphne's adventures.
Susan : )

Yvonne - Frl.Klein February 11, 2011 - 6:40 pm

Immer wenn ich auf Deinem Blog bin, möchte ich meine Koffer packen und nach Frankreich fahren!!!
Ich liebe Lavendel, eine wunderschöne Deko!
Ein schönes Wochenende,
viele liebe Grüße, Yvonne

Stephanie February 11, 2011 - 6:50 pm

Such a charming peak into a different culture! Thank you for sharing!

Amy February 11, 2011 - 7:05 pm

The last imaginary friends I had were Felix the Cat and Johnny Cash. How do I get me a Daphne will all that superb advice?

The enchanted home February 11, 2011 - 7:10 pm

Wow how entertaining! Amazing always to read about the different cultures and expectations. Well I would have a pickle to pick on a few counts….don't pass the cheese more than once? I think not..I LOVE CHEESE and would need a second helping! And on occasion if I really like it, I love reciting an old joke or two….that would be such a bummer to not be able to entertain my friends with good joke because I came from the wrong gene pool:( Of course I would respect the culture and not indulge but still! And no peanuts or crisps..but veges? Oh man, this could be a problem…..but then again thats why they all look so svelte isn't it! Very interesting, amusing and fascinating..thanks!

Gina February 11, 2011 - 8:13 pm

Loved this post. Was raised in a European home, so no surprises there. HOWEVER, WE SERVE CHAMPAGNE AT 5:30( THAT IS P.M.)and Dinner not later than 7:30 or 8:00. I don't tell jokes. We may serve cheese and fruit as dessert and an apeterif is enjoyed by both male and female guests. I expect my guests to go home by around 10:00p.m. or before.
This was a great post Sharon, would like to hear more.

Donna February 11, 2011 - 8:37 pm

Sharon…such a fascinating post!! I'd be asleep before the main course!! Does one sleep in late there? That may have something to do with the lateness of it all. Really interesting customs!!

IAMSNOWFLAKE February 11, 2011 - 9:10 pm

I really enjoyed reading this post. Charming and thoughtful men who get flowers delivered sometime before the event, I so hate to have to run around looking for the perfect vase, cutting and prepping the bouquet when the guests have already arrived. Same hours around here … though in some cases guests will linger until 2 or 3 am (if there are teenagers in the party that's the time they'll start getting ready to go out dancing here in Argentina). Have a nice weekend!

Laura February 11, 2011 - 10:12 pm

Would it be considered terribly rude if I excused myself and left the party in full swing? I could never stay up past 12am (not these days anyway)… Great post! Lx

Ann February 11, 2011 - 10:21 pm

What a fun post! I am afraid I'd be a party pooper- 1 a.m. would be my limit.

The Dutch parties I've been to seem much more casual. Lots of food, even more drinks.

When I finally come to visit you, perhaps a party will be in order!

**Anne** February 11, 2011 - 10:48 pm

Great post and insight into a culture that I could not even begin to understand. 🙂 Looking forward to reading more instructions for Daphne.
Anne xx

Terri M February 11, 2011 - 11:21 pm

I love this. Can't wait for more.

Roseanna February 12, 2011 - 12:20 am

I think I would enjoy my French guests immensely! I am hoping one day to get the chance to entertain them.

chateaudelille February 12, 2011 - 12:50 am

I love this style of writing. Such fun! I also loved the info. Amazing it starts so late. Fiona

Jane @ the girl in the brick house February 12, 2011 - 5:21 am

Great post – but I'm glad I'm not entertaining chez toi as it sounds rather daunting!!

Victoria Goodridge February 12, 2011 - 7:42 am

delicious Sharon 🙂

bikim February 12, 2011 - 10:22 am

great to know that it's not so different from what we do around here (portugal). in fact, rules are preety much the same!
happy weekend,

The Cloth Shed February 12, 2011 - 11:14 am

That is so amazing…we were at a supper last night provided by a couple who have visited France for years and the evening progressed in exactly the same manner!
Aperitifs, different wines, cheese before dessert, coffee, digestifs and chocolates….
We all left at 1.30am having had a fabulous time.
Julie x

I hadn't realised that to leave before midnight was a sign of a poor evening!

Rosita February 12, 2011 - 12:35 pm

is very nice, but what you wrote, I often step into your blog, I would love to live in a place like this … the compositions in the picture are a true spor an ode to joy, romance, love they give off , and a great desire to love …. you know? I also have an imaginary friend, as you have imagined that this friend is there to learn customs and traditions … that sometimes I spend my diary … and now dedicate my blog … Jeliel is called, is the name of my guardian angel …. come back and see you soon … hug and a good weekend. .. greetings also to Daphne, I hope you are fine there …
I hope to be able to understand me

Delana February 12, 2011 - 2:06 pm

You nailed it, Sharon. It is exactly like that. I was talking with a friend yesterday who was complaining how tired she was because her guests had stayed so late. I explained how things work and how impolite it would be for them to leave early and that from now on, if she wants to dine with french friends, she'd better take a nap first. That's the only way I can handle it.

Grace @ Sense and Simplicity February 12, 2011 - 2:47 pm

Our French visitors described the same thing to us. It all seems so late and like everyone could enjoy it a lot more if it was moved up by an hour or so (and you wouldn't be so hungry waiting for dinner to be served at 9).

We only drink champagne for special occasions so we have a backlog of bottles that were given to us by our French friends. I can see that you would drink it much more often if you were drinking it every time you had visitors over for dinner. I'm curious to know what they would serve with the apertif. I can't quite picture what that would be (well the veggies I can picture – haha).

The husband of our French friends is very rigid about what and when he eats food. I found it rather shocking to be frank. I suggested that he could get some soup at the airport for lunch and he told me he only eats soup at the evening meal. I couldn't believe it – I mean it wasn't like I had asked him to have it for breakfast, but what difference does the noon or evening meal make. Anyway he had to suffer through the meals I served while he was here and seemed to manage. I'm curious to eat with them this summer when we go to France. Thanks for the fun recount.

Anonymous February 12, 2011 - 4:46 pm

Dear Sharon,
this was a great post about the peak of 'les bonnes manières'and to get to know the rules of different nations.Here at us in Hungary people generally organize a great and heavy meal for special occasions, but with our growing older together with all of our friends tend to follow your rules as well.The "check in " time would be too late even in summer time for an open air occasion.I invite my guests usually for 6 pm and serve the first course half an hour later.
I try to fix a motto for the diner: like this time of the year hungarians eat freshly slaughtered meat and sausages with sauerkraut,and you have to find a trustful source for getting really fresh ingredients.It is always a surprise for the guests to see the proper decoration and to read the menu card at the entrance of our home like it were a restaurant.
love Dorka from the Great Hungarian Plain

Chrissy February 12, 2011 - 5:12 pm

Oh I just found your blog and it is absolutely fabulous. I have had the pleasure of visiting France with my husband and meeting some of his business associates there. I have to say when we were at dinner I always wonder what the expectations were to have guest over. Even when you went out to dinner, you were never done before 11 PM or soooo….
I am now a follower and cannot wait to read more 🙂

à la parisienne February 12, 2011 - 9:20 pm

Thank you for this post. Here in America (especially Texas) things are so laid back-yet un peu ordinaire. I would be so anxious and stressed if I were ever to host a group of friends in France. I don't think I could handle the pressure.


Lost in Provence February 13, 2011 - 5:28 pm

Oh my gosh, what an excellent post! Verrrry helpful for anyone coming to France for a visit. And um, good reminders for some of us who live here too! (I MUST NOT tell jokes during dinner!)

One little thing I found surprising at the beginning might be worth adding:
Although your powder room should be spotless (with fresh towels and soaps), don't expect anyone to use it. It is definitely frowned upon for anyone to visit the WC no matter how long the evening goes on. If you must (and that only after dinner is finished of course) make sure to close the door behind you when you leave.

I hope that you will keep giving Miss Daphne more advice!

Pauline Bonjour (Australia) February 19, 2011 - 7:45 am

This comment has been removed by the author.

Pauline Bonjour (Australia) February 19, 2011 - 10:07 am

Hi sharon
I have been a follower of your blog for several months now you have managed to keep me sane through our long hot summer!!!!! I have found your pics soo so charming your pics of your snow covered house and garden have made my summer days so much easy to cope with so I thank you for that pleasure.
I have been blessed with several wonderful vists to France and your blog makes me want to do it all again so I thank you for excellent post and wish wonderful days full of pleasure .
Au revoir

Kathy in Memphis January 13, 2015 - 5:07 pm

I’d need a long nap to entertain that late!!


Leave a Comment