I read a post on Thy’s blog about how to be polite around meal time and how her young son was thanking the salmon for the meal (the blog is in Swedish), and as it was something I discussed during my Parisian weekend with my French friends, I thought it could be interesting to bring it up here:
- In France and Belgium someone usually says Bon appétit before you start to eat. I guess it is the responsibility of the hostess if you are having dinner at home with friends. My friend M and I discussed that today, she told me that last time she and her boyfriend A had invited friends over for dinner, one of the guests had said it – and M felt that somehow she had been a bad hostess for not having said it first to her guests. She thought that when she told them to start serving themselves, it was enough of a sign that they could start to eat!
- The mother of my French friend S claims that it is not “done” to say bon appétit or à tes/vos souhaits when someone sneezes (the French tradition is to say “for/to your wishes” the 1st time you sneeze, and “for/to your loves” if you sneeze a 2nd time). Apparently it is only what the masses do and not something that should be done if you are well brought up. Of course S ignores her mother’s rules most of the time, in order not to seem impolite in front of others!!
- I remember when I was a child and some of my friends thought that it was a bit strange that we always said prosit (the Swedish equivalent of bless you when sneezing). Actually I have a friend who told me a few years ago that she says prosit to me because she has noticed that we do that in my family – they don’t in her family.
Have you seen the film Singles with Bridget Fonda & Matt Dillon, it’s set in Seattle under the grunge era (i.e Nirvana, Pearl Jam (they actually star in the film) etc)? Bridget is going out with this moody musician (Matt) who mostly ignores her and spends his time playing with his grunge band Citizen Dick… Anyway, she says in the beginning that she has all these standards of how her ideal boyfriend would be and act – in the end she is down to one – that he will say bless you when she sneezes… It’s a great film!
- During the weekend in Paris, I told the French girls that we don’t really use the equivalent to the phrase bon appétit (Smaklig måltid) in Sweden but we say thank you for the meal/food. They said, ah like grace (bordsbön) – no, no, we are not thanking God for the food before the meal, we thank the cook/host after the meal!! It was very important in my family when we were children and we even taught my English friend A tack för maten (when he had said that for a week at every meal, my friend Å told him that we had fooled him and that it really meant I drive a white car – poor guy was so embarrassed that he had said that to my parents until we told him that Å was just joking!).
- In Sweden it is very common to say varsågoda (the very bad translation would be here you are) or hugg in (difficult to translate but something like grab some food) before you start.
- In France/Belgium/Spain/Italy you are always served by the hostess. I guess we Swedes seem very rude when we put the bowls, pots and serving plates on the table and expect everybody to serve themselves! I prefer it though, because everybody can decide how much to take of each dish and nobody has to voice aloud any dislikes/non-hunger to the hostess. My former French flatmate used to serve me all the time, even when I was the one who had cooked – it used to drive me crazy (and I thought that it was quite rude if I had cooked)!! I remember once when she served all our guests equally much and then half of them didn’t eat up while I was still hungry… I am sure that those guests would have not put as much on their plates if they had served themselves…
- The same for cakes, if you ask somebody to cut a piece of cake, they will start cutting up the whole cake – dividing it into equally big pieces according to how many you are. In Sweden somebody could be serve you a piece of cake, but you would have the choice to have a small or a big piece…
- In Sweden you don’t start drinking your wine straight away, you wait until the hosts proposes a toast and you have eye-contact with everybody before drinking.
- In O’s family, they will very often eat the salad straight from the big serving plate – there you would definitely say hugg in 😉
- My father always says to guests, be quick or Petra will eat it all (especially the potatoes!) – it is not true, but I do like my potatoes!
Oh well, different traditions in different countries but it is important to be aware of these differences so you don’t find people rude when they don’t do it the way you are used to.
And please, can I serve myself (at least in my own home), thank you very much!