French Party Fouls
Party in France like the locals
We know that we keep obsessing over the possibility of going back to France soon (or anywhere in Europe, or anywhere in general) because of vaccine distribution, but can you blame us? And we’re ready to celebrate… on dance floors, at house parties, on the beach, you name it. But, even when partying in France, there are rules. Read on to discover five French party fouls.
1. Not giving the bises
This might have changed since COVID-19, but once upon a time (a year ago), when you arrived at a party, you’d need to go around and kiss everyone. In America, we usually wait to be a few drinks in before this… No, in France, it’s only polite to go around, introduce yourself should there be guests you don’t know, and kiss everyone on the cheek (the bises!). This isn’t only for formal dinner parties, this is true for Saturday nights sitting around casually with friends. The process can be long depending on how many people are gathered together, but to not do so would be considered cold and impolite. Obviously, if you’re attending a massive party with more than, say, fifteen or so guests, this rule goes out the window, but it would still be completely normal for people to walk up faire la bise when they arrive. After all, it’s the French way of saying hello!
2. Bise-ing the wrong people
This might seem to negate the point we made above, but it actually works in tandem with the #1 rule. See, if you are a woman, you are expected to kiss everyone on the cheek, but if you’re a man, there’s an extra set of rules. You don’t kiss everyone. Although many conversations are being had at the moment about what is sexist in French (and American and… ) culture, few people seem upset with double-standard when it comes to who kisses who on the cheek. Men do faire la bise with other men...close friends, brothers, fathers, etc. But men would never kiss a man they just met on the cheek (even though women are expected to). No, the manly thing to do when two dudes meet for the first time is to shake hands. But ladies, if you extend your hand at a party instead of your cheek, you’d be considered extremely cold (or foreign). And you’d likely be pulled in for a kiss regardless. We love kisses and handshakes and think that everyone should do what feels most comfortable for them, regardless of gender.
3. Gulping down nice wine
The French can party (read on to discover more). The French can drink and eat in excess, just like anyone. But wine is sacred. That’s not to say that you won’t attend a French party where revelers guzzle wine with abandon. But that wine is usually the inexpensive, easily-accessible kind. If someone should bring a nicer bottle of wine (meaning rarer, more expensive, and older vintage, a “noble” estate), no matter how wild the party is, it would be considered sacrilege to do anything besides savor it slowly and thoughtfully. I attended a small house party once where half of the guests were American, the other half French. The American guests finished one particularly beautiful bottle of Burgundy before any of the French guests had had a chance to taste it - and the tension in the room was palpable for the rest of the evening. So beware!
4. Eating wrong
A French dinner party should be relaxed and enjoyable, but there are definitely rules to follow when it comes to what and how you eat. Many a foreign guest falls prey to the aperitif hour, where drinks and snacks are offered as a quick bite and sip before your meal begins. It’s very easy to overdo it here, but watch out, because you’ll still be expected to sit and enjoy your meal afterwards. And although your host will usually ask you if you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, being a “picky eater” is not a welcome personality trait in France. Skipping your veggies or picking out a certain ingredient and pushing it to the side of your plate would raise eyebrows, for example. You should come ready to eat anything (within reason… if you’re a vegetarian, no one is going to force you to eat meat, although they might ask if they can serve you fish). But there are definitely foods off the menu should you be throwing your own dinner party. Particularly sandwiches. If you slice up bread, cheese, and charcuterie and serve it on a board for apéritif dinatoire, that’s one thing. But pile up all those ingredients in a sandwich, and you’ll be told that sandwiches are for lunch, not dinner. So plan accordingly!
It is very possible that the French invented the concept of being fashionably late (because of course they did). While one never wants to be too late (say, half an hour or more), showing up fifteen minutes late to a party or gathering is considered polite. This allows the hosts to finish up last-minute touches with ease. Showing up early is abhorred - you will likely find yourself the first guest that party-givers then have to take care of while they also finish other arrangements, like food and drink. Never show up early in France. But also… never leave too early. This is particularly true when it comes to a big celebration, like a wedding reception. If guests haven’t danced the night away until 5 AM, the reception is considered a failure. True story, the invention of what we know to be French Onion Soup comes from French parties. The soup was made to help nourish the party people (and absorb any excess alcohol) so that the festivities could continue until the wee hours of the morning.