Cultural etiquette guide to Paris
Learn to live like a local in Paris with our top tips for ordering oysters, how much to tip and how to order your morning cup of coffee.
Always say hello
Don’t try and order without first saying ‘bonjour’ to your waiter/baker/barista. This is the number one rule all over France – always say bonjour first. And, under no circumstances, ever shout ‘Garçon’!
How to tip in Paris
The service charge is usually included in the price of the bill (‘service compris’) but most diners will round up the total amount by around ten per cent to show appreciation for the meal. If you don’t leave any tip, it gives the message you didn’t enjoy it. It's generally best to leave coins in the tray used to serve the bill.
How to pass as a local
How to order a steak tartare
The classic French bistrot dish steak tartare isn’t to everyone’s taste but if you find a good one you can be converted for life. The recipe varies from restaurant to restaurant but it usually includes a raw egg yolk, salt, pepper, Dijon mustard, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and some or all of the following: capers, cornichons, parsley, onion, shallots.
Some restaurants will have the maitre d’ or waiter prepare it at the table, others will make it in the kitchen, but the important thing is that the seasonings enhance the flavour of the meat, not mask it. If you prefer not to have it completely raw, ask for it ‘aller-retour’, meaning it's fried briefly on both sides.
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Know your huitres (oysters)
What do the oyster numbers mean?
These relate to the size of the oyster, but you need to remember that the system works in – number 1 is the biggest, number 2 smaller, 3 smaller again.
Gillardeau are the most expensive oysters, with a white/nude coloured flesh usually fished from the Charente-Maritime coast. Their flavour is sweet and slightly nutty. They are so prized, they have a symbol (G in a circle ) engraved into their shell.
Fine de clair/fine de claire verte are more affordable oysters, with a salty taste and a dark green/teal colour.
Belon are salty and have a slight bitterness that catches in the throat. Be careful not to pierce belon with a fork when loosening them from the shell or they can release a bitter liquid.
Les fruits de mer
Fruits de mer – 'fruits of the sea' – is one of the most extravagent dishes you can order in Paris, though the shellfish you get on such a platter can vary, and is dependent on how much you spend. Typically you'll find palourde (clams), moules (mussels), crevettes (prawns), écrevisse (crayfish), bulots (whelks), bigorneaux (winkles), and if you're willing to spend a bit more, even lobster and scallops.
How to order a coffee
Parisians are finally embracing a new generation of good coffee, will small independent cafes providing expertly roasted beans and blends with different nuances. The terms can be a little confusing, however, so get to know your café au lait from your un crème below.
A short black coffee, more generous than an Italian or British serving, usually served after a meal. If you simply ordered “Un café, s’il vous plait”, this is what you’d get.
Not to be confused with the word for hazelnut, this is an espresso with a spoon of steamed milk on the top, a bit like a macchiato.
Usually served at breakfast, filter coffee is a bit gentler to start the day with.
Literally means a 'lengthened coffee'; an espresso with hot water or an Americano.
Café au lait
A large milky coffee. Tends to be drunk at breakfast (dip your croissant in it!) or mid-mornings.
If you’re in a trendy coffee house, this will get you a latte or flat white, complete with latte art (fancy a dusting of the Eiffel Tower on top?). This is generally a more sophisticated affair than the sloshy bowl of coffee that an order of ‘café au lait’ will bring you in the more traditional cafes.
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Travellers are advised to read the FCO travel advice for the country they are travelling to.