a dining table with glasses and plates

Navigating a Parisian Dinner Invitation

Note from the editor: Parisian for more than a decade, ex-chef turned food tour guide Chef Tris shares his passion for French food and life in Paris on his blog Eat Like the French. Tris has recently joined the TAIP team with the hope of guiding us through the culinary minefields of Paris to ensure you always eat like a local in France. — MS

“I’m never inviting young Americans to my house ever again,” said my wife, her voice tinged with exasperation, as our two new American friends left our Parisian flat. The evening, which began with excitement over a Dungeons and Dragons game, had devolved into a lesson in cultural missteps. This stark declaration was a wake-up call — a reminder that French dining etiquette is an art form, one that demands respect and understanding. I love sharing my passion for French food and the art de la table, and was delighted to write a blog post for TAIP to act as your guide to navigating a Parisian dinner invitation with grace and charm.

The Invitation

It is rare to be invited to a Parisian’s flat for dinner. Some think it’s due to the size of the apartments, while others claim it’s because Parisians much prefer to eat in the plethora of restaurants and bars that the city has to offer. If you’re lucky enough to receive an invitation to a Parisian’s home, the first rule is to RSVP promptly. A swift response shows respect for your host’s planning and reflects your appreciation for the invite.

Punctuality in Paris isn’t the same as in the US. Aim to arrive 10 to 20 minutes after the appointed time — this is known as the petit quart d’heure de politesse, a little buffer to allow your host those final moments of preparation.

Prepping for the Visit

Choosing the right outfit is crucial. Parisians have an innate sense of style — think smart-casual but with a touch of chic. And don’t forget a gift! While flowers are lovely, wine or beer is the norm. If wine seems daunting, especially in a country where it’s an art form, visit an independent caviste. Tell them your budget and trust their expertise to select a bottle that will impress. Champagne is always a hit if you’re unsure, although we prefer pét-nat or crémant for more bang for your buck. Rely on the expertise of your caviste; they all speak English and will offer excellent and honest advice. If children are present, bring something delightful for them — sweets or chocolates, or a unique treat from your home country. My daughter was over the moon with a box of Fruit Loops, a sugary cereal delight from America that struck fear into my wife’s heart.

Whatever you bring will be opened and eaten in front of you because the French think that’s the polite way to do it.

The Arrival

Walking into a Parisian home is an exercise in social grace. The moment you cross the threshold, greet everyone with a warm “bonsoir” and the customary bise — two cheek kisses. This isn’t just a formality; it’s a way to break the ice and show respect. Your host will likely take your coat and offer you a drink. Engage in small talk, and make it a point to remember names. An easy icebreaker is to ask, “How do you know our host?” Avoid the banality of questions about work, as the French work to live, not the other way around.

Dining Etiquette

Dinner in Paris is a dance of manners and tradition. Your host will indicate where to sit, so wait for their cue. Keep your hands visible on the table, but never your elbows. When it comes to serving yourself, take modest portions. It’s polite to leave a bit on the serving plate in front of you, signaling that you’re satisfied but respectful of the host’s effort.

The table may be set with many glasses and different types of cutlery; do not be scared to ask questions if you do not know. My wife’s eyebrows hit the ceiling on seeing one of our guests pour wine into a water glass. What ensued was a long conversation about the glassware and which you should use for what.

Do not be scared to ask questions. If there is one thing every French person I know loves to talk about, it is the food and the traditions around it. Teaching you how to act at a dinner table is something they love, and they will always be happy to educate you.

The highlight of the meal is often the cheese course. In France, cheese isn’t just food; it’s a cultural icon. Treat it with reverence. Take small portions from the cheese board onto your plate using the cheese knife provided, and then put more cheese onto a tiny piece of bread so that the bread acts as a vessel for the cheese, not the other way around.

Never mix different types of drinks in the same glass, especially not wine. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask your host for guidance.

The Conversation

Parisians value authenticity and depth in conversation. Be prepared for directness. Parisians will always avoid superficial topics and will always tell you what they are thinking. Engage genuinely, listen attentively, and don’t shy away from intellectual discussions. They can spot insincerity from a mile away, so it’s best to be yourself.

The Departure

When the evening winds down, thank your host sincerely. While a Parisian will never request for you to leave, and an evening at a Parisian’s house may last into the early hours, pay attention to the stifled yawn or the question of how you are planning to get home. The metro rules the transport roof in Paris, so if in doubt, explain you must get the last metro home and ask for advice on how to get there. Before you leave, offer to clean the table or carry a few dishes to the kitchen. A follow-up message the next day expressing your gratitude will leave a lasting positive impression.

Being invited to a Parisian home is more than a social event — it’s an immersion into French culture. With these tips, you can navigate the evening with confidence, leaving your hosts impressed by your respect and understanding of their customs.

Photo by Nils Stahl on Unsplash

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