Observing Proper Protocol in France
By Sherri Ferris, President and CEO
Protocol Professionals, Inc.

Early Dining Customs

Henry IX was the first to use a fork, around 1713. Prior to that, people ate with their fingers and/or a knife and spoon, even Louis IV. It was thought that the fork represented the devil and people did not want to put the devil into their mouths.

Gift Giving

Never give wine in France. However, a man may give alcohol such as a fine cognac. Unlike the American custom, hostess gifts are not necessary as it is assumed that a guest will reciprocate with an invitation in the future. The exception would be the weekend or overnight guest in a French home in the city or country. In this case, candy would be appropriate from a woman, alcohol from a man. The candy should be fine European chocolate.


Never give mums or carnations. Mixed bouquets are best. They may contain white flowers but should not be exclusively white. White flowers would be appropriate for weddings and funerals. Flowers should be sent to the home either the day of the luncheon or dinner party, or the immediate day after, but they are never brought to the home with you. The French don't like scrambling for a vase at the last minute.


One is obligated to eat everything served to them in a private home. When dining out, you do not have to finish everything on your plate. Whether dining at home or in a restaurant, one can NEVER get up from the table during the meal. Invitations are extended for supper/dinner but NEVER just for cocktails. The cocktail period is very short, no longer than 15 to 30 minutes.

You are asked to arrive at either 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. Invitations to the countryside are set a bit earlier because the host knows guests are driving longer distances and will want to leave earlier than usual to return to the city.

You are not expected to cancel at the last minute but if you must, call the hostess; if you are not feeling well, it is expected that you will take aspirin and come anyway.

After the meal, you will be expected to adjourn to the sitting room for coffee and conversation. Your signal for the appropriate time to leave will be when the hostess serves water, or occasionally juice or soft drinks after coffee. You are not expected to leave until after these cold beverages are served, usually around 11:30 p.m. Business lunches or late suppers do not include adjournment to the sitting room.


Toasting follows international custom and can either be done at the beginning of the meal or at dessert. You must never grab the glass by the bowl, always the stem. As in America, you can clink glasses at casual dinners with friends or family but NEVER at official or formal functions.

Business Card Exchange

As in the American military, the French used to place calling cards on a silver tray at the entry table but this is no longer the formal custom. The assumption is that the host or hostess knows you, as you have been invited to a private home, you do not have to present your card. If it is necessary, give your card to the host's secretary for later reference.

Making a positive impression on the French - Advice for Americans

  1. Don't be shy, the French are not.
  2. Arrive on time, but never early or late. Arriving early is considered very bad taste!
  3. Eat everything on your plate.
  4. Never leave the table during the meal. The French use the expression "We die seated in France."
Additional Resources on France:
Please visit our bookstore

This article is copyrighted and may not be published, broadcast, re-written or otherwise distributed in any form without the prior written consent of our authors.
Please contact us at:

Copyright © 2000-2022  Protocol Professionals, Inc.™ All rights reserved.