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Aug 17, 2009 11:00 AM

Ordering in Paris

Hello all,

I will be traveling with my husband soon in Paris. We only know a few introductory phrases to get us by in French so I am concerned about ordering Paris if the waiter/waitress does not speak English.

I can comprehend the written word better than hearing it, so I'm confident when looking at a menu I can figure out the main dish and ingredients but it seems to me to be very rude to point to a menu item.

Any tips are greatly appreciated.

Thank you!

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  1. FIrst, learn hello, goodbye and thank you in French- it will serve you well. Ask nicely in French if your waiter speaks English. A good establishment should be able to offer some help as long as you are respectful.

    Here are a few links. The first 2 are books and the last is a document. You may find these helpful to translate when you get there.

    Enjoy Paris! You'll be fine!

    1. Go to your local library and check out Polly Platte's books, "Savoir Flair" & "French or Foe"; everything you need is there.

      1. Just relax about it, and try not to play the "ugly American". All French waiters & waitresses in Paris and elsewhere have at least a brushing of English, and will try to help you, not fight you, as long as you smile. So don't worry, and forget the books. It is not rude to poiint and try to pronounce the name of the dish, as long as you remember the word "Merci" .

        1 Reply
        1. Excellent! I have several key phrases in my arsenal and of course s'il vous plait and Merci are at the top. Thank you!

          7 Replies
          1. re: kittybart

            We just spent two weeks in various places in France (including Paris) and most restaurants had a very poorly translated english version of the menu (our favourite translation referred to "droppings of goat" - no idea what it was, we did not order it ;-)) and a waiter or two who spoke reasonable english. We have a passing knowledge of french which helped. I suggest you DO have a small phrase and word book. We found it really useful as some words just don't translate well. Even when we tried our french, most of the waiters opted to use their english as the common tongue. It did get a bit silly when we spoke mostly in french and they mostly in was fun though. You won't have any problem...just be courteous.

            1. re: foodiesnorth

              For info, "droppings of goat" is the litteral translation of "Crottin de Chevre", the most famous being Crottin de Chavignol; Pity you missed it, it is the best goat cheese of the Loire valley, sometimes served hot on a salad.

              1. re: monchique

                see....that is why I preferred the French menus! is a pity, but thank you for solving the mystery. It was the funniest apparent it just makes me sad!

                1. re: foodiesnorth

                  I avoid English menus, in-fact translated menu's are one of the signs for me that a restaurant is best avoided i.e. strong inverse correlation between the quality of food and the number of languages a menu is translated into.

                  I also tend to find translations miss out both interesting and key information thus trying to decipher the menu can be more rewarding. I am highly allergic to walnuts and therefore that was the first bit of French I learned, apart from that I dive in and throw caution to the wind. Yesterday we ordered "Caillettes" which turned out to be a traditional dish in Provence made from lots of offal - wonderful.

                  1. re: foodiesnorth

                    I have seen a funnier one. 15 years ago I saw, in Paris "Le coq au vin du chef" translated into "The chef's cock in red wine".

                    Sounds delicious.

                    1. re: vielleanglaise

                      Good one!
                      Here is a (true) extract of the recent menu of a restaurant near Lisbon... No need to say we re-translated it for them...

                      Squids grilled with paint (lulas grelhadas com tinta)
                      roast beef hot boss (rosbife quente chefe)
                      soaked lamb keeps (ensopado de borrego)
                      ribbons ox grilled (tranches entrecosto vitela churrasco)
                      loin filthy oven to baker (lombo porco forno à padeiro)
                      roasted filthy loin with chestnuts (lombo porco assado com castanhas)

                      And for your pud you can choose from the following:

                      Filled cookie spheres of ice cream and covered with choc. (profiteroles c/choc.)
                      little cold of lemon with Fardels of eggs (semi frio de limão c/trouxas de ovos)
                      cloud of egg whites with covering of candy of eggs (farófias à Atlântico)
                      Camel Dribble with Almond (with condensed milk) (literal translation of baba de camelo c/amêndoa)
                      mixed of the cheeses to the Boss of the Atlantic restaurant (misto de queijos à chefe)

                      I leave you with your Portuguese dictionnary!

                      1. re: monchique

                        I have in front of me a packet of sweets made in china that contain "Cat Fibre". Yummy!

            2. Yes, translations can be funny (our favorite so far was a “salad of lawyers" – meaning avocados). And, athough I agree with PhilD that the presence of a menu/carte in English is suspect, I'm no longer convinced, as I once was, that this is a sure sign to avoid the place; more and more, we see alternative cartes offered in English (but always very simply translated) as a default international language, in recognition that at any given time, about half of the diners in many good restaurants in Paris (and the countryside) seem to be non-French speakers.

              I believe that if you make a good effort at pronouncing the item you want, your waiter will be pleased, and perhaps amused (in a positive way). If you have to help that along with a little point of a finger, that will not be the worst thing. (My wife does that all the time, while I insist on trying to pronounce without pointing.)

              To the extent your inquiry concerns figuring out what to order, one thing to do is, study the offerings before you go in. Almost all Paris restaurants will post the menu/carte outside, and this gives you a chance to review it, pull out a “Marling Menu Master” (we’ve used that little pocket book to decipher choices – but it works well about only 20 percent of the time), and make some choices before you enter and sit down. Once you do sit down, through, we’ve found that Paris waiters expect you to order pretty promptly. So, if you’ve still need more time, you can always further delay by ordering an apero (just ask for a "kir maison," and there's a good chance you'll get white wine with a splash of cassis).

              We set out these and some other restaurant/ dining tips (including, of course, saying “bonjour,” etc., to your waiter and others) in our article, “How to blend in: 12 (‘Une douzaine’) tips on how not to appear too much like a tourist in a Paris restaurant . . . (or least how to be a good one)” –http://parisandbeyondinfrance.blogspo... . We hope this may be of use.

              -- Jake (http://parisandbeyondinfrance.blogspo... )