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French Service Anecdote - Any Others?

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Everyone knows there is a cultural divide between France and the US - perheps many other place as well. Here is but one anecote regarding restaurant service, and maybe others can provide insight.

I was eating at Au Bon Vieux Temps in Le Grand Bornan (Haute Savoie), a super-traditional, family-run place. With the first course, a terrine maison, I was served a miniature pot of very delicious onion confit - what looked like an individual serving. When a woman came to clear the dishes, she took away the pot which still had a bit of confit left. I asked her to leave it since I wanted to eat the rest with my next course.

She looked at me suspiciously, while keeping the pot in her hand, and asked what I ordered..... I said the caillon ("le caillon, ce'st du cochon"), and she relented, "ah, d'accord," and put the pot back on the table. As if I had said somethiing else, like veal with blueberries, she might have instantly waltzed away with the confit thinking it inapproprate.

I thought that this was amusing, that I needed her consent....


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  1. Funny, but oh so typical. The families that run these small places are overwhelmingly *so* fiercely proud of what they place on the table, that yeah, you did need her permission.

    Had she not approved of the combination, you'd have never kept the confit.

    1. I wonder if this is so much a cultural divide between France and the US than an element of basic table service. She wiped out every item of the service you just had when that service was over. If you no longer need it, it leaves the table. The confit d'oignon was part of the terrine service and actually part of the dish. To me, it is a no-brainer and not really a matter of "consent" but of propriety.

      So while she thought inappropriate to leave it for the next service, she thought that the confit was not incompatible with what came next. So she left it to you. If you had ordered sole meunière she would have told you plainly that onion confit did not go with it.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Ptipois

        No, it's a cultural divide -- in the US, if you wanted to pour mustard on your strawberries, they might giggle, but nobody would try to stop you.

      2. Cultural divide? You bet. In the 80's I was in Paris with two other Americans and we entered a restaurant for an early supper. Tony and I ordered an entrée, Roger only an appetizer. The manager came over and said we would have to leave because we only ordered two entrees. Roger said no problem, bring me the menu and I'll order an entrée. The manager wouldn't budge and they threw us out.
        We packed up and headed for Switzerland the next morning.

        82 Replies
        1. re: Veggo

          Entrée IS the French word for appetizer.
          Was it a cultural divide or a linguistic misunderstanding?

          1. re: Parigi

            My cultural ignorance is showing. In the US, an entrée is a main course rather than an appetizer.

            1. re: Veggo

              "My cultural ignorance is showing. In the US, an entrée is a main course rather than an appetizer."
              Volumes have been written about how "entrée" went from the entry dish to the main one; I try to use the terms first course and main so as not to confuse, but....

              1. re: John Talbott

                Interesting item I learned here today. We were not thrown out for confusion about first and main courses, although none of us speaks French. We were thrown out for being Americans. We were well dressed, polite, and sensitive to Americans' negative image in France, at least at that time. We were welcomed nicely in Switzerland and Austria. Later, we were denied entry into a nightclub in Munich. Drunken antics by American servicemen stationed there tarnished the image of Americans, to my disappointment.

                1. re: Veggo

                  "We were thrown out for being Americans."

                  Wrong idea. While being French, I too would get thrown out of a restaurant if I ordered one "entrée" and nothing else. That was simply a language misunderstanding. For later use, the services are: entrée, plat, dessert.

                  1. re: Ptipois

                    We pointed our fingers at main courses on the menu, so language was not the issue. We ordered 2 "mains" and one appetizer, and were denied the chance to order a third main. They seized on any flimsy excuse not to have 3 Americans in their restaurant. Roger is a doctor, not a crazed American. The words I used here probably have slender resemblance to the dialog in the restaurant almost 30 years ago. But the insult remains vivid.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      "Roger is a doctor, not a crazed American."

                      1. re: Veggo

                        Do you think that the restaurant expected you to order three starters and three mains, so six dishes - you didn't understand the restaurant expected you to eat a meal not snack

                        The cultural divide is the role of the customer. I assume in your home country "the diner is always right" no matter what they want to do, so anything goes. In France they happily accept this isn't the case and you eat/shop on the restaurants terms and they really don't care if you don't like it and leave.

                        I actually think this is the root cause of many of the service issues. Service is excellent but it's not totally customisable to the whim of the customer.....the customer fits into the paradigm of the restaurant and understands the norms.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          I accept that you are right. I can't bridge that cultural chasm and I spared delucacheesemonger from embarrassment by declining his invite to Paris this spring...:)

                        2. re: Veggo

                          I still think very unlikely that they threw you out just because you were Americans. Nobody does that or they go out of business in no time, and everybody's aware of that. Americans are customers, and restaurateurs like having them just like they like having any customers. They're not going to cut off one type of clientele, especially with the $$$ aura blinking around them.

                          Again, it was a language problem, but the idea that some restaurant owner in France threw you out because you were American seems more likely to you. As if that was expected from the French anyway, as your comparison with (apparently more civilized) Switzerland and Austria seems to indicate. Words fail me.

                          1. re: Ptipois

                            I have no other explanation. As I said above, it was early and we were not putting any pressure on tables. Speaking of the $$$ aura blinking, Switzerland and Austria were very expensive, so I was not surprised that they took our money with a smile.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              Well, I am giving you the explanation. How's that?

                              A restaurant that would throw out Americans just like that would be doomed even before it opened its doors. I wouldn't vouch a penny on it. It was clearly an issue with the "entrée" word, a deep misunderstanding, and who knows, they may have encountered the same situation before, and were fed up with it.

                              That is not an excuse to throw out people and they should not have done that. But what makes you so sure that it happened because of your origin? Did they make it clear?

                              1. re: Ptipois

                                No. Nor am I certain the word 'entree' was used or was a source of confusion. They would not let us dine and pay.
                                I expected my participation on this thread to be very limited. Sorry.

                                1. re: Ptipois

                                  and the cultural misunderstanding goes both ways....Veggo et Cie didn't realize the blunder they were making, and the restaurant didn't realize that they didn't recognize the blunder.

                                  But once the feathers were ruffled, nothing was going to smooth them....

                                  I had a server in Epernay refuse to serve me andouille...I wouldn't like it, he said, so he wouldn't bring it to me.

                                  In retrospect he was right...I've tried andouille in Troyes and Lyon, hot and cold, prepared by the current holders of the Medaille d'Or and yep, I don't like it. (I did, however, give it multiple chances in multiple locations, so I have no guilt about not liking it.....and yoiks, the smell....)

                                  But man -- that wouldn't EVER have happened in the States.

                                  (this photo was a favourite amongst my ESL students in France...and the half-roasted chicken became a small lesson in itself)

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    One point isn't Andouille rather different from Andouillette? Even in France which has both

                                    1. re: PhilD

                                      Indeed, sounds as though it should have been andouillette.
                                      A good friend, French, once was very surprised to find that I liked andouillette. She said she had always hesitated cooking it for me because she thought foreigners - or I - wouldn't like it.
                                      Calvin Trillin and I had a long-standing chuckle over how he would try to order authentic dishes in Chinese restos in NY Chinatown, only to have them vetoed by the waiter who would tell him: "you no like."
                                      One day in Sinorama in the 13th, I was ordering bitter cucumber for us, and the waiter shook his head and said to me: "he no like."

                                      1. re: PhilD

                                        I don't know that I'd say "rather" -- they're not exactly the same thing, by my understanding -- but close enough to be lumped together in this particular conversation.

                                        from my (admittedly arms-length) experience and a quick scan of Wikipedia France, there are variations in the recipes, but the biggest difference is the diameter.

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          But isn't an Andouillette a fresh (I use that word advisedly) sausage that is grilled and served hot. Whilst a Andouille is a cured/smoked sausage that is thinly sliced and usually served cold...? The smoking and preserving eliminates or reduces many of the wonderful characteristics of the fresh Andouillette making it quite different.

                                          1. re: PhilD

                                            is it not possible to just laugh at the funny menu translation and leave it at that?

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              It's true that the menu translation is hilarious.

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  You made me think of our bike trip in 2011 and a crew members recollection of "shit sausage":

                                                  "Ready to ride and went back to Meursault for an incredible lunch…pre fixe…bottles of wine; salad of chicken livers and endive with raspberry balsamic…the BEST…and ½ chicken with a garden of veggies (poulet et legumes) for everyone but Phil who selected the pig sausage…BIG MISTAKE…however, larger mistake was tasting it!!! Literally tasted like shit … merde… The WORST thing I have EVER tasted which caused us to coin our first French phase: “Manger de la merde et de mourir” (eat shit and die)! It only meant we had to drink more wine! Our dessert was ‘fromage blanc’ … white soft cheese with sugar (almost like Greek yogurt) and black currant sorbet…yummmmmmy.

                                                  1. re: BlueOx

                                                    What a great story. And I KNOW I'll never eat that shit :)

                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      I am not certain what all the fuss is about - I eat it and enjoy it. A good andouillette can be very fine indeed.

                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                        Well, I do eat Chinese pig intestine dishes but they don't taste like 'poop' :)

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          Then you should enjoy andouillette!

                                                        2. re: PhilD

                                                          I'm always amused by people who say andouillette tastes like shit. How much shit have they actually eaten to be able to say that?

                                                          1. re: Ptipois

                                                            Ever watch John Waters' movie from the 70's, Pink Flamingos? The actress Divine could give you an honest answer to your question...:)

                                                            1. re: Ptipois

                                                              my target is zero.

                                                              But I can pretty definitively say it *smells* like shit, and it definitively has, to me, a musky, off flavor that's heavy,coats my palate, and which even a glass of wine struggles to mask or erase....so it's about as close as I ever care to come to actually consuming a meadow muffin.

                                                          2. re: c oliver

                                                            so with you...I really can't wrap my head around the fact that the quality is gauged by how much it smells like shit....and yet I'm supposed to put something in my mouth that smells like shit?

                                                            When I taught at a high school in France, I'd read the cantine menu ahead of time -- the andouillette they brought in (from a local supplier, no less) smelled worse than the barns full of cows that some of the students were raising for classes, so those were the days I just brought my lunch. (the PB&J sparked much interest from my colleagues. :) )

                                                        3. re: c oliver

                                                          Thanks for the big laugh, c oliver!

                                                          I can relate to that experience. I tried andouillettes once. Never again.

                                                          1. re: ChefJune

                                                            I try to say I'll eat anything once but, having read that, I don't think so. There are just some things that I think one must grow up eating.

                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                              I did not grow up eating andouillette. It was not even an acquired taste. Or I acquired it right away. But we Cantonese are said to eat everything on 4 legs except a stool.

                                                              1. re: Parigi

                                                                andouillette IS a stool, if you think about it....

                                                              2. re: c oliver

                                                                You guys are hurting my feelngs. Andouillette is my default order in many bistros. It's only the first one that is difficult.

                                                                1. re: mangeur

                                                                  HAHAHAHA! Love that last sentence. Makes me think of perhaps balut or durian!

                                                                  1. re: mangeur

                                                                    Where do I hurt your feeling ? I just said I liked it.

                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                        Mangeur said "you guys" !
                                                                        If Veggo can imagine he was thrown out because he is American, I can imagine Mangeur thinks I'm a Martian who does not like andouillette.

                                                                        1. re: Parigi

                                                                          ChefJune and I are the Martians :)

                                                                          And honestly if I'd never read this thread I'd have certainly tried it. Chinese pig intestines are a fave.

                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                            "Chinese pig intestines are a fave."
                                                                            Absolute food porn.

                                                      2. re: sunshine842

                                                        Funny, a waiter in Paris tried to talk me out of andouille -I'm half cajun French and we have our own version in Louisiana. I can eat almost anything, but I couldn't eat that version. I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but it was in the 5th I think. I wish to try other versions to erase that particular memory.

                                                        1. re: rudeboy

                                                          Having made that mistake once myself, here's the explanation:


                                                          1. re: Steve R

                                                            You know, I can do organ meats and such, and I'm a little bit mad that I couldn't handle that particular andouillette. I'd like to chalk it up to a less than par preparation, rather than me having a sensitive palate. But I'll have to fly to France to determine that.

                                                            1. re: rudeboy

                                                              While I rather love andouillette, I will be the first to say that it is not really an acquired taste. If you emphatically disliked it the first time, you will probably not find it better the next time or the next's next. Unless you are willing to ingest a half-pint of mustard along with it, in which case what's the point.

                                                              1. re: mangeur

                                                                Well, next time I am there, I will man up and try it at least three times. I can usually eat anything except for kidneys.

                                                                1. re: rudeboy

                                                                  Have pity on the poor waiter. One server told me he always tries to discourage customers from ordering andouillette to save him from gagging from the smell while carrying it from kitchen to table.

                                                                2. re: mangeur

                                                                  A couple of years ago in London we went to St. John's and were disappointed that they were sold out of their famous bone marrow. So I ordered something that I had never eaten before: chitterlings. I found them completely unpalatable. But I was not put off yet. A week later I ordered the same thing at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in Paris. Same reaction. I'll take mangeur's advice and abandon the pursuit before "next's next".

                                                                  1. re: bcc

                                                                    The only time I have had a revulsion reprieve was when Les Petits Plats brought me an ethereal casserole of pieds et paquets. Prior to that, I had ordered it 3 or 4 times in Provence, once at Rene Samut's, and found it absolutely foul.

                                                                    1. re: mangeur

                                                                      I never got the point of pieds et paquets, but I love tripous and all sort of regional tripe dishes. With à la mode de Caen the absolute top.

                                                                3. re: rudeboy

                                                                  rudeboy: I don't think it's you. I made the same mistake. Love NOLA Andouille. but Andouillette is more like American chitt'lin's than Andouille. I've tried the (so-called) best Andouillettes in Lyon, Paris and from the wonderful San Francisco transplants, Marcel et Henri. Andouillettes are just too funky for me.

                                                                  Oh! and I love most offal -- especially sweetbreads, tripe and liver of all sorts.

                                                              2. re: rudeboy

                                                                Ribouldingue? Ptipois mentioned this place in another thread about offal restaurants.

                                                        2. re: Ptipois

                                                          You are mistaken. People may be thrown out of an establishment at the whim of the owner. Even in the US, many restaurants will post a warning that they reserve the right to refuse service to anyone even if that is based on nationality, race, appearance, etc. And, it happens all the time.

                                                          1. re: t19103

                                                            I cannot speak to French law but such signs in the US violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, as well as the laws of many State and municipalities. Not only are they wholly unenforceable, a proprietor who tried to enforce them would face a host of claims for penalties and damages.

                                                            1. re: masha

                                                              Have you not seen such signs?

                                                              1. re: t19103

                                                                I've never seen such a sign, but that may just be because I have not been to parts of the country where such things exist. This does not make such a practice legal.

                                                                1. re: t19103

                                                                  such signs are illegal and i've never seen such.

                                                              2. re: t19103

                                                                Wrong. In France, unless the customer is causing trouble, this is called "refus de vente" and the thrown out person can sue. And win.

                                                                In order to win the trial, the restaurant owner has to prove that the customer was actually causing trouble (wrecking havoc, screaming and kicking, harassing other diners, being obnoxiously drunk, not having showered for three years, etc.).

                                                                Needless to say, any unmotivated kicking-out based on nationality, race, religion, appearance, etc., is also completely illegal.

                                                                1. re: Ptipois

                                                                  What percentage of people do you think will sue? 3%?

                                                                  Most customers would be too embarrassed? Even some who want to sue would not spend the time or money that would be required- especially if you are on vacation and/or do not speak the language.

                                                                  1. re: t19103

                                                                    Masha and I were not referring to how many people sue but to what is legal and what isn't in France or in the US. Whatever people do with their rights is their own business.

                                                                    So you may post a thousand signs outside your restaurant stating that you give yourself the right to kick out whomever you please, that does not mean you are entitled to do so.

                                                                    1. re: Ptipois

                                                                      I know but that guy who thinks that he was kicked out of a restaurant for being American may be right. People do get kicked out of places for illegal reasons all the time. In the US and in Europe and perhaps all over the world.

                                                                      1. re: t19103

                                                                        He may be right as he might also be right if he thought that he was kicked out because his hair was parted on the right side instead of the left side. Who knows.

                                                                        I'm only stressing that the belief that he was kicked out "because he's American" - when it seems clear from his story that there was a language mashup which led to a growing misunderstanding that eventually got out of control - is not an uncommon one but is nevertheless largely a fantasy. You know, travelling among a bunch of savages who all hate us, and all that stuff. Come on, relax.

                                                                        1. re: Ptipois

                                                                          May I just tack this question on here please? In the last year and a half, we've been in Barcelona, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Prague, Vienna and Budapest. We've had no problem with restaurant staff not speaking enough to plenty of English. Is this unique to Paris? It's been over ten years since we were in Paris and I don't remember a particular problem. Now away from the cities, yes. Just curious.

                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                            Paris is just the same as other European cities. Most waiting staff speak English to a greater or lessor extent.

                                                                            However, one thing that may make a difference, is the high regard the French have for good manners, which include saying hello, please and thank you. I suspect their English capabilities are directly proportional to the manners of the visitor - the better the manners the better the English.

                                                                            I would also say that the French appreciate that just about everyone knows bonjour, merci, etc so there really is no excuse as everyone speaks at least two words.

                                                                            When a resident of Paris I regularily used to cringe when tourist strode into a shop, bar or restaurant and didn't bother with pleasantries and simply say or demand "a glass of wine" or "table for two" - and it was a very common occurrence. Needless to say the server, whose English had been perfect during our conversation, would suddenly lose the ability to communicate in anything but very very rapid French.

                                                                            1. re: PhilD

                                                                              That had been my thought exactly. I speak no French (well, food, of course) but "bonjour," "merci," etc. go a long way. As I've said, you get back what you give out. Thanks.

                                                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                                                I'm a pretty cosmopolitan Frenchman but I still bristle when some loud American stops me on the street "Hey, you speak English ? Where's the Eiffel Tower ?". No please, no excuse-me, no thanks... in English or French.

                                                                                1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                  But a smiling "Pardon. Parlez vous Anglais?" is a deal starter IME.

                                                                                  I know it's not only people from the US, but I've sure seen my share of "Ugly Americans." And to keep it food-related, that's about the quickest way of not getting good food...or any food!

                                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                                    So true - I think we all cringe when our fellow countrymen are rude - we are Australian/British so have two dogs in the race....and I can assure you they can be as bad as any.

                                                                                  2. re: Parnassien

                                                                                    I like it even better when they haltingly ask in French and I answer with a phony French accent and walking away one says "See they're not rude."

                                                                                    1. re: John Talbott

                                                                                      Once I was dining at restaurant Jean (in the 9th) and one man in shorts with a crew cut, fanny pack and guidebook in his hand (and I thought they no longer made them like that anymore) opened the door wide and, very noisily, shouted: "Manger ?"

                                                                                      The host graciously ran to him: "Mais certainement monsieur, of course, here, take a seat, welcome!"

                                                                                      I thought it was hilarious. I was torn between the shock from the brutal shouting and the genuine appreciation that the man had at least learned one necessary word in French.

                                                                                    2. re: Parnassien

                                                                                      I'm a firm believer that adults, whatever their background & "cultural norms", have the ability to understand politeness and act accordingly. That many choose not to break out of bad habits is not something I should have to live with. However, coming from NYC, I do understand some of the differences and, although I don't easily excuse them, I don't get too worked up about it either.

                                                                                      For example, on one side of the fence, here in rude Brooklyn we get angry at Russians for not being polite. Many of them won't hold doors open for others, barrel past you without care & dare you to say something with their scowls. They hold lines up by arguing about little things with merchants and cut in front of you at every opportunity. A great cultural stereotype, reinforced daily.

                                                                                      On the other side, the "Ugly American" stereotype here on this thread (much of it earned, as my travels in Europe have convinced me). But, to take it further, here's one of my tangential (at best) stories:

                                                                                      I lived in St. Louis for 6 years and played basketball in the university gym almost daily. One of the African American players that I eventually wound up friendly with confided in me that he had always thought me to be rude and unfriendly (& potentially racially biased). I asked why & he said that we had passed each other regularly on campus (before we started playing ball together) & I had never said hello. He was from Alabama and making eye contact & saying hello to everyone was considered correct behavior, even if you didn't know them. I told him I was from Brooklyn & that saying hello to everyone I passed would leave me with laryngitis within minutes & that doing so (or making eye contact with strangers) is considered inappropriate in NY (usually only for those who then want to convert you to their religion or sell you something or con you out of your $$). Both of us learned something that day.

                                                                                      Again, it doesn't cost anything to be polite but sometimes folks don't know they're being rude and haven't spent the time to understand others' perspective. So… you gonna tell me where the freaking Tower is or not?

                                                                                    3. re: PhilD

                                                                                      My favorite French language/food story:

                                                                                      Decades and decades and decades ago, we were at a crepe restaurant in the 1st in Paris. We were dressed acceptably but clearly we were tourists. (Husband wearing chinos and a button down shirt plus sneakers. Me wearing skirt and simple blouse plus sneakers.) Standing behind us in the foyer was a group of four English speakers but the couples were clearly wearing fancier clothes (e.g.men wearing blue blazers).

                                                                                      We were escorted to a second room at the back of the restaurant -- windowless with dark, undecorated walls. In this room, English was clearly being spoken at every table we passed close enough to hear. A couple of tables were populated by families with younger children. In other words: restaurant purgatory.

                                                                                      Before we actually took our place at the table, I asked in my best but totally rusty high school French if it would be possible to get a table in the room in front. (If there were any doubt about how weak my French was, I remember cringing the instant the time word for "before" came out of my mouth instead of the place word. And why I didn't simply use the word "premiere" is another clue about my rusty French.) In such rapid fire French that I didn't immediately comprehend what the gentleman had said, he answered, "Je vais voir." Sure enough, we were relocated to a table in the charming front room where we enjoyed a lovely meal.

                                                                                      To this day, I'm certain our turn of fortune was exclusively dependent on the fact that I asked my question in French. In the years that have passed, my French has only gotten worse. I can probably still cope checking into a hotel and dining out, but my listening comprehension has gone downhill. Nevertheless, I'll be trying on our upcoming trip.

                                                                                      1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                        We spent considerable time in Italy these last several years and my wife speaks Italian reasonably well. We've learned that one explanation for the segregation of customers is to allow the restaurant's English speaking waiter(s) to have a cluster of tables and to minimize the mistakes waiting to happen by having language misunderstandings. Once you broke the ice and asked, this issue was overshadowed by your desire to be part of the main room and they responded well… maybe even made sure that the waiter at your new table could speak English?

                                                                                2. re: t19103

                                                                                  If you apply "ockrams razor" the simplest explanation of the circumstances of the ejection would indicate it was because they didn't want to order a full meal i.e. only two and a half dishes between three people.

                                                                                  There is another thread running at the moment which referenced the trip adviser write-ups of the rude service at Breizh Cafe. When you read the TA posts they all seem to be based on the restaurant refusing to just serve tables dessert crepes as the restaurant expects people to order a full meal for lunch or dinner at this madly popular place.

                                                                                  The posters on TA are all frothing at the mouth about how rude they are and how bad the service is without pausing to reflect that they themselves maybe at fault. As I said up thread the service paradigm in France is different and the customer is not always right....and that is accepted by the customers.

                                                                              2. re: t19103

                                                                                Again, I cannot speak to how French law is enforced. In the US, the NAACP, Anti-Defamation League, MALDEF, and a host of other public interest legal groups, as well as many for-profit contingency lawyers would be happy to assist such customers. And for any restaurant stupid enough to post such signage, you do not need an aggrieved customer. The mere posting of the sign violates the law.

                                                                            2. re: t19103

                                                                              It might happen, but it's illegal, and the restaurant in question is going down.

                                                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                I think it's now why you tend to see "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service."

                                                                          2. re: Veggo

                                                                            "Almost 30 years ago" it was indeed not at all usual to be able to order less than three courses in a restaurant. Being "thrown out" is another question entirely. But depending on the restaurant and the development of the dialog, the possibility of being dismissed was also entirely possible. Ordering less than three courses is a relatively rscent trend or even alternative, certainly not done 30 years ago in my recollection.

                                                                            1. re: mangeur

                                                                              In my experience it does not matter whether you order one first course and one second course or two first courses when you want to eat light as long as you do eat three courses.
                                                                              Naturally, in the latter case, you'll be frowned at if you don't order dessert. Not in the former case.

                                                                      2. re: John Talbott

                                                                        I'm trying to picture in my mind and it seems like more and more US restaurants, the nicer ones perhaps, use the words "starter" and "main." Much better. I'll also comment that though there are people from the US who will criticize the French and particularly the Parisians for being unfriendly, I've found them 100% helpful. I do believe that one does get back what one puts forth generally.

                                                                  2. Ok, another story......

                                                                    Overheard at Paul Bocuse, three American women. After ordering their meals, the sommelier approaches. "May I help you select some wine with your meal..."

                                                                    One of the women takes charge, "My friend here ordered the duck, I ordered the lobster, and....." The somellier abruptly halts her speech.

                                                                    "Of course...... madame...... I know what you ordered."

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                      That's LOL funny :) Of course indeed!

                                                                    2. Ions ago FIL invited us to the Grand Véfour. While MIL and hubby poo ordered up a wine-storm, FIL, as was the habit with every meal of his life, told the sommelier he wanted a glass of milk. The sommelier answered: "Oui, monisuer", in between advice to us about the corton.
                                                                      He might have gone back to the kitchen and l.o.l., but in front of my FIL, he took the order with the same respect and dignity, as though it were another great cru.
                                                                      Now THAT's service.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. Hmmmm. As a Frenchman who made an ill-timed road trip with two French pals across the USA in 2003 just after the "freedom-fries" thingey, I am convinced that the rudest of French waiters is an epitome of civility compared to some of their American counterparts in the mid-west and the south.

                                                                        7 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Parnassien

                                                                          I'm sorry you went through that....but I agree with you.

                                                                          I can honestly say that while we've experience some anti-American sentiment, it's been rare and not horribly offense -- I've endured far worse for other things.

                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                            Again, I say the vast majority of the time when traveling overseas I'm treated very, very cordially. I think sticking to the Northeast and "Left" Coast of the US is 'safer.'

                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                              even that depends -- larger cities come with a little more tolerance -- Miami or Orlando, for example, would be far more "safe" than a small town on the West Coast or, say, a remote section of New York State.

                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                True. After living in SF, where ANYTHING/ANYBODY is embraced, we moved to a small town in SW Oregon. I doubt anyone there had ever shaken hands with a Black or Gay person. And someone French? OMG no! WAY too exotic :)

                                                                          2. re: Parnassien

                                                                            <I am convinced that the rudest of French waiters is an epitome of civility compared to some of their American counterparts in the mid-west and the south.>

                                                                            i find this comment to be supremely ironic. isn't it the french who complain about being culturally stereotyped on account of perhaps some anecdotal misfortunes? and -- not ironic (but about human pride), i see so many americans eager to jump on the "ugly american" bandwagon (that is, saying "i'm not one of *them*." ).

                                                                            snobbery is so unfashionable. from anyone.

                                                                            that being said, trying to understand another society before one visits just seems like common sense. but, as i've observed, "common" sense ain't so "common." and as long as one's society doesn't condone chopping off heads for heresy, i'm willing to accede to that society's eccentricities when i'm there.

                                                                            1. re: alkapal

                                                                              At least one get's referred to as "hon."

                                                                          3. The French hate us (Americans) & think we are uncivilized especially when it comes to all things food & dining.

                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                            1. re: zackly

                                                                              Ridiculous. I eagerly await your all-knowing summation of the psyches of Americans, Canadians, Italians, Poles . . .

                                                                              1. re: bill1jan

                                                                                Sorry, you'll have to buy the book for any more insights:)

                                                                              2. re: zackly

                                                                                This is a bit unfair, and I think it got perpetuated by self-hating Americans who think we should be more like Europeans in other ways.

                                                                                Example: my America-hating American friends often say things like "Europeans think we are so stupid because we pay for our own healthcare.... because we have large portion sizes.... because we blah blah blah..."

                                                                                1. I have a friend, who, her first morning in Paris - indeed outside of the USA - wanted to by some strawberry jam to go with some left-over bread. She went to the pharmacy, which she assumed was the equivalent of an american drug store, and asked in english scattered with a little french, if they had any jam. The pharmacist didn't understand the word "jam".

                                                                                  My friend searched for another word for jam she thought the pharmacist might understand and came upon "preserves".
                                                                                  Finally understanding what this pretty young American wanted, the pharmacist's eyes lit up, and she asked my friend what she kind she wanted. "strawberry..." answered my friend "...fraise".

                                                                                  She was so embarrassed when the pharmacist handed her a packet of strawberry flavoured condoms ("préservaifs), that she paid for them and left.

                                                                                  Her breakfast was very chewy.

                                                                                  A few years later, I was with the same friend, who looked like a young Linda Evans, in a PMU dive bar in Auxerre that we'd stopped at to use the phone.

                                                                                  My friend went to the bathroom, and for some reason when she came out she wanted to share with us, and the bar, what she'd been doing in there. She meant to shout out "je suis une pisseuse" which is bad, but instead in this bar full of middle-aged gamblers and daytime drinkers, came out with "je suis une pipeuse" which is worse.

                                                                                  36 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                    LOLOL -- at both.

                                                                                    An Anglophone group I belonged to is still entertaining the idea of publishing a small book of all the linguistic and cutural faux pas that we all committed when we first moved to France.

                                                                                    When I was teaching in France, the lesson one week was processed food (these were students studying to be beef producers). One one of the rare occasions that they were thinking about how English might be useful in their careers, one of the girls asked me what the English word for conservateur might be.

                                                                                    I quietly turned and wrote the word on the board -- preservative.

                                                                                    "Non, Madame -- c'est pas vrai!"

                                                                                    After the snorting and giggling died down, she got very serious and said "it's very good to know this word before we need it - it could make a meeting very bad."

                                                                                    (she's right...)

                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                      Here's one for you:

                                                                                      The first time I met my ex French mother-in-law, I had prepared a meal for us in the tiny one bedroomed flat I shared with her daughter.

                                                                                      The meal was almost ready, but we had very little furniture, and I wanted to get the chairs that my girlfriend and her mother were sitting on and take them into the kitchen where we were going to eat.

                                                                                      My French was very rudimentary at the time. I wanted to say "we need the chairs". In English "need" is a verb, so I figured that "besoin" was one too and I started conjugating it in my head "Je besoin...Tu besoin...Il besoin..." as I grabbed hold of a chair, looked the mother of the woman I loved in the eye and asked "nous besons" which came out as "Nous baisons? Nous baisons? ". To her credit, she just got up from where she was sitting and answered "jamais avant l'apéritif."

                                                                                      1. re: vielleanglaise


                                                                                        (and then there's that horrible moment when you realize what you've said...and the next, more-horrible moment when you realize there's really no way to recover....)

                                                                                          1. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                            Vieille's ex-MIL's aplomb reminds me of what the MIL of a man friend said to him on his wedding day: "Try to remain faithful, at least for the first year."

                                                                                            1. re: Parigi

                                                                                              I found my self working in the IBM tower at La Défense. I needed some drawing-pins "punaises" but screwed the word up in my mind and went from office to office asking serious IBM managers if they had any "pucelles" (young virgins).

                                                                                              They didn't.

                                                                                              1. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                                Stop this guy before my building copro votes me out for screaming.

                                                                                                1. re: Parigi

                                                                                                  Just found these on the menu of a restaurant in Cannes

                                                                                                  The salad of believed cabbage heart
                                                                                                  The skewers apples in the air
                                                                                                  Pellets of oxen to grasses
                                                                                                  Let us pepper & Moules
                                                                                                  The laminated one with nuts

                                                                                                  1. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                                    Vieille, you made it up !
                                                                                                    My fave entries in Paris menu:
                                                                                                    - roach beef
                                                                                                    - chef's kidney (actually faithfully translated from "les rognons du chef")
                                                                                                    - pimp.

                                                                                                      1. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                                        I would bet this was translated via a internet translation engine or similar as it's so literal (and given its a web site it's likely).

                                                                                                        Context is everything in translation that is why it pays to use the services of a real person. Although some of the big commercial translation companies use automated translation as well and simply proof it using people which is far from foolproof .

                                                                                                        I see it all the time when putting in IT systems with the literal translation of field labels rendering them meaningless.

                                                                                                    1. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                                      It seems perfectly comprehensible to me:
                                                                                                      Salade de chou cru, lentilles, boulettes de boeuf aux herbes, feuilleté aux noix, etc

                                                                                                      (Just kidding... it was like breaking a WWII spy code)

                                                                                                      1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                                        This Tokyo Rose got Salade de chou cru, lentilles, and laughed too hard and gave up.

                                                                                                        1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                                          Good lord - thank you for the translation!

                                                                                                          That's why about 9 times out of 10 I just ask for a French menu --- my menu French has always been far more fluent than my spoken French.

                                                                                                      2. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                                        ah yes....and then there was the day I was trying to talk about a little girl and her doll.....but instead of talking about the little girl cuddling her poupée, my poor students were wondering why this weird little girl would be cuddling a paupiette.

                                                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                          I confuse "abats" and "ébats". I don't dare talk to my butcher.

                                                                                                    2. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                                      vielleanglaise, you seem to only intervene when you have something truly worthy to bring to the table. I commend you for that, your anecdotes are priceless ! Thanks a lot ! :)

                                                                                                      1. re: Rio Yeti

                                                                                                        Ditto Anglaise; this thread is a pleasant respite from the nit-picking, "Best", put-downing stuff a lot of people love to indulge in.

                                                                                                        1. re: John Talbott

                                                                                                          Except that it would be a lot better if the bilingual storytellers provided an English translation -- without that, these anecdotes don't mean much to people who don't already understand French.

                                                                                                          1. re: Steve Green


                                                                                                            Ebats = Love-making
                                                                                                            Abats = Offal
                                                                                                            Baiser = To copulate*
                                                                                                            Poupee = Doll
                                                                                                            Paupiette = Faggot (uk)
                                                                                                            Faggot (uk) = Meatball (US)

                                                                                                            Bon appétit!

                                                                                                            Grazie altrettanto!

                                                                                                            *"fuck" would be a more accurate translation, but you never know who might be reading!

                                                                                                            1. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                                              Merci! So in the chair story, with the help of Google Translate, I get it.

                                                                                                              histoire drôle.

                                                                                                              1. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                                                I need help with the English actually. Isn't "faggot" a cigarette in the UK?

                                                                                                                1. re: t19103

                                                                                                                  In the UK, a "fag" is a cigarette. A "faggot" is a meatball made, primarily, from pig offal.

                                                                                                                    1. re: t19103

                                                                                                                      As usual "fag" in English means many things, yes cigarette, but also it's an old private school term for the younger boys serving the older ones, and of course it's the old pejorative term for gay (I often wonder if there is a link between the last two) as a shortened form of faggot.

                                                                                                                      However, in polite speech, faggots are indeed meatballs made with offal, usually wrapped in caul fat. Traditionally good butchers would be very proud of their faggots much as a French butcher would be proud of their charcuterie. Sadly it's a tradition that is fading out.

                                                                                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                                                                                        Phil, when I was at uni in England, there were a dozen synonyms for gay. The very common American "fag" was, however, rarely used there except in the phrase "fag-hag". (or to refer to cigarettes). Thanks to American films and TV, the word "faggot" has slowly gained a toe-hold as an insult but is still not all that common. And in some areas like Wales and the Midlands, it will always be understood as meatballs.

                                                                                                                        The fetch-and-carry meaning of fag applied to younger boys at public schools (i.e. private boarding schools) is quite a mystery. But since "fagged out" means to be very tired, maybe there is some implication of small tasks/ drudgery involved.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                                                          Parn - I used to live in west London with a bunch of trolly dollies (their term) and the boys all called the girls fag hags.

                                                                                                                          When I went to boarding school in England we still had fagging, it faded out during my time, my fondest memory was cutting the lawn in the prefects garden with nail scissors...!

                                                                                                                          The word is interesting. Faggot is also the term for a small bundle of wood, I assume fagging came from the need for fires to be lit by the fags using faggots. Fagged in english also means tired, I assume after too much fagging, so when tired you take a break and have a smoke, so a fag. And I can only assume that as most boarding schools were for boys thats the reason fag gained the gay meaning. The firewood faggot may also be seen to be similar to the wrapped meat and offal parcels the butchers make, so maybe thats were that term comes from.

                                                                                                                          All that said, its probably a whole set of words that have moved out of fashion and are rarely used....fewer smokers, no slavery in boarding schools, the decline of artisan butchers, the lack of open fires in houses in cities, and the wonderful acceptance of gay community into the mainstream.

                                                                                                                          1. re: PhilD

                                                                                                                            Thank you Phil and Parn for this comprehensive and literate discussion of the etymology and usages of 'faggot'. I kept waiting for the sniggering to start but here you are making thoughtful and entirely family-friendly contributions !

                                                                                                                            My boarding school experience was co-ed with boys and girls in separate houses, no fagging in the girls' houses but an informal tradition persisting in the boys'. This was in the 1990s.

                                                                                                                            1. re: PhilD

                                                                                                                              "When I went to boarding school in England we still had fagging, it faded out during my time, my fondest memory was cutting the lawn in the prefects garden with nail scissors...!"

                                                                                                                              So that's true? Not just a cute French joke?

                                                                                                                      2. re: Parnassien

                                                                                                                        And... I thought the word "faggot" referred to kindling wood.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Gio

                                                                                                                          I like to smoke a fag every now and then.

                                                                                                                          1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                                                            and if you've been on your feet all day and had a really stressful day, you'd be utterly fagged.

                                                                                                                            (as an American, however, I still twitch when I hear the word in polite conversation. I don't say anything, but there's that slight spasm...)

                                                                                                                    2. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                                                      er....paupiette -- a small meatloaf wrapped in a thinly-sliced filet of meat (usually turkey or veal) and braised.


                                                                                                                      photos, even.

                                                                                                            2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                              Here's a copy and paste from another thread of an exchange between Parigi and myself... but really belongs here:

                                                                                                              ... My fave is an overheard English woman saying what sounded like "j'adore les pines noires!" when buying pignons/ pine-nuts. I guess she meant to say noix and pins... still a mistake but not so hilarious.

                                                                                                              An American lady friend calls the fabled Arles hotel Nord Pinus North Penis.

                                                                                                              Your American friend with her North Penis tendencies and my Anglaise looking for pines noires should meet for a fab ladies night out. But finding a club where both Swedish and African guys hang out will be difficult. Any recs ?
                                                                                                              Glossary for non-French speakers:
                                                                                                              "la pine" is one of the, oh, 60 words in French for the penis. (And don't ask why la pine is a feminine noun).
                                                                                                              Noir = black
                                                                                                              Noires = blacks (feminine plural form to agree with noun)
                                                                                                              Noix = nut, walnut
                                                                                                              Pin (french) = pine (english)
                                                                                                              Pignon = pine-nut

                                                                                                          2. Well, the replies in this thread have convinced me that I'd better not trot out my high school French on my trip to Bordeaux next month!

                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                              Actually one of my favorite French mistake stories is from a great book for foodies called "The Sweet Life in Paris" by David Lebowitz. He goes on an on about a beautiful statue that he photographed on his trip to Spain but instead of talking about the big black Vierge (Virgin/Madonna) he sang the praises of the big black Verge (penis).

                                                                                                              I don't have anything that good but I once asked for a pepper cake instead of a pear cake by mixing up poivre and poire.

                                                                                                              1. re: t19103

                                                                                                                I've decided that I'm not going to order any food item beginning with the letter "p." Heck, my first trip to Paris at the age of 17 was not so fraught. People were very nice in restaurants, boulangeries, etc. Has it changed so much?

                                                                                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                  Many boulangeries are justifiably known for their, um, brisk no-nonsense service. And it gets even brisker when the customer fails to greet the vendeuse with "bonjour, madame" or holds up the queue with endless questions in English.

                                                                                                            2. Does this count? At my first visit to Astier, I ordered pig' s feet. Our waiter, charming until then, reared back and said, "Non! Pas pour nous, Madam." and thrust the carte back in my hand and left the table. Having grown up sharing pig' knuckles with my father, I was rather perturbed. DH said, "If you want them, have them. So when the waiter returned, I smiled sweetly and gave him the same order. He said "Tres bien, Madam" and swivveled on his heel.

                                                                                                              So did I like them? No. They were incredibly greasy. But I left only a pile of clean bones on my plate.

                                                                                                              A table of Frenchmen next to us were highly amused by the entire vignette and signalled their approval with my success both ordering and finishing.

                                                                                                              Interestingly, to this day I get questioned when I order andouillette or boudin noir.

                                                                                                              1. And on the other hand, I was eating lunch at Chez Dewey today and three French feminine fashionistas each had a chicken salad and cafe gourmand. No problem.

                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: John Talbott

                                                                                                                  Ah, but I believe beautiful French women are treated differently...even when not in France :)

                                                                                                                    1. re: John Talbott

                                                                                                                      To me, "fashionistas" always have their own special beauty ;)

                                                                                                                2. I have two experiences that are interesting to contrast.

                                                                                                                  The first was nearly 30 years ago, at L'Esperance in St. Pere sous Vezelay. As one of my courses, I ordered the salade de foie de veau. The captain, though I was speaking French (not perfectly accented, but adequate) only spoke to me in English.

                                                                                                                  Captain: Oh, Monsieur. Zat is ze calf's liver.

                                                                                                                  Moi: Oui.

                                                                                                                  Captain (surprised): Oh, you like ze calf's liver?

                                                                                                                  Moi: Oui.

                                                                                                                  Captain: Oh, most Americans do not like ze calf's liver.

                                                                                                                  I got my foie de veau, and the presentation and flavor are still fresh in my memory, as is the condescending attitude.

                                                                                                                  Contrast this with another meal where the situation was handled in a much more tactful way. About 15 years ago at a restaurant in Biot, I ordered the rognons de veau. The maitre d' (owner, I think) also wanted to make sure I knew what I was ordering, so he replied (in English) "And how would you like your kidneys cooked?", to which I responded "a point". We both smiled.

                                                                                                                  21 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: rrems

                                                                                                                    "How would you like them/it cooked?" is the mandatory question when ordering rognons de veau or foie de veau. In French or English. There's no doubt he was satisfied with you, but nobody is spared that question, French or not.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Ptipois

                                                                                                                      It was the fact that he did not say "them" or "it" but instead "your kidneys" that makes me quite sure he was making sure I knew what I'd ordered. It was the tactful way he did it that I appreciated.

                                                                                                                      1. re: rrems

                                                                                                                        When I ordered guinea pig aka cuy in Spanish in Peru it sent the server into a tizzy :) He finally went back to the kitchen, found someone who spoke enough English to return and ask "Guinea pig?" My "si" was all the reassurance they needed :)

                                                                                                                      2. re: Ptipois

                                                                                                                        It is likely that my husband will order calves liver if he sees it on a menu. What is the French term for "medium rare"?

                                                                                                                        Is the French term for very, very, very rare still "au bleu"?

                                                                                                                        1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                          just "bleu".
                                                                                                                          For medium rare normally it is "saignant" (although it is sometimes slightly rarer than medium rare), but for liver you would say "rosé".

                                                                                                                          1. re: Rio Yeti

                                                                                                                            Meats do not all have the same terminology for degrees of doneness. I think the saignant/bleu thing refers to steak. For foie de veau, in my experience, in Paris, the term for rare is "rosé". Same thing for lamb and duck.

                                                                                                                            1. re: rrems

                                                                                                                              If you ask for "a point" in most places, there will barely be any pink left inside the meat... it will be more "medium" than "medium rare".
                                                                                                                              At least that has been my personal experience.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Rio Yeti

                                                                                                                                I have heard that the request for how your meat is cooked is adjusted based on an assessment of your nationality. So "a point" will be cooked for a little longer for a US/UK tourist as "they don't like it as rare as the French". So always best to order one notch down.

                                                                                                                                It my be an apocryphal story but my experience seems to back it up.

                                                                                                                                1. re: PhilD

                                                                                                                                  This is exactly what I was thinking would explain a restaurant in France cooking the meat more than what was requested. This reminds me of another experience many years ago when I ordered a grilled tuna dish, and said I wanted it very rare. It came out so overcooked it was inedible. I sent it back and its replacement was cooked the way I wanted, but unfortunately it took so long to get the replacement that it threw off the timing of the whole meal.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: rrems

                                                                                                                                    You were, in fact, lucky. One unexpected consequence of sending a dish back is that it is human nature for the chef to think that he/she was correct the first time, resulting in over-compensating on the second attempt. In your case, sending out rather raw fish.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: PhilD

                                                                                                                                    That is what I have been told too. Since I don't look French but speak French to the waitstaff, to avoid mutual confusion, I say: "à point, comme pour les Français." Then there is no ambiguity.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: PhilD

                                                                                                                                      Well I'm french, born and raised, and don't think I look foreign (but who knows...). And I usually find meat to be overcooked in France, except in some very good meat places maybe.
                                                                                                                                      Normally "rare" should be "saignant", and "medium" should be "à point", so technically we don't have "medium rare" in France, however since the tendency is too overcook, and I will always prefer a slightly undercooked steak, I order "saignant" and more often then not get "medium rare".

                                                                                                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                                                                                                        This post brings up my lone unsuccessful meal in London last visit. My husband and I dined at Rules, the venerable meat-focused restaurant. I doubted that the British would be able to produce a steak as rare as I like it, but I'm fine with lamb cooked medium rare so that's what I ordered. The first attempt arrived at the table cooked medium-well and the second attempt was only marginally better at medium. I would have been much happier if the chef had over compensated and sent out a portion that was rare.

                                                                                                                                        Since I'll be heading to London after our time in France, I now know to add the tag line "...like the French." I actually used that technique in a local French restaurant in the US. I was ordering the steak frites and I began by saying, "... very, very, very rare." The waitress kept at looking at me with what I interpreted as incomprehension, but certainly could have been disbelief. I, then, asked if the chef was French. When she said "yes" I told her to write the word "blue" on her order slip. (Now she was really looking at me with disbelief.) I reassured her the French chef would know exactly what I wanted. And he did!

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                                          it would be presumptive indeed to assume that anyone in London will understand "like the French" -- and given several centuries of discord, just might backfire.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                            The young late director Roger Vadim was in London back in the days before he learned his English from famous pillows. In a restarant he a waiter: "I want a bloody steak."
                                                                                                                                            Offended, the waiter asked: "With fucking fries ?"
                                                                                                                                            (Pardonnez mon Français.)

                                                                                                                                          2. re: PhilD

                                                                                                                                            In France, we ask first how the chef usually likes to cook the meat to, and/or request that it be served as the chef likes to eat it.

                                                                                                                                            (If you are up to the challenge, this also works well for any restaurants that ask for the level of spice, or when questioned by wait staff whether you can tolerate certain ingredients)

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Kurtis

                                                                                                                                              Best advice in this sub-thread.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Kurtis

                                                                                                                                                As some on this site know I order everything (but tartares and souffles) blue-bleu and there's no misunderstanding possible there. If an eyebrow is raised I add "black on the exterior, raw on the interior."