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May 31, 2014 09:13 AM

Eating hamburgers and frites with your mitts or utensils; a cultural difference?

Today, as I was eating at JDD's Aurelie Chaigneau's latest find, Le Ruisseau in the 18th, a plain and simple burger joint between my flat and my gym, I noted that a 5-some of affluent looking young-folk all ate their burgers and frites with knifes and forks, never touching the food with their hands whereas a 3-some of equally affluent French guys who looked like Djokovic's brothers never touched their utensils. I'll wager that all of them have been to Vegas, Tucson and Brooklyn.
French folks - Parnassien, Soph and Soup, what'd'ya'think?

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  1. As a French folk (or maybe as a slightly OCD about having my hands clean...) I don't mind eating burgers, chicken, french fries, pie, etc. with my hands, at home... where I can immediately go wash my hands afterward.

    But in a restaurant, I'd rather not... but that's just me...

    1. I have burgered with a native Parisian who made a point of stopping to buy a proper place setting of flatware before we visited an In-and-Out. That's class.

      18 Replies
        1. re: jock

          " OCD for sure."

          Pas du tout. Just French, as suggested by John T above.

          1. re: mangeur

            I spent a lot of growing-up years in Buenos Aires, which is pretty European, and there it was expected that if an intact piece of fruit was served for dessert (peach, orange, pear), it was to be eaten with a knife a fork and never touched with the hands. Sandwiches were often eaten with knife and fork. I heard plenty of comments about Americans being like monkeys when they ate food out of their hands. And jock's comment is typical of Americans, who assume their way of doing things to be the best and only. Never the twain shall meet.

            1. re: Querencia

              I don't think either way is wrong or right/ better or worse. I do find it amusing a Frenchman/woman wouldn't be able to do "as the Americans do" in the context of eating fast food burgers. How would we feel about a European visitor to another country where the local cuisine is eaten with the hands, such as Ethiopia, insisting on flatware? Somewhere between pretentious and insulting, I suspect.

              1. re: julesrules

                Just to remind you that the two French persons on this board have repeated that they did not care one way or the other how others eat their burger. Hope this is acceptable to you.

              1. re: LulusMom

                "or Canadian."
                Wait a minute, I'm one of those folks who were/are United Empire Loyalists. We're nice people, we say please and thank you and we like terrible food except for Tim Hortons donuts and maple syrup.

          2. re: mangeur

            imho, not class -- more like overkill. burgers were never meant to be eaten with a knife and fork. A patty melt, yes on the knife and fork.

            1. re: ChefJune

              We aren't talking Americans here. We're talking people who have grown up with a strictly enforced code of dining protocol. In the situation I described, it seemed perfectly reasonable and natural.

              Ribs weren't meant for knife and fork approach either, and I don't eat them that way at home. But I do out.

              1. re: mangeur

                "We're talking people who have grown up with a strictly enforced code of dining protocol."
                So, why did 1/2 follow the rules and 1/2 (equally French and affluent) not hesiate to eat everything with their fingers?

                1. re: mangeur

                  I don't know where you're from, but I'm from Chicago where there is a fairly strong "ribs culture," and I have never seen anyone eat spare ribs or rib tips with knife and fork.

                  1. re: ChefJune

                    Those paper towels on the table sure ain't gonna soil themselves!

                1. re: monavano

                  It's done.

                  Did you read Sistereurope's post?

                2. re: mangeur

                  If he's the native Parisian I think you're talking about, maybe we should specify that he was eating his In-N-Out without buns?

                  1. re: souphie

                    That would make a huge difference.

                3. Had dinner with a French friend on Friday (in Paris), The specials included burger and frites. I asked him if he was going to eat it with his hands like he used to (he used to live in the US), and he said I don't know and looked pained, so I let him off the hook and said OK, you can use your utensils. I looked around and everyone else (this resto was deep in the 20th = no tourists I'm sure) was doing the same, knife and fork in hand.
                  And on a related note, I just learned that I have made a faux pas every time I have ever eaten a salad in France! You use your knife and fork to FOLD the lettuce, don't cut with the knife!!

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: sistereurope

                    Sister, I have heard that the "do not cut salad with knife" rule started when knives were carbon steel and discolored/stained with acid. Or not...

                    1. re: mangeur

                      I learned the same thing. And when hosting and preparing the salad, we must remember to tear the lettuce into small enough bits so that the guest is not stuck with big leaves sticking out of both sides of the mouth.

                      1. re: mangeur

                        That's also where fish knives come from, since fish is often served with an acidic sauce.

                        1. re: bcc

                          As Årte Johnson used to say, way before your time, "Verrrrrry interesting." Thanks for this.

                      2. re: sistereurope

                        Even this lowly American was taught to never use a knife to eat salad.

                        1. re: LulusMom

                          but in Europe, you are *supposed* to use your fork. (it's way easier)

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            well yeah, I use a fork for my salad. I'm not a savage.

                            1. re: LulusMom

                              Gah. Sorry -- doing too many things at once.

                              Using a *knife* and fork to eat salad is considered proper behaviour in Europe, and quite frankly, I still use a knife in the US, because it's just so much easier to eat a salad.

                              You do not, however, cut the lettuce. you fold it onto the fork with the knife.

                              It's quite graceful and certainly more elegant than trying to stuff a wayward sprig of frisee into your mouth while it smears dressing across your cheek.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                I agree with Parigi that salad problems originate in the kitchen. Whole romaine leaves are lovely but not gracious.

                                1. re: mangeur

                                  but the only way to guarantee that is if you're eating at home.

                                  Sadly, not everybody who makes salads agrees -- so it's just a lot easier to use a knife and fork.

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Totally. In the US eating a salad at a restaurant it is almost impossible to not use a knife to cut the lettuce - huge pieces.

                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                      Salads of all sorts (Caesar, wedge salad, salade composée, etc.) can be eaten with a fork and knife, and you cut them to your heart's content. The "no-cut" rule applies only to plain green salad with vinaigrette (lettuce, romaine, etc.).

                                      1. re: Ptipois

                                        I know it is hard to believe, but even green salad leaves here are often not torn small enough to eat without spraying vinaigrette all over oneself. And no matter how often I get on my soapbox about it, it stays the same.

                                        1. re: LulusMom

                                          that's why using the knife to fold the lettuce is such a great option.

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            It's an option, as is cutting it (which I don't find inelegant).

                        2. re: sistereurope

                          interesting side note...

                          at a work dinner once, the reaction a french cowoker when presented with a wedge salad was priceless. jaw dropped and mouth open for at least 3 minutes

                          1. re: sistereurope

                            I know I've seen this many times.

                            Serve a French person a wedge salad and watch their head implode. it can be quite amusing

                            1. re: DukeFan

                              After the implosion, is a mop and bucket used to clean up, or gloved hands?

                          2. Why o why are discussing as though there were such a thing as hamburger etiquette ?Just chew with mouth closed and do not spit at table. Fork no fork, knife no knife. Are we going to research how the Court of Habsburg ate the eff-ing burger ?

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: Parigi

                              "the Court of Habsburg eat the eff-ing burger"
                              So if we don't discuss this we're forced to discuss SoPi or Chez L'Ami Jean or where to take Granny in the 6th.
                              Somewhere in the three free silly newspapers I read daily it pointed out that the three hot food items in Europe today are all thought to be Yankee but are instead named after German spots - Hamburg(ers), Frankfurt(ers) and Berlin(oises) - huh? Donuts are from Berlin?

                                1. re: John Talbott

                                  In Spanish a jelly doughnut is a "berlina" so, maybe so. I think that in the US we generally think of doughnuts as coming to us from Holland. They are mentioned on a Dutch tea table in Washington Irving's story about the Headless Horseman---called "oily cakes".

                                  1. re: Querencia

                                    At least he didn't use the literal translation: "oily balls".

                                  2. re: John Talbott

                                    "we're forced to discuss SoPi or Chez L'Ami Jean"
                                    Anything but that. Surely a fate worse than death.

                                  3. re: Parigi

                                    Let me bring this thread back on topic, that of where to find the sweetest shawarma guys in Paris.

                                    When the wait at Frenchie-to-Go promised to turn us into the Bickersons, we settled for a sandwich at the end of the block. Shabby little shop but that's normal. Ordered the usual sandwich: double harissa on the sandwich, 4 spoonsful on the paper for the frites. Guy looks at me and grins. Noticed some interesting grilled long green peppers. Asked him if they were hot. Oui. Really hot? Little shrug and grin. Did I want some? Non, merci.

                                    When my tray arrives at the table, I had a heap of the requested harissa and three peppers. He's watching. I nod thank you. Try one. Not bad. Eat one. He is ecstatic.

                                    Turned in a clean tray except for the bread. They sang out their thanks and farewells. Oh, and we were the only peskies in the place.

                                    Use knife and fork to eat your heart out, Frenchie.

                                    37 rue Petits Carreaux

                                  4. Another thing to keep in mind is that until recently (when "gourmet burgers" started making their own buns or having them made by bakers) burgers were made with shitty buns ! So you either went to McDo, and had an altogether shitty burger, but ate it with your hands, or you went to a bistro-ish place, with ok burgers but with buns so soaked in meat juice that eating them by hand would be one messy task.

                                    French people do eat with their hands, sandwiches, or fast food (falafel, burgers etc.)... it's just that we're used to big messy burgers with soggy bottoms...

                                    21 Replies
                                    1. re: Rio Yeti

                                      "French people do eat with their hands"
                                      Of course, and one of my greatest memories is watching a bunch of suit-and-tie Ministry types in the 8th learning how to hammer hard-shell Maryland crabs.

                                      1. re: Rio Yeti

                                        And the proper way of eating asparagus IS with the hands.

                                        1. re: Parigi

                                          Just curious.
                                          I eat with my hands, but never asparagus, unless I'm sneaking a stalk or two out of the oven/grill.

                                          1. re: monavano

                                            At Grand Véfour no less.
                                            I was served asparagus with no silverware, just a finger bowl. -- Not that the maître D had taken one look at me and figured I was a savage (which he probably had mais bon). Others who had ordered asparagus were also served that way.
                                            Not just the Grand Véfour, I have seen this in other "hautes" (and less hautes) places.
                                            At dinner in many private homes (I can't say ALL), one is also expected to eat asparagus with the hands.

                                            1. re: Parigi


                                              I guess it's considered très chic.

                                              Ooh la la!

                                              Now, can we do that in the States, please?

                                              1. re: Parigi

                                                There is a mention of this in some English novel, I am thinking Cronin but may disremember, when a man takes his estranged wife out to lunch and feels disgust when she eats asparagus with her hands and drops sauce on her fur neckpiece.

                                              2. re: monavano

                                                Oh man, Parigi, I'm totally with you on everything on this thread. I was also taught to eat asparagus with my fingers - which totally appalled my Scottish in-laws when they witnessed it.

                                              3. re: Parigi

                                                This thread is getting valuable.

                                                I would agree with you when it is served "nature". But when it is sauced or served with a garnish, say shavings of jambon or a poached egg, does it not fall under different rules?

                                                1. re: Parigi

                                                  And at Prunier many years ago I learned how to eat mussels by watching a very sophisticated looking lady using her fingers and an empty mussel shell to pick out and eat the next mussel.

                                                  1. re: mexivilla

                                                    Yup, breaks the stereotype doesn't it? And a very efficicient method if you select the biggest one to start.

                                                    1. re: mexivilla

                                                      I'm gobsmacked: is there any other way to eat mussels? I mean, did anyone manage to eat them with knife and fork?

                                                      1. re: Ptipois

                                                        Oh, yes! People quite often stare at us as we use the shell-as-pincer method.

                                                        1. re: Ptipois

                                                          with fork only, prior to having been let in on the far-better method of using an empty shell.

                                                    2. re: Rio Yeti

                                                      When I was a tyke, a hamburger was 4cm thick, and that included the bun, patty, cheese, lettuce, tomato and a couple of dill pickle slices. It cost 35¢ and you bought it at Clif's Hamburger stand 'cause McDonalds hadn't yet come to town. You could easily eat it in hand.

                                                      But today's monster burgers require deconstructing, knife and fork in hand, after tossing one of the slices of bun. To me, they defeat the spirit of the thing.

                                                      1. re: mangeur

                                                        It literally grosses me out when sandwiches are made so thick, you'd have to unhinge your jaw to shovel it in.

                                                          1. re: monavano

                                                            Me too. That's why I have no compunction about using k and f to get the job done. Maybe I'm just pretentious.

                                                            1. re: mangeur

                                                              I enjoy eating a burger with my hands- I enjoy that tactile aspect. But, if the bugger starts to fall apart on me, then I pick up the utensils.

                                                              I have my limits.
                                                              And, my pride ;-)

                                                          2. re: mangeur

                                                            "But today's monster burgers require deconstructing"
                                                            Good point.
                                                            With a childhood burger one could get one's mitts around it because it wasn't huge, had no lettuce, hothouse tomato slices or silly sauce added, but now with Super-Size Me, one almost has to cut it with a knife, add catsup to the sides, utilize 3-5 napkins and guard your (that is my) white pants.

                                                            1. re: John Talbott

                                                              That is why I love to serve bison, deer and caribou mini-burgers to visitors from La Vieille France.