Dating a Frenchman: C’est Bon, Monsieur?

A few months into my relationship with Matthieu we went out for lunch in his picturesque, coastal town of St. Malo.

We headed to the old part of the city, a typical European old town complete with cobbled streets, medieval-style buildings and souvenir shops on every corner.

We sat down at the restaurant and the waitress brought out a bottle of wine. She poured the red into Matthieu’s glass and asked him, ‘C’est bon, Monsieur ?’ (is it good, sir?), to which he replied ‘oui, c’est bon’ (yes, it’s good) and then the waitress filled my glass.

Hang on.

Where did I get asked if I wanted to try the wine? Did I come into the conversation at all? No! I don’t think I even got glanced at during this ‘wine tasting exchange.’

I held back and just looked incredulously at him as we continued our lunch date like nothing strange had happened… Well, I guess for him, nothing strange had happened. I wasn’t particularly offended or even angry – if anything, I thought it was funny. Overall I just didn’t get it.

Whenever we’d been out to a bar or a cafe he always asked me what I wanted, what was so different about ordering wine?

I know that in French culture, it’s not common for women to pour their own alcoholic drinks, especially in a dinner situation. If I remember correctly it’s the ‘job’ of the man on your right (or is it left?) to keep serving you wine at a dinner party. A lady should never have to refill her own wine glass in France. If you happen to sit next to a man who won’t fill your glass, social custom would say that you die of thirst before filling it up yourself!

Eventually I asked Matthieu what was going on that day.

“So, you don’t care about my opinion?” I asked him in a teasing voice (I really wasn’t angry about it after all 🙂 )

“Oh… Well, you know… The man chooses the wine, he’s ‘chef de la maison’ (head of the household)” he said with a smile.  I rolled my eyes and laughed, putting it down to one of our many cultural differences that we occasionally ran into.

This whole ‘men choose wine’ exchange got me thinking. Is this the last remaining stranglehold of French patriarchy? French women have achieved a lot of equality over the last 50 years, but is the one thing French men will not give up being in charge of is red wine? Do French women even notice this? Do they even care? And what happens if you don’t like your boyfriend’s choice in wine? Hm…

I suppose that for any woman who ever dates a French man, I hope for your sake that he has good taste in wine!

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10 thoughts on “Dating a Frenchman: C’est Bon, Monsieur?

  1. Most restaurants will serve the men first when it comes to tasting wine. But the “chef de maison” can also ask the waiter to have the women taste the wine. Or the women can just say, “I’m the one tasting the wine today.” Some waiters will just ask who wants to taste the wine, and that’s the best situation! At least, that’s my take on it. 😉

  2. Just dining culture to me. I work in a fine dining restaurant and I serve the taste to whomever chooses the wine. I am sure that has much to do with men ordering wine in French culture. However you want the host or the order to always feel in control. For myself, it’s how I get tipped well. Silly stuff too like when I open the wine my label always faces the host and I pour the wine with the label facing he/she and I always pour for his or her guests first and the host last. I love when others order for me. I wouldn’t mind an inquiry about my preferences but many times it’s a sign of good taste and confidence. Next time you will have to strong arm him and order something fantastic yourself but let him taste it!

  3. This is really old school. I am French but I would probably be equally shocked if it happened to me. I have never had the feeling that France was a macho country. When I was growing up my family and friends’ mums all worked and had quite good jobs (I know a lot of French female doctors, scientists, lawyers etc…). The state subsidises child care which makes going back to work an easier process. Sure you always get the glass ceiling thing but it’s definitely changing and while some people stay really stuck up in traditional views (thanks God there’s no such person in my entourage, it would wind me up) I have the feeling that house chores are equally shared in most families (in my experience). Go to the UK if you want to find an appalling record.

  4. My french partner always gives the tasting glass to me if they pour it for him (nearly always, even when I choose the wine), because he quite rightly thinks it’s sexist!

  5. Wine is served to taste to whomever chooses the wine. End of story and no macho culture here. Just wine serving etiquette.
    Additionnaly, wine is served to taste not to see how much you like it or not, you’re supposed to know what you order and the bottle will be opened for you, but to check whether the wine is good and not ‘bouchonné”, “madérisé”, “rêche” or “piqué”… in short undrikable. In that case it is replaced by another bottle at restaurant’s expense.

  6. Nicely done whismerhill. I hope the blog poster listens to you because what happened to her was restaurant etiquette and she really has no reason to be upset about it. The waiter didn’t magically bring the wine to table and pour it for the man. Her boyfriend ordered the wine and the waiter served the taste to the one who ordered. I have been served the taste but once, and I have ordered the bottle exactly once. All other times my company was given the taste as they had been the ones to order it. Blogger, please don’t take this personally. It is not sexist at all.

    • “So, you don’t care about my opinion?” I asked him in a teasing voice (I really wasn’t angry about it after all 🙂 )”

      Please read my post more carefully before making a comment, If you read the post properly you will notice that I state more than once that I wasn’t angry, but more interested by the differences in dining culture.

      • Indeed. I caught that the first time, I think you made it very clear. I’m dating a French man. He is impeccably chivalrous. He makes it pretty hard to have eyes for anyone else.

  7. good morning
    ohsacrebleu I am sad that you have misinterpreted a French custom. It is not about tasting when the waiter pours a glass of wine background. But to taste if the wine is good and what tests will always be done by a man. This is not macho sexist, it’s absolutely the opposite. This is the man who takes the risk to taste a wine that would be wrong concervé undrinkable. In the French culture, women are the subject of attention on the part of man. It is absolutely improper to cause a situation or a woman would lose his dignity before an assembly. Mathieu response looks like a big joke!

  8. Hello ohsacrebleu

    I am French and before starting I apologize for my low level in English!

    I am shocked by your argument, “So, you do not care about my opinion? “You take a moment which is extracted from a whole context, and you apply your acquired from Anglophone culture.

    I’ll try to explain why in the course of your lunch in Saint Malo, your opinion is important.

    Initially the waiter brings you the “carte” or you can choose what you like. Normally in the French protocol, the lady made her choice first, and as a matter of harmony and man must choose the same or a very similar dish. (For example, if a woman chooses a dish with meat, man can not take fish).

    Although the order intake is produced by man and not that it is sexist or because he is the leader, or whatever else again, that’s wrong!

    The reality is that dinner is dedicated to the pleasure of the lady, you have the good side of things and spend an exquisite and magical moment. So all that is unpleasant, order something missing, manage orders, pay the bill and leave the money … it’s all completely avoided you.

    In the case of wine that is not a soda that you take with any food. In the well-French session, the wine must correspond with the selected menu. So if Mathieu order a wine, he does not choose according to his taste, he must order the wine in accordance with both menus.

    In summary the lady does not care all that headache, but everything is organized around the original choice of the lady.

    Same process when it comes to cheese, if the lady will get a goat cheese, sheep, cow or cheese cooked or raw white or blue cheese. The wine must be consistent with the choice of cheese from the lady.

    I should point out that the chef tastes everything he prepares and therefore you will not have any unpleasant surprises. For wine, the server removes the cap and bottle cap before you, to prove that there is no fraud. The bottle is opened in your presence, it has not been tasted. So this is the man to taste the wine to preserve the lady of inconvenience.

    When the server Mathieu said “All right, sir?”, It is not a question of man’s tasting pleasure and to confine the woman to receive nothing! No, no and no. That’s request permission to fill the glass of the lady, with a wine conforms to the standard it should have.

    I think your mistake is not to have asked the person who committed the action, the reason for this act. Always contact the right person. Mathieu apparently had no knowledge of practices that dates back centuries.

    Remember that a meal in France, it is not ingested protein, but a social act, family, friends or intimate.

    In France “THE WOMENS” is the center of the galaxy, be it beauty, fashion, arts … everything revolves around them. France is a name of women, the Republic has the effigy a woman named Marianne.

    Liberty, equality and fraternity are three female name and are represented by three women, in Place de la Nation in Paris.

    (The statue of liberty offered by France to USA symbolizing freedom, is a woman who lights the world).

    In France, if you wear attacks on its symbols you will have a huge demonstration, and men will fight head.

    I hope I made you changed your mind about the perception that you have had with another French point of view.

    Sorry for the length of the text, but understand another culture is always a lot of time to explain!

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