If you haven't been to the George V, it's the fancy Four Seasons hotel just off the Champs Elysée, where the notoriously wealthy Nicolas Sarkozy spent an extravagant night after winning the French presidency in May. It charges 730 euros a night, plus 40 euros if you want breakfast. That's around a thousand bucks. The Cinq, its renowned restaurant, has two Michelin stars, and it had its silverware designed specially. If you're after posh and poncy, you can't get a better recommendation.
If you haven't met my boyfriend, he's the kind of proper a English gentleman who blushes to his ears if the tomato soup hits the tablecloth or the chair making a farty noise, or who spends an entire evening moaning that his fish is burnt on the outside, raw on the inside, saltier than the dead sea, tougher than the soles of his rubber sailing boots. but always replies "oh yes, sir, wonderful" when the 16-year-old Polish waiter asks in broken English if we've enjoyed our meal.
We prepared thoroughly. We scrubbed our faces and polished our shoes. We put on our best knickers. My boyfriend, too - he's experimenting with his sexuality. I pulled my wedding handbag out of the back cupboard. Then we googled French etiquette and printed out the results. So we each had a copy of this list:
- Table manners are Continental -- the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
- If there is a seating plan, you may be directed to a particular seat.
- Do not begin eating until the hostess says 'bon appetit'.
- If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife.
- Do not rest your elbows on the table, although your hands should be visible and not in your lap.
- Finish everything on your plate.
- Do not cut salad with a knife and fork. Fold the lettuce on to your fork.
- Peel and slice fruit before eating it.
- Leave your wineglass nearly full if you do not want more.
What a let-down
You know what? After all that, the Cinq was super relaxed. Let's face it. If you're going to end up signing a check for a few hundred Euros by 10.45 PM and no one is going to quibble if you want to stuff a napkin down your shirt collar or eat your soup with the dessert spoon. If you don't understand the frilly menu, they'll translate:
Boyfriend: Could you tell me what 'daurade meuniere au fenouil sur petites pommes de terre, avec mousse velouté de petit pois ' is?
Waiter: Certainly sir. You are English, yes? It is fish and chips with mushy peas.
You don't have to keep your elbows off the table and your hands just above it. You don't have to make complicated signals with your knife and fork and the level of your wine glass. Good waiters know whether you want any more wine. You can even suck the heads off shrimp and eat orange slices with your fingers--no one will care. Etiquette schmetiquette.
The food's a bit too fancy, and to be honest there's generally not enough. What you pay for is the pleasure of an evening spent doing exactly what you like, and the waiters still being polite to you. All the guff about etiquette and rules is a conspiracy dreamed up by piggy aristos trying to scare the riff raff away.
Ah! But don't think you're off the hook.
Paris is full of restaurants that are so rule bound you'll need a 368 pages guide or a skin as thick as one to survive. They look a bit like this:
I took my boyfriend there to say thanks for the George V experience, and we didn't prepare a jot. Mistake.
<Rules and regulations</b>
First rule is that you have to be male. So I was onto a bum start.
Second rule is, you have to be dirty, and you have to have seven-year old grime ingrained into the wrinkles of your hard-working hands and at least nine-year-old soot under your thin slivers of fingernails. I'd just painted mine bright pink. Bad news.
Third rule is, you have to have your bum sticking out like this:
Because you know what? The Restaurant Ambience was super-strict. Let's face it, if you're not a regular and you're only going to be handing over a few dog-eared Euros at the end of the night, the waiters aren't going to feel any obligation to be polite. If you don't understand the scrawled blackboard menu, they won't help.
Me: Could you tell me what the special is?
Waiter: [Silence]. Then: Meat.
Me: Right. What kind of meat? Chicken? Lamb? Pork? Beef, perhaps?
Waiter: [Silence]. It's meat, okay?
Me: Sure, I just wondered. You see, I only eat white meat. Chicken and that. You know, we're not supposed to eat too much red meat. Heart disease and cholesterol and all that. So I just wondered, do you know what kind of meat it is?
Waiter: [Silence]. Are you taking the piss?
Waiter's wife: Are you taking the piss?
Me: Ha! No, no, no. Sorry. Okay, I'll, erm, have the pasta.
Waiter: No pasta.
Me: Okay, no problem. The rice dish, then, that looks good.
Waiter's wife: No rice.
Me: Sure. Hard to come by these days, I know. Plate of chips?
Waiter: [Silence] Are you taking the piss?
Waiter's mate: Are you taking the piss?
Me: You know, I've changed my mind. I'd really love to try the special.
[Waiter tromps off] Merde, these bloody foreigners. Taking the piss.
We were doing something wrong, that was clear. But hey! These rules aren't on google.
The food, if you're a fan of proper food like my son-of-a-farmer boyfriend, is actually really bloody good. But we didn't think much of the ambience in restaurant Ambience. If anyone knows what you're supposed to do to fit into these places, leave a comment below.
Tonight I'm looking forward to a take-away pizza and a bottle of cheap wine in front of the telly. And I shall eat it all with my fingers, wipe my hands on the sofa, drink wine out of a mug, and burp. I shall probably be naked, and so will my boyfriend. So there.
Monica Guy lives in Paris, writes for Time Out, and keeps a low profile, like any true femme fatale. In fact, most people don't even realize she's a femme fatale. She's been told to upload her avatar, but she's not sure who or what that is, or why she might want one. Unless he's in a pilot's suit, that is. That would be quite another matter.
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