Plate-lickin’ good: Cafe culture in Paris takes an unexpected turn

cafe arts et the
The Café art et thé on rue de la Roquette. Picture source: Yelp, http://www.yelp.fr/biz/art-et-th%C3%A9-paris-2.

I saw something today that I’ve never seen before: a French person taking food home from a restaurant.  Doggy bags really are not a thing in France at all–there isn’t even a word for them–and it was a moderate scandal last year when the government passed a law requiring restaurants over a certain size to provide them.  So, when the lady a couple tables over told the waiter that she wanted to take her left-over merguez (a kind of sausage) home, he brought her a piece of aluminum foil, and she wrapped them up.

What happened next surprised me even more.  To set the context, you have to realize that this was a perfectly nice little cafe, not some hipster hole in the wall.  Carefully-coiffed middle-aged ladies with pearls and subtle but impressive decolletage (or décolleté, as we say in these parts), silver-haired guys in sports coats and shirts with collars–that kind of thing.  So, imagine that–and then imagine this lady licking her plate.  Wow–I was pretty stunned.  Amazingly, no one else seemed to notice.

I will happily grant that I do not have a complete handle on French table manners.  However, if this is something normal, I definitely haven’t seen or heard of it before, and let me tell you, the French typically take their table manners seriously.  Native speakers, can you enlighten the rest of us?  Incidentally: the lunch was delicious.  Café art et thé, on rue de la Roquette.  A delicious lamb couscous and a glass of Côtes du Rhone set me back 15 euros.  Come at 11 on a Sunday and you may find a large group of people discussing philosophy, depending on where they’re meeting that week.

  • la brochette: a kebab.  Typically lamb, unless otherwise specified, but ask.
  • le couscous: couscous!  Some say that it is becoming one of France’s national dishes.  France has a large North African Arab population, and you can get excellent North African food here–Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian, whatever.
  • lécher: to lick.  Yes, this is a relative of the English word lecher, in a not-too-roundabout way.  The Frankish word lekko:n (the o: is a long o) gave rise to the Old French word lichiere/lechier, meaning “to live in debauchery or gluttony,” and also to the verb lécher, “to lick.”  English lecher comes from lichiere/lechier.  Etymology is so much more fun than you might have thought!

10 thoughts on “Plate-lickin’ good: Cafe culture in Paris takes an unexpected turn”

  1. Native, not native speaker….my dad used to make a huge deal of table manners, especially when not at the table. You eat at the table and it’s bad manners to do so elsewhere. Smacking chewing gum used to drive him crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Do you mean she literally ‘licked the plate’? If so I can guarantee this is not typical French behaviour. On the other hand, using bread to mop up the sauce (the verb, ‘saucer’ son assiette) is perfectly acceptable. Et vivement le doggie bag!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The licking bit was maybe the person gone a bit sof-headed? Here mopping up is “fare la scarpetta” – do the little shoe! Hooray for doggie bags, the food that gets wasted in restaurants is offensive!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting…well, plate-licking aside, this looks like a charming place to visit! As for doggie bags, even though I am “une Américaine” I’m not really a fan. My greatest desire in a restaurant is to be served a perfect portion. (that is, not too much!) In my experience the leftover I take home smells up my car on the way home, and my fridge several days later, then gets wasted anyway. boo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is, indeed, a nice place to stop for a bite if you’re in the neighborhood. In general, my experience with restaurants in France has been that the serving sizes are smaller than we’re used to in the US, and doggy bags are generally not needed.

      Liked by 1 person

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