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French Superstitions Around Food: The Do’s and Don’ts of Eating in France

February 05, 2022
by Lisa Rankin
Although eating out in Paris is a must do when visiting the city, it is important to be polite and if you can, remember customs specific to dining in France that make the hosts and those around you feel at ease.

Cafe Pause in the 11th arrondissement. Image Credit: Chris Gold

“There are a lot of superstitions about food in France because food is so important to the French,” said Lisa Rankin, founder of Flavors of Paris.

Here is a list of some of the most common french superstitions surrounding food and how to eat like a local while visiting Paris.

Table First

This superstition exemplifies the significance of mealtimes in everyday life in France. The first thing that goes through the door when moving into a new home in France is the table. This guarantees your time in the home will be filled with good fortune. Yep. having a table for a place to dine takes precedence over a bed for a place to sleep.

Never put the baguette upside down on the table.

a baker holding traditional bread french baguettes

Across France, baguettes are in their own sacred food group cherished among locals and tourists alike. But one thing you might not know about France’s favourite bread is the dark history attached to it. In the Middle Ages, executions took place in the public square for everyone to witness. The French feared the executioners with hatred. No one approached him, and bakers were reluctant to serve him. It took a royal decree to force the bakers to set aside bread for these pariahs.

The bakers were none too happy about having to bake bread for the executioners, and folks believed that the loaves for the executioners were filled with hostility, by picking up the misgivings of the bakers while preparing it. So these baguettes were placed upside down on the bakery counter to avoid any confusion with the rest of the batch.

In addition, according to folklore, executioners were allowed to grab things in shops without paying for them so bakers would specifically pick the worst of the batch of baguettes to serve to the executioners.

The superstition continues in France today. You’ll be hard pressed to find a baguette that has been placed with the flat side facing up in bakeries, groceries, markets and restaurants.

Many French people claim laying a baguette face down means risking a hunger curse to you and all those who eat it. However, if you accidentally put the bread upside down on the table, legend has it that you must draw a cross with your knife on the flat side of the baguette before cutting it to erase the curse. Better safe than sorry.

“Although this superstition is still prevalent today, there is a small hitch in the story”, Rankin explains. “Well, actually a significant one”, she continues. “The story is said to have begun during medieval times, but the baguette only originated roughly between 1830 and 1900. If you do the math. It doesn’t add up, but the story is still a good one none-the-less.”

Don’t offer a knife to a friend or family member

French chef’s knife. Image credit: Didriks

In France, offering a friend of family member a knife as a gift can be inappropriate or offensive. The gesture is often interpreted to mean that you want to cut off your relationship or friendship with them.

According to the superstition, to avoid breaking the tie between you and a friend, have them give you a small amount of money for the knife instead. The amount is irrelevant in this case, as the money serves to change the present into a transaction, therefore breaking the curse tied to gifting a knife. This allows the relationship to continue without worries of a severed connection in the future.

Clink with everyone and look them in the eye

Clinking wine glasses among dinner guests is the French way of celebrating a meal together. Image Credit: Dutch Baby

The French love wine and celebrating with family and friends. But when it comes to cheering, they have certain rules for how to do it correctly.

“Even today there is quite a strict protocol when you are cheering with wine,” Lisa explained. “You clink everyone in the group who has a wine glass and you always look them in the eye. You never cheer a person with water or a non-alcoholic beverage because that is bad luck, and those rules are strictly adhered to.”

This tradition gives everyone at the table a moment to appreciate the company they are dining with and the wine they are about to consume. It is an opportunity to reflect on the meal at hand and give thanks for the people you are sharing it with.

Avoid 13 guests at a dinner party

According to a Gallic superstition, hosting a dinner party with 13 people in France will bring you and the guests bad luck. This tradition stems from Judas at the Last Supper, as he ended up being a traitor and the meal had 13 guests.

While this superstition is not often discussed among the French today, many still avoid having thirteen guests at a dinner party because of the historic and biblical significance of the number.

Don’t spill the salt

In Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Judas can be seen knocking over a small salt dish with his forearm (pictured third from the right). Image Credit: Alberto Fernandez Fernandez

According to the Christian tradition, spilling table salt means bad luck. This superstition is also heavily connected to Judas in the Last Supper. In Leonardo da Vinci’s famous depiction of the meal, Judas can be seen knocking over a pot of salt.

Based on the folklore, if salt was spilled during a dinner party in France it was determined you would get into an argument with the friend sitting in front of you. In order to avoid this, the French will grab a pinch of salt to throw over their left shoulder and rid themselves of the bad luck.

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