Each country as got his own rules regarding manners and etiquette. I hear sometimes, than the French are arrogant. Let me explain that (most of the time),you are wrong if you believe so.
In every country people appreciate the others to respect their local manners. If you do not understand that, your hosts feel that you are arrogant or uneducated.
The French have a strong idea of their cuisine, their wines, their china and their etiquette: just like everyone in an other country. If you understand and respect these few rules, you will enjoy a great time. As a sample, you will not get sticks in Thailand, no knife, just a fork and a spoon. Never bring the fork to your mouth, the Thai people consider this as being very rude. Push the food with the fork into the spoon , and only the spoon goes to your mouth. You see how confusing that is ?
So, let me explain how a table is set in France and some things to do or not to do.
A table could be set in two different ways :
We call this one, the British way
All the cuttlery is on the table. Flatware is positioned in the logical use (moving toward the plate). What ever the food are, just go this way. Spoons and knives are on the right side of the plate, forks are on the left. Make sure the sharp edges of your knife is facing the plate. The fork and spoon at the top are for dessert.
now The French way
Only one set of flatware for each setting and this will be changed for each dish. In case you are serving a soup, and only then, you have to set with a fork on the left and a knife on the right. You do not really need these to enjoy your soup, but you should never have only one piece of silver alone on the table. Most of the time, we do it French way but only if we have an intimate dinner with maximum six people, or the help of a waiter. It takes some time to do so and as well the host would have to stand very often. You reverse your flatware for only one single reason, It is made in sterling silver or silver plated with your initials. Never otherwise.
Bread and butter plate is on the left side with a butter knife, parallele to the other cuttlery.
To avoid the waiter to disturb you while you have a wonderful conversation with your neighbor, there is a tip you should know. Two different ways to place your flatware on your plate, and that means :
I have not finish
I have finish (even if some foods are left on your plate.
The wine glass is on the right hand side and the water glass is on the left. If different wines will be served, start from the right to the left. With this new fashion of colored glasses and using gobelets for water, the rules are still the same.
Do not be surprised, but in France, we do not serve water. Everyone as to help themself but sometimes the “gentleman” next to a lady will do it for her.
Never, absolutely never, drop your napkin in your used plate. You do not fold it back, you just leave it on the table next to your plate, or on your chair. Try to set your table with a simple way of folding the napkin. We are used to say, “simple is chic”.
We take away the salt and pepper shakers away before dessert.
Time change and now tables could be set with a funny way compair to the formal rules. However, the manners remains the same. I use both ways myself and I have fun. Entertaining, is and should always be a very nice time to enjoy our guests, it is always better with fine habits.
Men next to a lady should stand up and help the lady with her chair soon she wants to go somewhere or when she comes back. Never be loud and allow other guests to finish before speaking.
If you are invited to some close friends or family, you could bring some flowers, a box of chocolate but, if you bring a cake or some wine, you should call your host first to see if that will match with the meal. If you go to a formal dinner or in a home where you have never been before, do not bring anything. Go to a flower shop the next day and have an arrangement delivered with a thank you card. Good thing, you now know what kind of flowers will go well in the house of your hosts.