French Language Blog

A table! * Posted by on Jul 5, 2016 in Culture, Vocabulary

Les français aiment bien manger . . . moi aussi, d’ailleurs. / The French love to eat . . . and so do I. You can probably tell from some of my earlier posts, that food features prominently in my love of France and all things French. That wasn’t always the case though and still amazes my mother, who sent off her very picky 16-year-old son to France for a year and got back un gourmand / a gourmet (or in this context, ‘a foodie’) fan of canard, saumon fume, fois gras, et même des escargots! (duck, smoked salmon, goose liver, and even snails!)

By Hopefulromntic (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

A formal French table setting. By Hopefulromntic (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Les français savent manager, aussi. / The French know how to eat, too. And an important part of any repas (meal), is a proper table setting. In most French households, how you set the table is almost as important as what you’re going to serve on it. Not every meal will require the full array as in the photo above, but you’d be surprised at just how much fancier even a simple setting can seem when organized a la française.

You can find lots of great sites like this one on the web with full details on how to set your table like a French person  (while that site is in French, you should be able to interpret most of it with the vocabulary below).

Vocabulaire / vocabulary

le repas – the meal [les repas sont le petit déjeuner, le déjeuner, et le dîner – the meals are breakfast, lunch, and dinner]

mettre la table – to set the table

la nappe – the tablecloth

la serviette – the napkin (note ‘la serviette de bain‘ is a towel, but you will often here just ‘la serviette‘ used to mean towel as well)

le verre – the glass [‘le verre à vin blanc / rouge‘ – the white / red wine glass; ‘le verre à eau‘ – the water glass; a champagne glass is either ‘une flûte à champagne‘ in the case of a traditional champagne glass or ‘une coupe‘ if it is an older style broad, flat glass]

l’assiette – the plate [though have care: ‘une assiette creuse‘ (a hollow plate) is really a shallow soup bowl]

la cuillère – the spoon [‘la cuillère à soupe‘ – the soup spoon; ‘la cuillère à café / à gâteau‘ – the coffee / cake spoon]

le couteau – the knife

la fourchette – the fork

And here are a few things of note from my experience that always stood out.

  1. A proper French table setting includes forks and spoons “face down” on the table (where in the US, Britain, and other countries, you’re more likely to find them pointing upwards).
  2. Dessert utensils go above the plate, between the glasses (a different one for each beverage!) and the bread plate (though you will often find that even when everything else is present the bread plate is missing! Most French people are perfectly happy to lay their piece of bread right on the tablecloth up and to the left of their plate where the bread plate would go!)
  3. And always a tablecloth . . . which we had even at breakfast.
  4. The French generally use cloth napkins at every meal as well. In my house, we each had our own special napkin ring and would keep our cloth napkins rolled up in them from meal to meal over the course of a few days (or unitl they got too dirty to use).

* Let’s eat! / Time to eat. (Literally “to the table!”

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Since my first trip to France at 16, I have been a passionate francophile. I love the language, food, music, art, people, and more that make France and la Francophonie in general such an amazing part of our global community. Having lived in France and studied the language and culture for over 35 years, it is my great pleasure to be able to share a little bit of my deep love with you through this blog.


  1. Maria Ferreira Yu:

    I am Brazilian studying French and your articles are being very interesting and a very good way to learn. It motivates learning. Congratulations.

    • Tim Hildreth:

      @Maria Ferreira Yu Merci, Maria, for your kind comments. Bonne continuation et bonne courage with your studies!