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Mind your manners Posted by on Feb 28, 2017 in Culture, Vocabulary

The French are very big on manners and following the rules of étiquette. You can read here about the rules for gift giving, here for proper greetings, and here for the rules for kissing (yes, they even have rules for that!). But do you know where the rules come from?

Louis XIV et sa famille. (Louis XIV and his family) – Formerly attributed to Nicolas de Largillière [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The rules of French etiquette, from the French word étiquette (literally meaning a tag or label*), are often attributed to the period of Louis XIV as ways for the king to both accommodate and control the vast number of nobles whom he compelled to join him at the palace of Versailles (Louis believed in keeping his friends close, and his enemies closer!) Over time, the rules of courtly etiquette spread throughout society as people sought to appear more sophisticated and “noble” themselves.

* Une étiquette can be the label on a bottle (like on a wine bottle), the tag in a shirt, or a sticker (though the French word for the English ‘sticker‘ is ‘autocollant‘ which literally means ‘self sticking‘ from the verb ‘coller‘, ‘to stick or adhere‘. ‘Coller‘ also gives us ‘la colle‘ which is French for ‘glue‘ . . . and the expression ‘être collé(e)‘, ‘to be in detention (at school). And if someone ever calls you ‘un vrai pot de colle‘ (‘a real pot of glue‘) you should think about spending less time with them / giving them some space. This expression refers to someone who follows you around all the time or sticks too close.

Society is generally less formal today, but many people still follow the rules of etiquette and view good manners as a sign of “good breeding”. I still know some families in France where the children vouvoient leurs parents and where whole pieces of fruit are only eaten at the dinner table with a knife and fork (next time you’re in the mood for une belle pomme / a nice apple or une poire juteuses** / a juicy pear, try eating it on a plate, peeling it using just your knife and fork!)

Shifting gears just a bit: Did you get to see the Oscars ceremony this weekend? It was a fun event – though not without controversy – at which France was particularly well represented. From Best Actress nominee Isabelle Hupert and Best Animated Feature Film nomineesMy Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle, to nominations for Best Documentary, Best Costume Design, and Best Achievement in Visual Effects, French artists were up for a total of 9 awards.

If you liked La La Land, why not check out one of the French films often cited as inspiration for the film. You can see the trailers below, or click to find out more about  Les demoiselles de Rochefort (The young girls of Rochefort) and Les parapluies de Cherbourg (The umbrellas of Cherbourg).

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris