Differences in learning also translate into table manners, a somewhat old fashioned concept in modern England, but one that still holds value in France.
In France,one should attend the table when invited & only sit when your host is seated.Chairs are placed at a slight angle from the table to indicate vacancy & welcome guests. Your hands should be above the table at all times, though not on the table. My mothers reminder to, 'take my elbows off the table' would certainly fit with French etiquette, but hands above or on the table would have been impolite to Granny's eye. UK etiquette, if it exists, still dictates that hands should always be out of sight, preferably on your knees. This English practise incidentally makes the French wonder what we are doing with your hands, out of sight....now what could we be doing with our hands under the table that is so impolite? Answers (clean only ) on a postcard...my gran would turn in her grave!
The French table is laid with the back of the fork and spoon being upper most. This comes from the times when families had coats of arms on the back of their cutlery & these were to be displayed. This doesn't quite work with Ikeas best cutlery, but the practise still persists in France. French meals are eaten slowly with the cutlery placed down whilst chewing or talking. The meal, its flavours, aromas and ambiance should all be savoured.
Never the case when it came to stew / lobby day in my childhood; the order of the day was get you head down & trough; grunting appreciative noises was the only social discourse expected or delivered. To place down the cutlery of idly chat would have been met by, 'less yapping more eating' or 'is there something wrong with it?'
Bread at meal times does have memories, great chunks to be dipped or bitten into. Any pretence to dab or scoop the food, as with a piece of French baguette, would probably have been reprimanded by instructions of 'not to mess with your food, eat it!'
The taking of bread, serve yourself dishes & drinks follows strictly the hosts direction. All this bodes ill for Anglo /Franco relations. We sit when led to the table (if indeed we use a table) and usually eat at speed with scant conversation, helping ourselves to whatever is on the table. French children are told to sit upright, imagine 'one cat in front and two cats behind ' and young children should only speak if directly asked a question. Now Granny really would approve....'speak when you are spoken to', 'be seen and not heard'. This would never work in the UK where family banter or tele watching with your dinner is still the order of the day.
And here lies the final conundrum diner is lunch time in France, dinner is tea time in England and supper well who knows? Its not the differences that are important here, more communication and social living. We have fast food, take away restaurants, disposable cutlery , TV dinners and trays.
And if you still don't understand, just watch what a Frenchman does on receiving his meal, at a self service restaurant. He simply places the tray on the table, while his English neighbour unloads the plates and items carefully onto the table. To the Frenchman the tray is an irrelevancy he doesn't even acknowledge its existence; its social protocol & the occasion that matter...