French Dining: Eating a burger with a fork

Do French people really eat burgers with a knife and fork? Exploring French food etiquette and what other dishes are not safe from cutlery in France.
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Picture the scene, my first day at a new job in a new country. I had the usual first day butterflies, but nothing I thought of as too unusual. Until lunchtime that is, when I came across what us North Americans might consider strange burger etiquette: eating a burger with fork and knife.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and the entire team decided that we should go out for lunch.  (It rains in Paris almost as much as it does in London, so the first sign of sun and Parisians are out on la terrasse, absorbing le soleil.)  

And as it would happen, we picked an American burger joint, perhaps to make me feel more welcome.

The Love Affair with burgers

As an aside, burgers today are ubiquitous on the French menu. Just about every French brasserie will have a burger on their menu. They have enormously grown in popularity since the early 1980s, when French were on the streets protesting the McDonalds “fast food invasion”

In contrast, when Burger King opened in 2014 in Paris, there were long lines of keen customers instead of protests.

Burger etiquette

Anyway, back to lunch, we placed our orders and one by one everyone’s food arrived except mine.  I realized afterward that this was a rather lucky escape.  While I was busy encouraging everyone to eat while their food was warm, I suddenly noticed that all the French people at the table were eating their burgers with a knife and fork! 

Typical lunch at a French restaurant in Paris

Quelle horreur! What a catastrophe that could have been, in french dining terms atleast.  Apparently, the proper way to eat a burger in France, bourgeois or not, is with a fork and knife. Le sigh. 

Never mind that you may be eating outside at a casual American diner, and that the burger is wrapped in paper so that it can be picked up.

☞ READ MORE: Reverse Culture Shocks after returning to America

When to use cutlery

Since that first lunch outing, I’ve noticed that nothing is safe from the knife and fork.  Pizzas, burgers, hot dogs, bbq ribs, none of it is meant to be picked up. I once saw a friend eat a chicken wing with a knife and fork!  And forget about tacos, even at Chipotle, French people will eat with cutlery.  

☞ READ MORE: French Dining Etiquette Do’s and Don’ts

France vs. North America

I investigated this French affection for cutlery but mostly came up with people questioning why North Americans eat with their hands.  

Does “fast food” always need to be fast? Surely we want to sit down for a proper meal…? Given that even Michelin starred chefs are creating their own burger dishes, perhaps they have a point. A bientôt!

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