French Social etiquette controversy: Who pours the wine?

French Social etiquette controversy: Who pours the wine?

I hesitated to write about this next item on the list of French social etiquette because it certainly smacks of sexism.  It doesn’t belong in the 21st century. But if you happen to be dining with an older French person, even en famille, they may remark upon it, which is why I include it here.

When seated for dinner, French social etiquette dictates that it is the woman who serves the water for each person. A man can help himself to water, or ask to be served if he wants.  

The controversial part though is the wine etiquette, as the wine should only ever be served by a man. And it gets worse: if the woman’s glass is empty, she must wait for her neighbor or the (male) host to notice and offer more. She should never ask for more wine (link in French), or God forbid, pour it herself.   

☞ READ MORE: Easy Guide to the French Wines

After much thought and discussion, I’m not sure what the point of this is, other than for the man to maintain control.  Do we assume that the woman cannot control her level of drinking, so the man is “supervising”?  Or is it supposed to be courteous, so that the woman doesn’t spill alcohol on her dress?  Or it assumes that the woman is serving the food so the man should remember to serve the wine? This is at home, not at a restaurant, so I suppose this could be the case. But why doesn’t the man just serve the food instead?  And it doesn’t explain why the woman can’t ask for more wine.

☞ READ MORE: French Dining: History and Etiquette

The French woman’s solution

I suppose a French woman of a certain generation could instruct her partner (assuming her partner is male) to keep an eye on her glass and top up when necessary. A well-placed kick under the table also works.  If not, there is always complaining on the way home, so that your spouse is aware for the next occasion.

Alternatively, I think you will agree with me, that this rule can easily be relegated to the dustbin of history, where it belongs!

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French Social etiquette controversy: Who pours the wine?

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