In the bag As restau­rants across France are now re­quired to al­low cus­tomers to take home their left­overs, con­sid­ers how the French will come to terms with ‘

Ian Moore le doggy bag’


We all know how se­ri­ously the French pro­tect their ‘French­ness’. The bound­aries drawn around the French lan­guage, for ex­am­ple, are leg­endary al­beit pos­si­bly fu­tile in the global world we live in. ‘ Le week­end’ any­one? The march of change is in­evitable, but if there’s one thing I thought would never get in­ter­fered with, it’s the French and their ta­ble habits.

I’m not talk­ing about cui­sine here, French food is French food. You can talk about ‘fu­sion food’ all you like but I live in a re­mote cor­ner of the Loire Val­ley – the only fu­sion food around here would be try­ing to eat foie gras with chop­sticks. No, it’s the rules them­selves, the eti­quette; the very essence of French­ness it­self. In short the ‘doggy bag’ has ar­rived.

Grow­ing up, ta­ble eti­quette in our house was be­ing told not to put your el­bows on the ta­ble, eat with your mouth open or hide un­eaten sprouts in a plant pot. If we left any food at all, we were re­minded of our eco­nomic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, not so­cial pro­to­col, but in France, leav­ing food un­eaten on your plate is the height of bad man­ners and a se­ri­ous in­sult to the chef.

It strikes me that French chefs are a sen­si­tive bunch at the best of times. I once or­dered a well-done steak, only to be con­fronted by an an­gry chef who de­clared he would never “put a shoe on a plate”. I was 13, I had no idea what he was on about, only that he didn’t look like a man to be crossed.

De­spite this, from Jan­uary this year French restau­rants are now ‘obliged’ to pro­vide a doggy bag for any cus­tomers pre­pared to risk so­cial os­tracism by not eat­ing all of their food and in­stead ask­ing to take it home with them. Per­son­ally, I’ve only ever seen tourists ask for a doggy bag in France and only then with cuisines al­ready as­so­ci­ated with ‘take away’, for ex­am­ple a Chi­nese meal or a pizza. I’ve been in restau­rants in Paris where a waiter has given me the full level of his Grade A snooty con­de­scen­sion just for order­ing a meal in the first place. And that was to be served on a plate! Heaven knows what his re­ac­tion would have been had I shunned the plate and venue, pre­fer­ring in­stead a bag and home.

I had ac­tu­ally al­ways thought that the rea­son dogs them­selves are al­lowed into so many French restau­rants was to elim­i­nate this prob­lem at source. You want to avoid the filthy looks of fel­low din­ers by not fin­ish­ing your meal? Buy a small dog and put it at your feet through­out the meal. Se­ri­ously, I’ve never seen a diner with a dog in France ever send back any­thing other than a clean plate.

So if that’s a sys­tem that works, why change it? To the French, doggy bag us­age is strictly an Amer­i­can thing and there to cater for Amer­ica’s in­sis­tence on por­tion sizes that would sink a small ship. The French are con­vinced that their por­tion sizes are per­fect so I can’t hon­estly see any­thing chang­ing all that much; it’s dif­fi­cult to change a na­tion’s cul­ture. Take the UK, for ex­am­ple, where li­cens­ing laws were ex­tended to erad­i­cate the cen­turies-old cus­tom of binge drink­ing. It hasn’t done so – binges have just got longer, that’s all. If the French change at all with this new law, I sus­pect it will be just to add a whole new range of haute cou­ture ac­ces­sories like a Louis Vuit­ton doggy bag or a spe­cial sparkly dog col­lar in­cor­po­rat­ing the doggy bag it­self, sort of like a food-bear­ing St Bernard.

The real test will come if it takes off to the ex­tent that the Académie Française ac­tu­ally feels com­pelled to in­tro­duce a French term for doggy bag, rather than stick with the cur­rent ‘ le doggy bag’. I sus­pect not; they’ll do like ev­ery­one else and just sweep it un­der the ta­ble.

I’ve never seen a diner with a dog ever send back any­thing other than a clean plate

Ian Moore is a co­me­dian, writer, chut­ney-maker and mod who lives with his fam­ily in the Loire Val­ley. His lat­est book is C’est Mod­nifique!, (£8.99, Sum­mers­dale Pub­lish­ers). ian­

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