The Historic Reason Why You Shouldn't Cut Salad Greens In France

Without getting so bogged down by rules you can't even enjoy your meal, there are always at least a few dining etiquette tips to remember in different settings. If you know the basics, you can relax in confidence, knowing you're being respectful while taking in great food and conversation. One of the biggest learning curves for manners and customs happens when you travel to a different country and encounter another culture. France, for example, has its own particular set of dos and don'ts at the table. A key red flag to keep in mind? Cutting your salad. This, as the French say, is a total faux pas.

The practice of not cutting salad greens stems from a practical concern. Centuries ago, the silverware people used would get oxidized by the vinegar dressing the salad. Because of that oxidation, vinegar can cause silver to tarnish. Not wanting to ruin the cutlery, French people decided to make sure salads were chopped before serving them, so no one needed to cut anything at the table — some people do not even place knives at each seat for the salad course. Just like other tips for making great salads that have become customary, French salads are now always presented this way, so if you pick up a knife at the table and slice your greens, it can be insulting to your host, implying they did not properly prepare the salad.

How to eat your salad without cutting it

It shouldn't be too tough to avoid cutting your salad during a meal in France, considering it's pre-chopped. But every now and then, a rogue piece of lettuce may appear. When there's a bit of salad that's too big, use your fork to fold the greens into something more bite-sized. You could also get away with gently separating greens with your fork instead of a knife. In a delicious spin on the tradition, some people use their bread to push greens onto their fork, which means you then have delicious French bread soaked in the vinegar and flavors of the salad.

Not cutting salad is just one of several specifics in polite French dining, like tearing bite-sized pieces of bread instead of biting directly into it, not asking for seconds, or — perhaps counterintuitively — not saying "thank you" too many times. Beyond that, though, you can sit back and savor the meal with some basics in mind that typically apply in any country. For example, it's usually considered rude to use your phone at the table. Just put your phone away, be polite but be yourself, and, even if you're not in France, relish the opportunity to eat salad with bread instead of a knife.