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Has anyone experienced the cardinal sin of opening a bottle of wine in a French Friend's house?  I was invited to friends' house for New Year's Eve, the husband is a reformed alcoholic and does not drink at all and he has been quite ill through most of 2005, so much so we thought we would lose him in July.  His recovery has been miraculous and hopefully long lived.  During this period he has needed a lot of support and also his wife who was at her wits end.  Several times she went to pieces and on occasions a couple (one French one English) of us have picked her up and got her going again. I have got to know the house pretty well and especially the kitchen where I have prepared meals for visitors whilst the husband was not capable of even eating etc.  I still help wash up because he is not really capable of standing for periods, though he is getting better.

On New Year's eve a Spanish man and his wife came along and I was asked to help which I did very willingly.

On 2nd January they all accepted hospitallity in my home with a good peice of roast beef and yorkshire pudding etc.

Later I learnt from a French friend, also at the party, that the Spaniard had complained to the host that I had committed the cardinal sin of opening the wine.  Apparently it is for the host to do and not for a guest.  There were all sorts of other inuendos as to how come I knew the house so well.  The host was very happy for me to help and has told me so and he actually asked me to open the wine, I guess being an alcoholic he still has unhappy memories of what he went through and there is always the risk of starting drinking again.

This is not the first time that this remark about opening the wine has been made previously by a born and bred frenchman.  Is anyone else aware of this and what it means, also any other customs I should watch out for?


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I don't think it's particularly French, or even Spanish. In England I was always brought up to believe that guests wait for the host to open the drinks, offer the snacks around, etc. From what I see though it's evident that others were taught differently. It doesn't offend me, in fact it seems good to think that people are relaxed in our home. In your case above it sounds as if a bit of jealousy may be involved.

One of the great things about being in another country is that, however long we have been there, we never seem to stop learning.

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No idea if this is a widespread attitude, but certainly around here it

is considered very poor form for a woman to pour wine, whether she is

the host or not. Also, women are not encouraged to enter wine cellers.

This dates back to an old belief that the presence of a menstruating

woman in close proximity to wine could cause it to turn sour. The

lengths men will go to to get a quiet drink...appearently women cannot

be excluded from golf clubs as they can in the UK, so another ruse had

to be found.

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[quote user="Chrisdubna"]

Later I learnt from a French friend, also at the party, that the Spaniard had complained to the host that I had committed the cardinal sin of opening the wine.  Apparently it is for the host to do and not for a guest.  There were all sorts of other inuendos as to how come I knew the house so well.  [/quote]

It's the Spaniard that sounds RUDE to me!   If he was any sort of a MAN he'd have done the b****y wine himself!   AND he shouldn't be bitching about you behind your back.

Let him know where he can insert the next cork he finds in his hands.  Non mais!!!   [:O] 

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Sounds like an unhealthy case of Spanish machismo to me or, if you'll excuse the pun, sour grapes.

Jenny doesn't care what people think about her opening bottles and taking the wine around at soirees and if people feel relaxed enough at our place to help themselves, fine - we usually tell them to do so which probably accounts for the number of empty bottles we've taken off for recycling recently.  The 18 people we had here for supper on Xmas Eve certainly didn't care whether a man or woman served them, obviously do the host thing first but after an hour of so, just told people to help themselves.

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Will keep this in mind as you never know what the etiquete is if you

don't know the people very well.  You sound almost one of the

family so should not worry.  It did make me think of other quirks

and traditions.  My mother in law thought we were very rude to

take our coats off on entering our french neighbours house as according

to her you should wait to be asked!!

Anyone heard of this?  She said it is a well know english custom, don't know if this would be the same in France.


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Yes Julie, I have but in France.  Took my friend to England with me for a week last year, visiting various friends and relatives.  Suddenly became aware that she was still wearing her coat as no-one had asked her to take it off.  Had a good laugh and explained our slightly less formal customs, but I felt a bit guilty as in excitement of seeing my friends had not noticed and she was too polite to say anything.  She had a great time (had never been to England before and does not speak English) but remarked how very informal she found us all - which she liked I might add.   The thing which threw her the most was the fact that people were offered tea or coffee at any time of the day.  Whilst staying with a friend someone called round at 11.30 am and was promptly offered coffee and biscuits (normal in England) and this prompted Antoinette to ask me in a whisper if we would not be having lunch!

I think that most people accept that there are different habits in different countries, but we notice that many our French clients in the B & B are much more formal and less relaxed than the English but nevertheless they all generally turn out to be charming.



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Dunno about the faux pas with who opens wine, but this does remind me of a story told to me by my French boss many moons ago, relating to the quaint habits of the English and the ceremony that is "afternoon tea".

My then boss was from the Roubaix-Tourcoing area and involved, as were most of his contemporaries, in the textile industry. Two of his friends, both the sons of mill-owners in Roubaix, were sent over to Bradford to learn more about the business over the summer.One arrived in England some time before the other, and, after the arrival of the second, they were both invited to afternoon tea at the home of one of the local millowners with whom they were working.

On the way to the house, the one who'd arrived first explained to the new arrival that the English were extremely cicumspect about things like going to the toilet, and were generally reluctant to speak about such things. He warned his companion that if the millowner's wife asked him whether he'd like to wash his hands, this was a euphemism for asking if he'd like to go to the toilet.

Suitably forewarned, the new arrival and his mate got to the house, and just before the tea was served, sure enough, the millowner's wife asked him whether he'd like to wash his hands. In his best English, he replied: "No thank you, I washed my hands against a tree on the way here".

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French are formal as long as they don't know well each other and

machism goes up when you go south.

I was very surprised when I first went to Britain to find that you were

so casual. We - the french - have this image of brits being gentlemens

drinking brandy or old fashioned ladies having tea so that we expect

you to be as casual as Charles or Elizabeth.

These wine things are old fashion

and boring. Just be yourself. This will help us - formal latin machists - to


Salidobay, I'm tempted to try your cork trick, but I wonder how long I

should keep it and how long the effect could last...
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Don't know about rudeness, étiquette or whatever... but it has been something that my husband really frowned at me when I opened a bottle of wine at his Mother's home one Xmas eve. The sharp reply was : 'Men are the masters in this house. Do not undermine their duty to provide!'

I just ignored him as for : 1/ it was Xmas eve and he had seen one too many raindeers on his way back from the pub by then, 2/ his mum is a widdow so lives on her own (in UK), 3/ I was in the kitchen helping her with a Boxing day party she had organised for friends and neighbours! We only needed red plonk to marinate some meat and we weren't in a mood to wait for a man to come along and offer to open a bottle for cooking purposes....

Anyway how did he manage to be in her kitchen?....as that area of the house is a real No Go for Men!... She is forever saying : 'Men are hopeless at washing-up and tidying-up behind them therefore are banned from MY kingdom!!'

I guess to see a lady with a bottle and opening it, is really unbecoming of her and this would be the reason behind the 'rudeness' or if a friend does the honour, it shows off the host as being incapable of performing his duty of welcoming Tom, Dick and Harry in his home..... I never really thought of it before but have certainly remembered the next time I needed a drink!...


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Cerise you have made me think about when we called in on old friends in England a couple or so years ago. We hadn't really thought about the time of day as we had been trying to fit in as many visits as we could. We had arrived at their place at around quarter to five and we sat at the big table in their kitchen as we always do. As usual when we go round, they asked if we wanted tea......... and we said yes, and had plates of chicken curry placed in front of us and no cuppa.

Coz up in the NE of England most people say that their evening meal is their tea. And that was our friends 'tea' time.

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So much depends on the particular circumstances doesn’t it ? I can think of occasions when I would open the wine and wouldn’t take my coat off unless asked.

What really gets me going at the moment is the way people don’t seem to write thank you notes for wedding presents any more.

Victoria Meldrew
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