The French do not know how to leave a dinner table. This may sound quite basic, and one might think, “yes, of course, we all know that they like a long dinner.” This is not what I mean; I like a long dinner, too. What I mean is that an hour after the meal has ended and the wine has gone dry and the conversation become dull, the French remain. Everyone knows that the meal is over, everyone is dying to get up and go home and sleep off their cheese coma, but no one makes the move; we sit.
I have now spent several dinners like this screaming in my head and thinking ‘dear god, why?!’ Even at aperitif there seems to be confusion about how to shift into ‘fin’. Our new neighbor came over for aperitif, and we all sat and chatted amiably for two hours. Around 9 o’clock, I began to feel fidgety; I had offered him another drink which he declined and he had mentioned twice that we probably wanted to eat dinner, yet there they sat, he and my boyfriend both trying to figure out a graceful way to finish and leave. Finally, out of sheer desperation I used the good old American “Well!” and slapped my hands down on the arms of my chair; they snapped-to but I felt hopelessly uncouth.
So how does one handle this situation? What is the right course of action? No-dose? Perhaps pick up a speed habit? Sometimes I look longingly at my boyfriend to try to pass him the hint that it is time to go, and sometimes I use the “golly, what time is it?” line; but usually I just sit back and try to relax (something, that as an American, I have trouble doing). I try to remember that my hosts are kind and gracious and would gladly keep me overnight at the table if I were so inclined.
So, my advice? Enjoy your meal (which you undoubtedly will in France), enjoy the company, and always accept coffee when it is proffered.