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An Irish Chef in France

Martin Dwyer - NationwideEuro-Toques chef Martin Dwyer, much missed in Ireland since he and his wife Sile sold their eponymous restaurant in Waterford and moved to France. They now live in the Languedoc, where they take guests - and feed them very well.

Le Presbytère was recently filmed by RTE Nationwide for a feature about the Irish in France. Post transmission (6/3/13) the programme can be viewed on RTE Player. Image shows Martin and Mary Kennedy being filmed on the square at Thezan.

This month Martin reflects on an essential difference between the way the Irish and the French behave: La Politesse

I think that the question most often asked of us by Irish people here on holidays is as to how well we fit in with the village and its people here in France. There is always a preconceived attitude that the French are both arrogant and unfriendly. We have not found that to be the case, but there are differences between how the French and the Irish behave. The French put great store in politeness.

Politeness is an essential oil for living in village France.

We live in the old part of the village and no-one there would dream of passing you in the street without a “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir”.

In the flat of the town, where the shops are, this is not so rigidly maintained, but never would a greeting go unanswered.

On entering a shop one always says “Bonjour Messieurs Dames” to all present and “Au revoir Messieurs Dames” as you go, having already politely thanked the shopkeeper for their kindness in serving you.

They have a greeting for all occasions, on our trips to campsites no-one passed, if one was eating, without saying “Bon Appetit” (and this included children.)

“Bonne Soirée” is “Have a good evening” and is used between 6.00 and 8.00 only.

“Bon Weekend” is used on Friday evenings.

A waitress, having wished one “Bon Appetit” before the first course will wish you “Bonne Continuation” as she serves the second.

As we pulled up in front of the house on one of our house moving visits and started to unpack a neighbour drove by and stuck his head out the window to wish us “Bon Installation” and inevitably as we pack to go we will be wished “Bon Retour”. (“Bon Retour” is interesting because it does not mean, as I thought, and was gently corrected by a neighbour, “Welcome back” but rather something more like “Safe Home”)

Such politeness is not, of course, easily learned.

Walking through the village if you see a parent or (more likely) a grandparent walking out with a toddler you say “Bonjour” to the adult and then another “Bonjour” (traditionally accompanied by an ingratiating smirk) to the child. Woe Betide the child who doesn’t give the appropriate response. The French have no shame in public displays of corporal punishment.

It is only recently that I am beginning to realise that this politesse can have its drawbacks. There is a polite rule in France that when you are dealing with one person (in a shop let us say) you do not acknowledge any other person.

Thus in the supermarket if one is next in line to the checkout and one should inadvertently catch the eye of the cashier one’s eyes glaze over and you do not smile, even though you know that the very second the previous customer has departed you will be greeted with a welcoming "Bon Jour".

Now in the supermarket situation this usually liveable with, but let us take another example.

Sometime ago we went down to the Mairie to pay for an advertisement we put in the village organ, Le Bassin. (a transaction which would take about one and a half minutes ). The lady ahead of us was taxing a mobilette for one of her children and had several long forms to fill out.

There was only one lady assistant behind the counter. Madame the mother was not the quickest and so she spent possibly fifteen minutes with her tongue firmly gripped between her teeth filling out this form while Madame behind the counter looked on politely and we fumed silently in the queue.

It would have been a total breach of politeness were the assistant to excuse herself from Madame and deal with us (as we would have done in Ireland) and so let us say if you see 10 people in front of you in a queue in the Mairie, or in the Post Office, or elsewhere you can anticipate that you will probably be waiting at least a half hour before you are served, with the Irish system the shop would be empty in ten minutes.

Now moving to a new country one always has to accept their way of doing things but here we have a situation which is rapidly driving our blood pressure through the roof.

Buying a stamp can take three days as one first checks and counts the queue in the post office before finding a window when the whole transaction might take only ten to fifteen minutes. I now consciously try to do my shopping in (one of the few) supermarkets which is open during lunchtime when the French don't ever shop and one is spared discovering that the lady in front of you in the queue is a sister to the cashier and they haven’t met (plainly) in ten years so they have a lot of catching up to do.

I once was in a supermarket in (French) Corsica where the ladies before me (an elderly lady and her ancient mother) had a trolley full of different brands of adult incontinence devices. The merits of all brands were eagerly discussed by all parties (and the rejected ones put back on the shelf by the younger) until a decision was made and a mere 25 minutes later I was permitted to pass my groceries through the till.

I really don't suppose I will ever manage to change this so I must learn to relax in queues, breathe deeply, write novels in my head and - above all- keep taking my blood- pressure tablets.


Martin & Sile DwyerMartin Dwyer started cooking professionally over 40 years ago in the legendary “Snaffles Restaurant” in Dublin. After a time in a Relais Chateau in Anjou and in “The Wife of Bath” in Kent he opened his own much acclaimed restaurant, “Dwyers”, in Waterford in 1989. In 2004 he sold this and moved south to France where he and his wife Síle bought and restored an old presbytery in a village in the Languedoc. They now run Le Presbytère as a French style Chambre d’Hôte. Martin however is far too passionate about food to give up cooking so they now enjoy serving dinner to their customers on the terrace of Le Presbytère on warm summer evenings. Martin runs occasional cookery courses in Le Presbytère and Síle’s brother Colm does week long Nature Strolls discovering the Flora and Fauna of the Languedoc.

Le Presbytère can be seen at:;


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