My first experience with French culture was on my very first business trip. I had always heard how mean the French are to Americans so I would try to assimilate as much as possible. In appearances only, since it was clear that when I opened my mouth I was very much out of my element.
The hotel I was staying it had a delicious breakfast. Each morning the chef would prepare fresh pastries that would be placed on each table along with an assortment of other goodies. It was a bit overwhelming, not only did I have more spoons than I knew what to do with, but I also had more plates than I knew what to do with.
There was the big round plate surrounded by the various sized spoons, knifes and forks. Then I had 3 tiny little shot glasses, one was filled with dry cereal, the other with plain yogurt, and the last one with jam. There was also a small bowl to the right of the plates.
The waiter came by and asked for my drink order.
"Cafe ole" (it wasn't until years later that I actually realized it was au lait, as in with milk).
While he was off putting some bullfighting flare into my coffee, I began to "assemble" my breakfast.
I took the bowl and poured in my yogurt and cereals and mixed them together. Clearly, this is why the bowl was on the table.
I took my freshly baked croissant and buttered it while the waiter brought me a little tiny kettle filled with coffee and a side of steamed milk. He promptly walked away.
I looked around the table and realized there weren't any coffee cups.
Hmm, the waiter must have forgotten.
I saw him standing in a corner and began to wave him down, since he was not looking in my direction.
The entire room turned and stared at me; so much for just "fitting in".
I tried to explain to the waiter that I didn't have a cup. He spoke no English.
So, doing what any resourceful business girl would do, I asked in Spanish.
"Tasa", I mumbled in Spanish while doing the pinky in the air hand gesture.
"Ahh..." he said and then continued to mumble in French and he gestured with both hands.
"Bowl" he said. It finally made sense.
I was so embarrassed.
The rest of the week, he would pour my bowl of coffee for me without even asking.
It wasn't until years later I found out that the French typically like to dunk things in their coffee. Croissants; bread, etc. and a bowl is much more convenient for dunking than a cup. So, when you are out to breakfast in France and you have a bowl, remember it's for your coffee and NOT your cereal!