French Etiquette: heather is not a great hostess gift

Every time I come to France, I learn something new about the traditions of this country. This plant is called la bruyère. It's a variety of heather commonly found at the florist.

One night, my girlfriend Cécile and I took the bus to dinner. We encountered two American couples on their way to the home of a friend. One of the women was proudly carrying a pot of heather, wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bow. Obviously, she had just come from the florist.

I didn't think anything of it...until they got off the bus. At that moment, Cécile turned to me, gently pointed her finger toward me - just as one would when they are about to instruct - and said, "Now, this is a flower that you never offer as a gift." Surprised, I asked, "Why not?" 

She said la bruyère is used to mark headstones in cemeteries. For that reason, you never offer it as a gift because it could be construed as ill-will. Her grandmother had passed this point of etiquette on to her when she was a little girl. 

Of course, I had to ask, "Do you think the florist knew that and didn't say anything because they're American?" Cécile replied, "I don't's possible." I gave her a knowing look. As if to defend her countrymen, she smiled and added, "My grandmother was very traditional and well aware of the most obscure points of etiquette that not everyone understood." 

I replied, "Ah oui, évidemment." 



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