The Universal Wish: 'Bon appétit'

It may mean 'good appetite,' but its intention is 'enjoy your meal'

chef proudly displaying food
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Bon appétit, pronounced bo na pay tee, is regarded all over the world as a polite wish to "have a good meal." Oxford Dictionary calls it broadly "a salutation to a person about to eat." The literal meaning, "good appetite," has scant bearing on the intended wish; people these days place more importance on the quality of the meal, especially in France, than on having a healthy appetite, which is more or less assumed. Nevertheless, the element of appetite persists in several languages.

'Hope You Enjoy Your Meal'

People may tell you that no one says bon appétit anymore in France, that only a certain economic class still uses the term or some other negative thing about this expression. But it's not true.

To the contrary, the expression bon appétit is used generously throughout France—at dinner parties, in restaurants, on the plane, on the train, while picnicking in the park, even in the hallway of your apartment building with no food in sight. You'll hear it from friends, waiters, passers-by, people you know and people you don't.

Basically anyone you see around mealtime will wish you a polite bon appétit, whether you'll be dining with them or not. And this is not limited to small towns; it's everywhere in France.

The Wish in Other Languages

Bon appétit is often used in English, especially in polite company, when toasting a meal with wine and when Francophiles are dining. The literal translation sounds strange, and the best English equivalents, "Enjoy your meal" or "Have a nice meal," just don't have the same ring.

Other Latinate European languages use almost identical wishes to the French bon appétit:

  • Catalan: Bon profit
  • Italian: Buon appetito
  • Portuguese: Bom apetite
  • Spanish: Buen apetito (though Buen provecho, "Enjoy your meal," is more common)

Even the most Germanic of languages, German itself, uses a direct translation of bon appétitGuten appetit. And in countries like Greece that are far removed from the French language but have long had a snobbish respect for French culture, you can hear bon appétit at dinnertime alongside the local kali orexi, which by the way also means "good appetite."

There's something to be said for the staying power of a universal wish about something so basic to our lives. To whomever is sitting down to eat right now: Bon appétit !

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ThoughtCo. "The Universal Wish: 'Bon appétit'." ThoughtCo, May. 22, 2018, thoughtco.com/bon-appetit-1371119. ThoughtCo. (2018, May 22). The Universal Wish: 'Bon appétit'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/bon-appetit-1371119 ThoughtCo. "The Universal Wish: 'Bon appétit'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/bon-appetit-1371119 (accessed May 27, 2018).