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In the most cultures, some people say something before there meal. In French they say "bon appétit", In Belgium and The Netherlands "smakelijk" and in Polish "smaczny". But how can I say the same thing in English?

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marked as duplicate by Mari-Lou A, sumelic, Elian, curiousdannii, Community Feb 27 at 8:48

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So "smakelijk" would literally mean "tasty," is that right? That's a great way to start a meal, in my opinion. – teepee Feb 26 at 17:11
    
In Central America they actually believe English speaking people are rude because they do not have an equivalent of "buen provecho", which is said after eating. – Gandalf Feb 26 at 19:19
    
Something which is not quite the same but might explain its conspicuous absence -- at least in American English -- is that the stereotypical Christian family here says grace ("Thank you Father for this food...") before meals, so that the thing-you-say-to-commence-the-meal is just "Amen!". One joking rendition of this is the halfhearted "Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub, amen!" that can be used to start a meal analogously (if irreverently). – CR Drost Feb 26 at 20:10
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Smakelijk in Dutch is short for Eet smakelijk, having more or less the same meaning as Enjoy your meal. – ᴠɪɴᴄᴇɴᴛ Feb 26 at 20:47
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As mentioned by others, the full phrases in Dutch and Polish are respectively "eet smakelijk" and "smacznego!" (I'm bilingual, I've been waiting my whole life for this opportunity, thanks OP) – Erik Ambrož Feb 26 at 22:57
up vote 20 down vote accepted

In English, I've heard 'bon appétit' (not 'bon a petit' by the way, which translates into something like 'a good little') be used in English as well.

In English, an equivalent expression would be 'Enjoy your meal'.

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Or simply "Enjoy". – hatchet Feb 26 at 20:23
    
In England, "cheers" has several uses. I've heard it used in place of "enjoy". – John Feb 26 at 22:45

The closest equivalent I know of is "dig in!" (which of course sounds less classy than "bon appétit," but that's English in general.)

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This is of course due to the Battle of Hastings, in which the Duke of Normandy took the English crown from an Anglo-Saxon. The influx of Norman-French speaking nobles created the sense that the French-derived parts of English are literally higher class than the Anglo-Saxon forms used by the serfs. This split personality really pervades English, making it truly the bastard child of the Germanic and Romance families, that grew up not to so much "borrow" from other languages as to follow them down dark alleys and mug them (assigning class connotations accordingly to the newfound booty). – Monty Harder Feb 26 at 19:24
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That's actually really interesting. I noticed that while learning French, that our more formal words, tend to be their common words. Example: "to ask" = "demander" (I would consider "demand" to be a slightly more sophisticated word in English than "ask," without getting into the difference in connotation there for now.) Or "start" = "commencer" (again, commence is more formal) – teepee Feb 26 at 19:35
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@teepee entirely random comment here... But there's a series of office phones where you can swap between the English label "Callers" and the French label "Demandeurs". I find this hilariously appropriate. – H.R.Rambler Feb 26 at 20:53
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@teepee There's also the distinction between "ask/request" and "order/demand/compel" in English, which makes "demander" seem a bit of a false cognate to me (other than the fact that when your liege lord "asks" you to do something, it may be stated literally as a request but you ought to think of it as a demand). – Monty Harder Feb 26 at 21:14
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@Oliphaunt I hadn't ever heard that but that's very interesting. I just came across this. Thank you for the enlightenment. – teepee Feb 26 at 22:55

In US usage, there is no direct equivalent. You will find some people who use "bon appétit" occasionally. Also, someone might say "Enjoy your meal!". But I don't think either salutation is typical.

On the other hand, it would be fairly typical to ask, prior to eating "Are you hungry?", or, less commonly, "Got an appetite?". It would also be typical to ask, shortly after the start of a meal "How is the food?", or any number of variations on that theme.

Edit: it later occurred to me, as others had posted notes about both pre-meal prayers and the social and cultural intent of the phrasing in question, that US English, did, at one time, have a similar practice. Prior to the 1960's or 70's, a pre-meal prayer ("saying grace") was a prevalent practice. With the aging of the "baby-boom" generation, that practice fell out of favor. "Grace" was typically something short, and semi-formulaic. Thus, it was not something that would be directly parallel to “bon appétit” or “smakelijk”. However, if one considers the cultural intent more than the literal usage, one can find parallels. 1) It was a practice that "started" the meal. 2) It typically connoted a message of thanks, to the host, to the guests, to the sources of the food that made the meal, etc. 3) It often referred, in cultural context, to a hope that the consumers enjoy the meal. Obviously, “bon appétit” or “smakelijk” are linguistically and culturally much simpler than "saying grace", but under that simplicity is a cultural message that is inferred by their use.

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Some Americans will pray over their food before they eat, but there isn't a customary phrase. When translating such phrases from other cultures (adding the example of Japan's いただきます, literally "I humbly receive"), the translators will often use something like, "Thank you for the food!"

The other phrases suggested, such as "Dig in!" "Are you hungry?" and "Bon appétit!" are usually spoken by the person providing the food, not by the one about to partake.

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True, it's not exactly the same usage. I think "looks delicious!" or "looks great!" is probably the most common way I would start a meal served to me by some host. – teepee Feb 26 at 19:28
    
Itadakimasu in Japanese means a great deal more than a simple 'thanks for the food'. It pays respect to the person preparing the food, the plants and animals that were used in the food, etc. It may be used casually, but in essence has a much greater meaning than 'Enjoy your food', for example. More importantly, 'smakelijk' is often used by the person handing over the food, not the person receiving. Another use is when everyone has received their food, everyone says 'smakelijk' to the others at the table. which traditionally also signifies the start of the meal. – Terah Feb 26 at 20:01
    
@Terah For sure. However, you can't convey all of that in a translation without it getting too heavy. Translators are constantly faced with the issue of condensing nuances in the original that don't translate well in the destination language. I've read somewhere that reading and understanding the original language vs. the translation is like watching color vs. black-and-white TV. – Paul Rowe Feb 29 at 15:25

In some situations Eat Hearty may work.

It's much less formal than bon appétit, but if you are looking for a formal phrase you can just use bon appétit in English.

ngram

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Another variation is "Eat up" – Agriculturist Feb 26 at 23:23
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@Agriculturist +1 for "eat up". i don't think it's as common as the equivalent phrases in other languages mentioned, but i think it's worth its own answer! – sgroves Feb 26 at 23:57

Perhaps trying to introduce a foreign custom into English conversation will simply be awkward.

Dining out in Spain, everyone who knows you stops by to say "Buen provecho" or even worse "Enjoy", since I'm an American, but in the US, interrupting someone's meal to say such a thing would simply be weird, as would the common Spanish practice of guests at a meal repeating "Buen provecho" around the table.

In American culture, only the person serving the food would typically say something before the meal, whether that something be "Let's eat" or "Bon appétit", or the rather savage "Dig in." My point is that, as a guest in someone's home, you definitely don't want to say "Enjoy (your meal)", because this is not for a guest to say. It may even be rude for a guest to do so.

On the other hand, I have known "Bon appétit" to be repeated in this way, taking its cue from French customs. Just be sure not to make a habit of it, never to say it before your host does, and to avoid stopping by a friends table with nothing more than that to say.

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