France is Different: The Culture of the Aperitif

France has this interesting social gathering called an ‘aperitif’. In the English speaking world, an aperitif is a drink you have before dinner, and so it is here in France, but there’s a system that goes with it.

The first thing to know is that dinner in France is late, some time after 8pm. So you get invited over for an aperitif with a start time of 6.30pm. This limits the length of the stay since it is understood that an invite for an aperitif is not an invite for dinner. You will go back home to eat.

The aperitif will come with snacks and lots of them. There will be chips and other bread snacks but also salami and dried sausage and whatever interesting thing the hosts can come up with. Then the drink choice is a little unusual. Whereas we might have a glass of wine of a kir before dinner, the range of drinks that are offered at an aperitif are more diverse.


It seems that here wine is usually reserved for dinner so you won’t get it served at an aperitif unless you are one of those uncultured foreigners who will drink nothing else. A kir is fine, which is a good thing since it is my aperitif of choice. But people will drink Scotch. And Floc, the ‘Armagnac lite’ you can buy at the local markets. Late in the gathering, when the Floc and Kir have started working their hazy magic, I’ve seen people drink eau de vie, which in my mind is 100% a digestif.


Eau de vie is an interesting drink. It seems to be the local equivalent of moonshine. You can buy very fancy marcs, which are just eau de vies made with used grapes, but most of the local eau de vie is made from fruits of the garden like pears and plums. The fruit is grown by local families, then they take it off to a distillery to get it processed, then they store the bottles in the cellar at home. And drink it over the year. This home made spirit does not mature in oak casks, so it doesn’t get smooth or go brown. And I think this is all legal – families inherit the right to make eau de vie.

We have been invited to an aperitif happening tomorrow at the Mayor’s house, so we will be on our best behaviour. I won’t do my impression of Belly Savalas.


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