I was told a lot of things about what to expect from living in France before I moved here. For example, I was told that I would become a bread snob (I have). I was also told that I would learn to love smelly cheese (I haven’t). But the most common thing I was told was that I would drink wine every day (I don’t). That being said, it is absolutely true that the number of days per week that I enjoy a glass of wine has definitely increased. What is fascinating, however, is that the actual amount of alcohol that I consume overall has gone down. This is because the French have a very different attitude towards drinking than most English-speaking countries. Especially when it comes to drinking wine.
Quality Over Quantity
First and foremost, wine in France is meant to be savoured. It is not meant to be guzzled, and it is perfectly acceptable to nurse a single glass of wine over the course of several hours on a terrace. Wine is also meant to be paired with food, with French people enjoying a glass of wine with dinner on a near nightly basis. This is why the number of days I drink wine has gone up, but the amount of alcohol I drink has gone down. In France, it’s all about quality over quantity.
Know Your Wine Region
Before moving to France, I would order wine by the type of grapes. A glass of Sauvignon Blanc please. Now, I order by the region. Of course, I need to preface this by saying that I am in no way a wine connoisseur. But after eight years of living in France, I do know that I prefer Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, Chardonnay from Burgundy, and Pinot Gris from Alsace. I am also well schooled in the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine, known in France as Cremant. And while Champagne is delicious, I’ve come to love Cremant from the Loire Valley and Alsace. Cremant also often costs about a third of the price tag of your average bottle of Champagne, so what’s not to love?
To Clink or Not to Clink
The French take “Cheers!” very seriously. You have to wait until everyone at the table has a drink in front of them before raising your glass. And when you do, you have to clink glasses with everyone at the table individually and look them in the eye when you do so. You must also never cross arms while clinking, and you must never clink glasses filled with water or other non-alcoholic drinks. And if you’re thinking that this is all very complicated, you’d be right. But if you want to drink like the French, you have to learn to cheers properly.
Hangover? What Hangover?
St. Patrick’s Day is coming up this Friday, a holiday that has sometimes been referred to as the holiday of binge drinking. Which probably explains why it isn’t as big of a celebration in France than in other countries. As mentioned above, the French drink on a regular basis. But the binge drinking culture of North America, the UK, or Australia is conspicuously absent in France. In fact, it is actually a cultural faux pas to be drunk in public. Even the language reflects this, as there is no direct translation for the word hangover in French. There are expressions that mean you’ve had too much to drink the night before. But the word hangover doesn’t exist. Fun fact. When the movie The Hangover was released in France, it had to be renamed Very Bad Trip. Yes, really.
Drink Like the French
France produces up to eight billion bottles of wine every year, and French wine is widely considered to be some of the best in the world. So the next time you’re in Paris, take the time to enjoy a glass of wine on a terrace. It’s one of the most Parisian things you can do. But if you want to drink like a local, remember to drink in moderation, know your regions, and take care to cheers properly. You’ll be drinking like the French in no time.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.