The Reals Series is meant to entertain while informing via trivial information only somewhat relevant to the topic et avec un peu d’humour.
Behind the Postcard –
In this second in our series of Reals, we look behind the apéritif.
We look at what real people do when they come together. Focusing on what to expect if you’re invited to l’apéro.
It’s real life with a twist. They call it the apéritif, or the apéro / Ils l’appellent l’apéritif, ou l’apéro. I call it the celebration of the day / la célébration du jour.
If you look behind the postcards and carefully scan the horizon, you’ll see the real beauty of a region. You’ll see its people.
L’apéro is more than snacks and drinks. It’s a moment. It’s the time set aside to be together. Not to do, but to BE!
If you visit France, it’s going to happen – l’apéro. And understanding what it is and when it’s going to happen is an important piece of information that is often over looked in travel guides.
The what –
L’apéritif, is technically a before dinner drink. A drink taken to prepare the stomach for the meal. Hors-d’œuvre or what our family likes to call do-dads often accompany l’apéro.
Common do-dads include nuts, olives, cherry tomatoes, small seasonal fruits such as grapes, petite cheese treats, chips, pretzels, and pâté.
The serving sizes or portions are modest and are not intended to fill you up. The orchestration of the event is subtle, whereas most hosts have developed a second nature related to the delivery of l’apéritif.
A seasoned presenter will seamlessly guide the guest through the event with an unnoticeable, almost hardwired intention. The host may bring in an assortment of selections throughout the l’apéro, or they may elect to display all the offerings at once.
The intention being placed equally on the preparation of the stomach as well as on the entertainment of the guest.
The tradition can be traced back to similar customs practiced in various parts of the world dating as far back as the Roman period. I’ve read that some historians believe the practice originated in Russia or China before making it’s way to what we consider modern day Europe.
The type of before dinner drink can vary and is often influenced by regional and personal favorites. Preferred offerings may include Suze (a French brand of bitters), Whiskey, Bourbon, and Kir (my new favorite composed of crème de cassis a blackcurrant liqueur, which is topped off with white wine).
Champagne or sparkling wine might be served in honor of a Birthday or Anniversary styled apéritif.
Pineau des Charentes (a fortified wine) is a local favorite served in Charente and Charente-Maritime. Side note: Home in the States, I don’t share my Pineau…I consider it liquid gold and very valuable.
Beer or a Panache (beer and lemon soda) always work well when you are out and about.
Long hot summer days are often ended with the Pastis served in a tall thin glass with a few ice cubes and water.
In relation to quantity of drinks consumed – I’ve seen media reports pointing toward an increase in non-alcoholic choices; this trend reportedly driven by stricter laws related to alcohol levels while driving. Additionally, my peer observation shows a decline in the number of spirited drinks consumed based on healthier lifestyle choices and increased activity levels. This last year, I enjoyed many apéritif sans alcool, opting instead for mineral water also known as sparkling water or eau gazeuse in French.
Regardless of the type of drink or the quantity of drinks, the custom lives on. I believe the apéritif is alive and well! And I believe it knows it has to evolve and adapt in order to survive. Moreover, I have great faith that it will.
The when and how –
It’s the time of the day when people assemble before the evening meal. It’s a gathering of family and friends prior to the meal in preparation of the meal – the opening act.
An invitation to this French norm should be welcomed with excitement. Grab a small gift such as a bouquet of flowers (not carnations, which are normally reserved for funerals) or some chocolates and head that way with an open mind and a relaxed sense of adventure.
This truly French happening can’t be bought in a souvenir shop. Yet, it’s a must have and should be added to your bucket list of things to do while traveling in France.
Normally beginning anywhere from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and lasting from an hour to an hour and a half, closely followed by dinner. As a guide and general rule of thumb, the aperitif usually begins 1.5 to 2 hours prior to the start of dinner which usually occurs around 8:00 p.m. Additionally, and in most cases plan to arrive a few minutes after you are expected (this is the French way) and if not staying for dinner, limit your stay to 2 hours.
It can linger or it can be quick. Are they days when it doesn’t happen? Sure / Bien sûr, and depending on the stage of life you’re in – it may happen more or less often.
The why –
It’s not so much the what, the when, or the how, but rather the why.
Why / Pourquoi? Why not! / Pourquoi pas!
Pourquoi pas is the easy answer. The more complex response is CUZ! More appropriately, because we can / parce que nous pouvons.
Respectfully, as we should. As we shall at the end of the day. To celebrate and share life with those we love to do life with.
Don’t over stay! Don’t over eat! Don’t over drink! Don’t over talk! AND don’t over think it! AND no double dipping!
Do go! Do eat the do-dads! Do drink (healthy non alcohol alternatives are suggested)! Do talk in your best broken French! And do think about the coolness of the experience. BUT no double dipping!
The REALS –
You’ve heard the phrase “life is slower in France”. But is it? I might offer life is slower in France comparatively (to the speed at which Americans have become accustomed to), but it’s still real life.
There are jobs, and deadlines, and appointments, and illness, and death. There is happiness, and joy, and love, and regret.
There are bills to pay, and chores to do. There are decisions, and choices, and lists to be made.
BUT, what do REAL people do in France when they come together? They simply enjoy the moment and each other.
For REAL! They merely share themselves uninterrupted and without rush.
It’s real life with a twist. They call it the apéritif, or the apéro / Ils l’appellent l’apéritif, ou l’apéro. The celebration of the day / La célébration du jour.
And it’s my favorite part of the day.
Not to do, but to BE!
Chin-Chin and long live the apéritif.