This is a subject close to my heart! L’apéro or apéritif is a crucial and delightful part of daily life in France. Whether it’s a simple drink before you start your meal at or a whole evening of drinks and nibbles, it’s important to understand what to order and what to expect.
“Désirez-vous un apéritif messieurs-dames?” Would you like drink before your meal ladies and gentlemen? Pretty much all meals in a restaurant will start with this question (well assuming you’re in a group of men and women. If only men then cross out the “dames” and if only women cross out the messieurs!) Obviously it’s not obligatory to have an apéro but it’s very normal. Here are some of the more common drinks to ask for in a restaurant.
- Un Kir, a cocktail of white wine and (traditionally) blackcurrant liqueur though there is often a choice of other flavours such as raspberry (framboise), blackberry (mûre) or peach (pêche)
- Une coupe de champagne, a glass of champagne
- Un Kir Royale, a kir made with champagne instead of white wine
- Un demi, a small bottled beer (lager), 25cl
- Une pression, a draught beer, most often lager, though you can ask what beers are available on tap
- Un Ricard or un Pastis, a provencal drink made of aniseed usually refered to by the brandname of your preference. The two drinks are very similar though afficionados will always have a definite favourite.
- Un whiskey, scotch is more often drunk before a meal than after and very rarely by women. It will be served neat (you’ll be asked whether you want ice or not) but if you want water or soda with it you’ll have to ask. For soda ask for Perrier.
Other drinks commonly ordered in bars though not necessarily before a meal in a restaurant include
- Un panaché, shandy in English (lager and lemonade)
- Un Monaco, like a panaché but with a drop of grenadine cordial making it bright red and extra sweet
- Un verre de vin (rouge/blanc/rosé), a glass or red/white/rosé wine
- Un gin’tonic (don’t say the “and”!)
It is perfectly acceptable to order the bottle of wine you want to drink with your meal as an apéritif but just ordering a glass of wine before your meal is not common. As a bit of an aside as this is not about apéritifs, you can always ask for tap water in a restaurant for free and don’t have to have the expensive bottled water proposed if you don’t want it. Just ask for “un carafe d’eau” even if Evian/Perrier/Badoit are offered. You can’t be refused.
Now for the “apéro” at a private house. To be invited to an apéro or apéritif means to be invited for drinks but there will always be some form of finger food on offer from nuts and crisps to delicious homemade savoury cakes, dips, canapés etc. Sometimes the food can be copious enough and the apéro long enough to be considered the whole evening meal. If this is the intention of the host and not just the outcome of a successful gathering then it might be called an apéro-dinatoire. As the name suggests, the drinks will be served with enough fingerfood and the occasion will go on well into the evening that you won’t need to plan on a proper meal afterwards. You’ll be stuffed!
What has become known as “wine o’clock” in English is “apéro time” (Franglais) or “l’heure de l’apéro” in French. Having an apéritif with friends has definitely become my favourite way to entertain. It’s less stressful than preparing a full-blown dinner party, children are nearly always involved and the timing is more relaxed than dinner. We seem to host or go to one at least once a week and often more. Add to this the obligatory glass of rosé every evening at home and what it is not good for is my waistline nor liver but that’s too bad!