L’apéritif: or, how to enjoy life like the French

MyFrenchLife™ – French tradition - L'apéritif - or, how to enjoy life like the FrenchOn prend l’apéro?’ is so common it has almost become a clichéd phrase in France. Yet, there is more to it than meets the eye… 

Much more enjoyable during summer on a terrace, or in a friend’s backyard, l’apéritif (in short, l’apéro) is a cultural and culinary tradition in France. It is where both food, and taking the time to stop and enjoy life become part of the French culture. 

The word apéritif comes from the Latin verb ‘aperire’ which means ‘to open’. Since it’s supposed to spark your appetite, it will be served before lunch or dinner. At the end of the meal, you’ll take a digestif, which, as the name suggests, will help you digest your meal.

L’embarras du choix

So what will you drink? Champagne? Sure, but it isn’t the most popular apéro. Most apéritifs will be light, refreshing and have a crisp taste – quite enjoyable during summer. Whether you have a Campari, a wine-based Dubonnet, a fruity Lillet, an anise-based Pastis, or a classic Kir Royal, you are in for a treat!

L’heure de l’apéro

It is most common to have an apéritif before dinner. If you are on vacation, however, enjoying one before both lunch and dinner won’t be rare.  

MyFrenchLife™ – French tradition - L'apéritif - or, how to enjoy life like the French - Saucisson

As the French traditionally eat later than in the United States, the perfect time to have an apéro will be around 6 or 7pm and can well last a couple of hours. Depending on the region, you will also snack on peanuts, saucisson sec, or olives.

A French way of life

You could be tempted to object that there is no difference between the cocktail hour that many Americans enjoy before dinner, and the French apéritif. This is where I would beg to differ. 

The apéritif is much more than the few drinks you have before your meal. Contrary to the big cities in the United States where you head to the closest bar after work, in France, you will very often enjoy your drinks chez toi, or at the house of friends or relatives who invite you over.

MyFrenchLife™ – French tradition - L'apéritif - or, how to enjoy life like the French - LilletMost importantly, it is the perfect embodiment of the French way of life and mentality. The apéro is about allowing your mind and body to stop and rest after a long day at work, or a busy afternoon at the beach. It is a parenthesis between the daily routine, work and dinner.

Having an apéritif is a way for the French to say that it is okay, even necessary, to have a good time by enjoying a few drinks and conversation. Dinner can be a busy time where everybody is chatting over each other, but the apéritif will allow you to catch up with people in a more laid back setting.

The apéritif is one of the many ways to embrace the French lifestyle. Once you have one apéro, you won’t go back!

Do you think we should embrace the French tradition of l’apéritif? Add your comments to the box provided below! 

Image Credits:
1. Pastis by Gothopotam via Flickr.
2. Saucisson via Techvoyageur.
3. Lillet poster via Covet garden.
4. Aperitif for four by Docteur Cosmos via Wikipedia.

About the Contributor

Jennifer Bourne

Born and raised in France, I became a New Yorker at heart when I moved to the US. Social media and online research are my specialties. Movies and TV series are my conversation starters. While I try to make the best out of my New York life, I stay in constant research of all things French. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

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  1. Elise Mellor Sep 17, 2014 at 4:49 PM - Reply

    I am quite sure that the best apéritif is a Negroni. It’s sweet and bitter and so simple to make (as long as you have the patience…!) Jennifer is the Negroni popular in France??
    And to go with it… can’t we just have French bread? I’d be happy with that 😉

  2. Jennifer Bourne Sep 17, 2014 at 11:04 PM - Reply

    Whatever works for you Elise! As mentioned in the article, it’s more about taking the time, know when to stop and enjoy life… with bread if you want 🙂

    • Elise Mellor Sep 18, 2014 at 2:36 PM - Reply

      Oh yes…. as Plastic Bertrand says, “Ça plane pour moi” 😉

  3. Selina Sykes Sep 18, 2014 at 8:12 PM - Reply

    Love it! I miss apéros so much – we just don’t do pre-dinner drinks in the same way over the Channel! Belgians like their apéritif too so I enjoyed this when I was staying with family over the summer 🙂

  4. Ellen Burns Sep 19, 2014 at 11:10 AM - Reply

    L’apéro sounds heavenly, and exactly the sort of thing I never afford myself the time for!
    Have you ever had Pavan Jennifer? I was shown it by a friend the other day and it’s utterly delicious but I can’t find it sold anywhere in Melbourne! 🙁

  5. Katharina Schicho Sep 20, 2014 at 11:14 PM - Reply

    “On prend l’apéro?” Indeed one of the most heard sentences in France. Me personally I love to either have a pastis or a beer (une pression) when having my apéro in Marseille. I guess these are my German roots. [link removed by webmster]

  6. Christina Guzman Sep 22, 2014 at 5:07 PM - Reply

    I actually never heard of the apero before this article so it’s great to see new things that i can take on board in my own life – Can’t wait to try it!

  7. Julia Greenhalf Sep 23, 2014 at 6:53 PM - Reply

    I had the pleasure of having my first apéro last week, it is definitely something I could see myself getting into the habit of doing!

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