‘On 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.
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.
Most 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!
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.