My partner has just walked into the kitchen and remarked ‘oh, I see you’ve already poured yourself an ‘apero’. Given that it is 7.45pm and I’ve been cooking for over an hour I see no need to explain that in fact I am on glass number 2, and that ‘cooking with wine’ is a very important English custom!
Drinking is very important to the french and there are many unwritten laws about it, the main one being that you never drink alone but wait to share the moment with somebody. Even on one of those ‘I’m a celebrity’ type programmes (The Island), I noticed that when a young man won the ‘reward’ of a tropical breakfast, his first reaction on being given a glass of orange juice was to express his disappointment that there was nobody to share the moment with - and this was despite the fact he had been living on water and rice for several days!
But it’s not just aperos that have their little ritual, coffee time can be a nightmare too. In the UK if you are going to make yourself a coffee and ask if anybody else would like one, it is quite normal just to place the drink next to them and then carry on doing whatever you were doing before. I like a coffee on my desk while I work, or in the morning while doing my make-up, but oh no, not in France. When you arrive with the coffee the discussion of ‘where shall we have it’ begins. Do we sit in the kitchen, in the lounge, outside in the garden but in the shade or in the sun, by the pool or on the terrace etc etc. By the time we finally sit down, the coffee is usually cold.
And back to aperos (I’m assuming that everybody knows this is the shortened version of Aperitif?). Various ‘rules’ apply here: Firstly, asking for a glass of wine is generally frowned upon, sometimes champagne will be offered but more usually spirits or those drinks we used to enjoy in the 70s (not Babycham!). Secondly, Aperos are always served with nibbles, which need to involve olives, cheese or charcuterie - and not a packet of crisps. In fact there is a ‘new’ phenomenon here called the ‘Apero Dinatoire’ where you are given more substantial nibbles and this replaces the need to cater for a full-blown dinner party. But the most important rule is not to drink before anybody else: you should always pour the drink for the other person before filling your own glass, then you must clink glasses and say ‘santé’ before taking a sip while looking the other person in the eyes. Apparently this is to prove that you haven’t poisoned the other persons drink – and if my partner ever again mentions the fact that I started drinking before him, he is right to be wary…!