The French aperitif?
The aperitif is a monument of French culture, as important as strikes or baguettes. This is the moment before eating that combine drinks, snacks and people. Although it is a long-standing tradition, it is also a well-coded ritual. Will you be ready to take up the challenge of the French aperitif?
Apéritif or Apéro
The aperitif is available all year long, whether in a restaurant or if French people invite you at home (which they do regularly), or at work. You will be led to have an aperitif for lunch or dinner. Generally, it is a matter of having a drink with snacks with colleagues, friends or family. The aperitif, or shorter apéro, is an immutable ritual where you will probably be offered wine, beer, fruit juice, port, martini or regional specialities such as Pastis in Marseille.
Pastis is one of the most popular aperitifs in France. Imagine, the sun of Marseille warms you up as your friends are playing pétanque. Sport and conversation make you thirsty: you will probably enjoy a glass of this mixture of aniseed alcohol with water, also known as le petit jaune (the little yellow one).
Don’t like anise? Then you can choose another classic of the aperitif: the kir. This famous blend of white wine with crème de cassis (or peach, blackberry…) that bears the name of its inventor, the monk Kir. Are you celebrating something special? Then you can transform your simple kir into a kir royal by replacing white wine with Champagne! Finally, if you are in Brittany, you will probably be offered the local version: le kir breton where cider will replace white wine.
Nibbles and snacks
If you can open a bag of crisps, you will be able to accompany the drinks of your aperitif without any problem. These packs of gâteaux apéritifs fill entire shelves in French supermarkets. With a little more effort, you can also offer olives, sliced sausage and raw vegetable sticks to dip in a sauce.
Of course, you can also raise the level by offering kebabs (anything that fits on toothpicks) or verrines, these little glasses delicately filled with different layers of creamy or foamy things, cheese, vegetables… That, generally, causes a sensation!
Originally, the word aperitif comes from the Latin “aperire” which means “to open”, that is to say to open the appetite. These are in fact the foreplay to an act with which the French are madly in love: eating together.
Finally, no matter what you drink or what you eat, the important thing is to be together, it’s a time to share with your family and friends. Today, we sometimes spice up the aperitif by offering games. If you buy Apéricubes, these small cubes of cheese, you will find inside the questions of Trivial Pursuit. Nowadays, there are even board games specially designed for aperitifs.
Recent studies show that aperitifs are a widely shared activity in French society. Indeed, 47% do so at least once a week. Almost one in five people even have an aperitif at least twice a week.
Codes to be respected
But remember: there are a few, little rules to follow.
If you are invited to someone’s house, don’t forget to bring a little something: a bottle, snacks or a bouquet of flowers.
The aperitif can be a delicate invitation, you have to understand the implicit meaning: have you been invited to dinner or only as an aperitif? So, don’t stay too long: you’re supposed to have a drink or two and then go back home. But it also often happens that the aperitif lasts forever and turns into a apéro dinatoire: a dinner in the form of small snacks of various portions, which does not take much time to prepare.
Also, as a matter of politeness and superstition, it will be absolutely necessary to clink glasses (trinquer) before drinking a sip. And during this ritual, you must absolutely look the person with whom you drink in the eyes (under penalty of 7 years of misfortune) and say à la tienne or tchin or santé!
Now you’re ready to boire un coup with French people!