Half the fun of learning about living in a different country is learning ‘the ways’ of it, e.g. for us ‘what do the French do?’ Well the French do an Apero.
Qu’est-ce que c’est?
An Apero is a little like Spanish tapas. That is, it’s a drink and a nibble in the early evening, but not necessarily in a bar. At least not in the ‘Apero’ reference. Rather, it is a drink and a nibble, generally in your own home. Or someone else’s home.
The French, and I am grouping here, do not go out much at night, certainly not late, and certainly not ‘on the town’. (At least not so much here in the countryside or villages.) Instead, they prefer to gather over food and wine.
In France it is quite simply normal to socialise over food (hence why food is so often deemed important). To take the time, sit down, chat, even meet new people as part of a gathering. It is quite the art form here.
It’s all in the Timing
Lunch is the big meal of the day and the meal one is more likely to go out for. This is why it takes a couple hours, if not more. Evenings are about a lighter meal, say soup or salad, or snacks. So inviting people to an evening gathering is tantamount to meeting over elevenses or even lunch, say, in England or the States.
Generally you are invited to come around 6 or 7pm, essentially for an ‘aperitif’. This is where the ‘Apero’ comes from. Like anything done often it tends to get a nickname. As an unwritten rule, one tends to stay only an hour, 2 maximum if conversation is flowing. This is why aperitif means ‘a drink before a meal’.
For my American and Dutch readers who often eat around 5 or 6pm, the normal time for eating an evening meal in France is between 7pm and 9pm. (19h – 21h if we are being international.) In England it is not dissimilar timings, but they have ‘tea’ instead of an Apero, which might be tea and cake or a light snack.
A Journey of Discovery
The drink for an apero could be anything. Generally, though not exclusively, alcoholic it ranges from Champagne to cider (the alcoholic kind), but just as easily could be tea or a soft drink. You are usually offered, or offer, a wide variety of options.
It is not uncommon to be introduced to a local speciality at these gatherings. People are proud of their artisans and regional specialities. For example, if there is a nearby cider maker this may be offered. It gives one a chance to discover some local tastes as well as support local producers.
The same could be said for food or snacks. If there is a local cheese or sausage maker (and we are talking the dry sausage here, not the cooked one) or someone has recently discovered a new flavour from their favourite provider, you will be encouraged to try.
It has generally been an apero that has introduced us to the flavours and makers of the area.
A Lovely Way to Learn
We have learned so much from being invited to and inviting others to our own apero’s. Our French for one always benefits from these gatherings. Nothing beats one on one random conversation topics to improve your listening and discussion skills.
We also get the latest ‘on dit’, meaning ‘one says’ in French, but rumour or gossip in English, about what is happening in the area. Of course, there is always the weather to talk about, which in a farming and wine making community is actually quite important. It can affect the quality and quantity of food and drink after all. And that is another topic all together.
Your Own Apero
If you would like to organise your own Apero, we can offer some wonderfully French and unique items from our shop. Okay, yes, blatant sales pitch. However, in my defence, as we sell many French aperitif and hors d’oeuvres related items in affect you are buying something doubly appropriate for your own French Apero.
If you would like to read more of our findings about life in France, from stereotypes and misconceptions to asking is French life better or a look at French markets, you can find all our tales in our French Findings.