I’ve been thinking about inviting our French neighbours round for a drink, or aperitif. So I thought, better just check if I should follow some form of etiquette. I wouldn’t want to offend them… especially as we’re English and haven’t been here too long. Oh boy… am I glad I did… as with everything else, French aperitif etiquette can be a minefield.
First of all, if you’re inviting guests for drinks/aperitif, (or “l’apéro”), they won’t expect a meal, but it is common practice to serve nibbles (such as canapes, peanuts, crisps, saucisson (salami), mini cocktail sausages, small cheese cubes, etc… the combinations are endless). Generally, aperitif guests only stay for an hour – two maximum.
You also need to give a formal invitation – if you just say “come round sometime this afternoon”, they probably won’t come as you haven’t specified a time. The French like to know an exact time… and then they’ll arrive about 15 minutes late, as it is French etiquette to be late. In actual fact, this practice even has a name in France: “Le quart d’heure de politesse”. However, the acceptable length of lateness can vary: punctuality customs differ from one region to the next. In “Province” (i.e anywhere in France that is not Paris), guests tend to arrive on time or only between 5 and 15 minutes late. However, in large cities such as Paris, Bordeaux or Toulouse, it is more common to arrive between 15 and 30 minutes late
Shake hands, kisses and the toast
When the guests arrive, and when they leave, it is normal practice to shake hands and, when you know them better, you can also kiss on both cheeks. In some areas of France, three or four kisses are the norm, but one is a definite no-no, unless you are in the Finistère or Deux-Sèvres departments (once again there are geographical differences regarding the number of “bises” exchanged). Except with young children, where one kiss is normal, the French consider one kiss only to be rude.
When serving drinks, glasses should only be filled three-quarters full, and the host should propose a toast; everyone then clinks glasses saying “Santé” (good health), “À la vôtre” (to your health) or even “Tchin tchin”. People normally sip slowly and stop at two drinks.
Well, I’m glad I read up on the French aperitif etiquette… I’m sure that this is a general guide, but forums on the internet tend to generally agree with most of the ‘rules’. Right… better get some invitations sorted!
A short guide of French etiquette for guests:
- Lunch invitation: arrive at 1300. Even though the French usually have lunch at midday, when entertaining it is customary to invite guests to a later hour.
- Coffee invitation: arrive at 1400. Your host will usually serve both coffee and dessert. It can also be a café gourmand which is an espresso served with a selection of mignardises (or petits fours). Try to leave around 1500.
- Invitation to “le goûter” (afternoon tea): arrive at 1600. Leave around 1800-1830 latest.
- Invitation to “l’apéritif”: arrive around 1900-1930. In Summer, you can make it a bit later, i.e 1930-2000. A word of warning: if you are a guest at an aperitif, only stay 1 hour or 1.5 hours. Quite often, aperitif among friends turns into “aperitif dinatoire” (a more hearty drinks and nibble party, a buffet or even an informal appetizer cocktail dinner). It can easily go on until 2300 or even… 2 in the morning! However, try not to overstay your welcome.
- Invitation to dinner: arrive around 1930-2000 depending on the time of year. In Winter, eating dinner at 2000 seems really late whereas in Summer it is still aperitif time!