A Practical Guide To French Drinking Culture

A particularly common stereotype about French people is that they have a huge drinking culture. There is some truth in that stereotype as French wine is famous the world over and in the spring and summer months you’ll find most Parisians drinking away the evenings at little sidewalk cafes. However, if you’re out with local friends, it’s not as simple as ‘bottoms up’ when it comes to proper drinking etiquette. Don’t be the one to put your foot in your mouth (or your wine glass to your lips) in a major faux pas, read our practical guide to French drinking culture and say ‘Oui!’ to drinking the right way!

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Always toast

When having a glass of wine in France, it’s proper etiquette to always toast before taking your first sip. You’re not supposed to say ‘Cheers!’ though, the proper toasting words are: ‘A ta santé’ which means ‘To your health’. Alternatively, you can also just say ‘A la tienne’ which means ‘To yours (i.e. to your health)’.

Look ‘em in the eye

If you’ve got shifty eyes you may have some trouble drinking in France. When you toast, it’s considered rude to not look people in the eye when clinking your glass against theirs. If you’re not sure who to look at and everything is kind of a muddled clinking of glasses, just look at your host (or at the guy who bought the last round of drinks).

Don’t put it down

After you toast, always make sure to take a sip before setting your glass down on the table. I repeat, do not set your glass down without at least moistening your lips post-toast. And, if for some strange reason your host doesn’t toast once everyone has their drinks, just wait until he or she has started drinking before taking a sip of yours.

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Don’t cross glasses

Crossing your glass with someone else’s is considered bad luck in French culture. If you do, you can take your pick of either seven years of bad sex or seven years of bad luck. If you’re having trouble deciding which is worse, then just mind where you’re holding your glass!

Men serve women

Although in modern France this rule is changing somewhat, old drinking norms dictate that a woman shouldn’t help herself to drinks. The men are supposed to keep an eye out and refill the glasses of the women next to them if needed. Stay on top of this one, guys!

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 Don’t refill unless empty

This probably seems like an obvious one, but the art of drinking in France decrees that you must never refill your glass unless it’s completely empty. If you have the habit of topping up once your wine is down to the quarter mark, stop doing that right now. Nurse your drink slowly, finish it off, then refill.

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Order alcohol as needed

In France, drinking is more a way of life and less of an opportunity to get plastered. This means that drinking is socially acceptable at almost any time. It’s not uncommon to find people enjoying a glass of wine with their lunch during the workweek or someone nursing an ice-cold beer at ten in the morning, so don’t be shy about when you order. Just be prepared to focus less on the getting drunk part and more on relishing the drinking process.

Know your wines

It may sound a little snooty to say this, but it’s important to know what to drink with what. Since wine is such a rich part of French culture, people may look at you a little strange if you order a steak along with a glass of white wine. For the most part red wine goes with red meat (remember reds with reds), white with poultry and fish, and rosé with appetizers or snacks like chips and pretzels.

You may have already noticed a common theme here, and that is that drinking is an integral part of life in France. The French tend to have a very different approach to drinking than, say, Americans or British, and that’s part of what makes the local culture so charming and alluring! Whether you’re visiting France for a short while, planning on living their long-term, or simply going on a business trip, be sure to delve into the country’s drinking culture!  You won’t regret it, and by the end of your journey you’ll be wondering how you ever drank any other way.

Have you ever experienced French drinking culture first-hand? Share your story with us below!