Bon vivant

“I think I am a good liver,” a French friend recently confided.

“You mean you have a good liver?” I suggested.

“No, I am a good liver. Un bon vivant.”

Well, that is true. He lives well, enjoys the finer things, and seems to truly enjoy whatever he does. And his English is good enough that I knew he didn’t need me to tell him that we don’t say ‘liver’ in that way. He had made his point.

It made me think. I often worry about my liver: I enjoy wine and beer too much for my own good. So I’ll cut back for a few days. Feel healthy, and go back to my old ways.

But do I worry enough about being a ‘good liver’? About enjoying life in every sense, living not just for tomorrow but today? Not even today but now?

I must admit that we have so many ways to enjoy that present moment in France. Not just around the table, or during the traditional ‘apéro’: there is a culture in this country of stopping to smell the roses, or at least enjoy ‘un petit noir’ at a café table, of savouring each change of season. We take holidays. Turn off our phones and other media (although not as often as we should).

But still. I know I focus way too much on my to-do list. Getting things done. Getting stuff. Not making enough new memories. Going off the path to try something different. Living in l’instant présent.

Come to think of it, my friend’s translation is probably closer to the expression: ‘bon viveur‘. As in so many other examples in our two languages, English borrowed from the French to create an expression and give it a whole meaning of its own: not just one who enjoys life, but one who overindulges in its finer things.

Perhaps one really does need a good liver to be a ‘bon vivant’. It certainly helps if you live in France. I suppose that’s why liver detox diets and tips to re-energize this vital organ abound on the French web: drinking rosemary tea, lemon juice and coffee; eating foods rich in antioxidants; avoiding chocolate, cheese and alcohol long enough to allow the liver to regenerate.

Et toi? Are you a good liver?

33 thoughts on “Bon vivant

    1. Thank you! Ah, the ever-frustrating ’embouteillages’. I try to stay zen and meditate while in the car but to no avail. It’s where my worst ‘Frenchified’ side comes out!

    1. Thanks, David. I know you don’t drink, but I think it sums you up perfectly – always seeing the brighter side in this human comedy and making us laugh as you go. Hope all is well with you! XO

      1. Maybe it was your liver that hit send? 😉 I am sure the new life will be everything you wish. Great point about the inner liver….what’s good for the soul must be good for the body on some level?

    1. If I read you well, you allude to that great joke of life…hopefully not imminent for either of us, but yes, the way out is to be experienced as intensely as a good life deserves. Not sure my liver is ready yet though…

  1. My eldest daughter arrives for a week on Sunday. I asked her what her present attitude to diet is … answer ‘I’ve just taken on a PT and he has me on a strict macrobiotic regime. I told him I was coming to France and he said I must be mindful of what I eat which read as take plenty of wine and cheese n’est pas’ ….

    I’m exactly the same as you – I mind my liver and then forget about it – it’s like Groundhog Day! Living here I live a better life not just in terms of food and drink but mostly in terms of the time taken to appreciate what I take in with my mouth, my nose, my eyes, my ears. It is a different approach, less hustled and it suits me well. But we know that 😉

    1. Oh, yes, your daughter sounds like she has the right attitude: everything in moderation, especially moderation (shit my Dad says, lol). It’s not easy to find that right balance, but there is something about living here that makes me feel it all evens out somehow to a better balance. And yes, it does suit you!!! x

  2. The NYT just had a great article about the importance of our livers:
    I think that since moving to France, I drink wine more often but eat sweets a lot less. Probably evens out. And I eat much better food–not only do I cook almost every meal from scratch, but when we go out, we lean toward traditional French restaurants that do the same. Nowhere else is it so easy to live well in the decadent (Rabelasian perhaps?) sense at the same time as living well in the health/diet sense.

    1. Great article! I love stories about the human body that blend science and history, very well written and helps put the role of that great blob in perspective. Sounds like you’re doing something right. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Definitely. I don’t drink [gives me a headache], but I love good food, and I pace the frantic aspects of my life in order to be able to enjoy what I have instead of worrying about what I lack. There are things I /would/ change, but all in all, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. Je suis un bon vivant aussi. 🙂

  4. @”Et toi? Are you a good liver?” – it’s kinda rhetorical question, and you’ve known me for awhile, donc you do know the answer… 😉 santé! cheers! 🙂

    1. Too true! If I had asked you a question, it would have been ‘What did you do to become such a good liver?” If you have a secret, please feel free to share!

  5. There’s a meta-study (study of other studies) that demonstrates alcoholics live on average only 5 years less than non-alcoholics. Even more interestingly, heavy drinkers live longer than people who abstain from alcohol all together:,9171,2017200,00.html
    This is why I weighed it all up and decided alcoholism was definitely for me. It’s not always easy. Sometimes my body says *please, please stop*, but I’m committed to my goals 😀

    1. And what about psychedelic drugs ? I know 2 very living examples, ancient Hippies of now nearly 70 who took care of ingesting enough various natural and not natural strong stuff in their youth, who are incredibly young in any sense now . Face, body, feeling, that’s incredible . One more proof of the benefits of a seriously performed diet at the right time .

  6. Well, being a good liver does require a good liver I suppose. I think people would benefit from focusing on improving both 🙂 Great post, got me thinking about the connection between the physical and the mental a bit; like when some people claim that being happy is more important than being healthy or vice versa. I also have a craving for wine now…

    1. The two are definitely closed interrelated. There was a TV panel yesterday discussing France’s oldest women, Jeanne Calment, who died in ’97 at the age of 122. She was said to both drink and smoke, which gives me hope (although I gave up the evil weed many years ago).

    1. Thank you! 😉 I think staying active and having a sense of purpose in life are important too. Make the kicking back that much more enjoyable!

  7. Oh that’s a beautiful post and a beautiful reminder of what is important! To be a good liver. I like that very much, and it is indeed something I admire about what I have seen of French culture.

    1. Please, Lisa, if you never smoked until now, don’t start! (Been there, done that; quitting is a bitch.) Let’s keep our vices for truly good things. 😉 I know you’ve had a rough year, so perhaps it’s not been easy to be a good liver. Here’s to happier days ahead!

  8. You got me obsessing about whether or not there’s an element of excess in the definition of “bon vivant” in English, so I went off to Merriam-Webster, where I found this, which I thought would amuse you:

    Fans of fine French wine and cuisine won’t be surprised to hear that the French language gave us a number of words for those who enjoy good living and good eating. Gourmet, gourmand, and gastronome come from French, as does bon vivant. In the late 17th century, English speakers borrowed this French phrase, which literally means “good liver.” No, we don’t mean liver, as in that iron-rich food your mother made you eat. We mean liver, as in “one who lives” – in this case, “one who lives well.”

    …and I’m with you nonetheless–I like your translation better!

    1. Interesting what phrases we English-speakers latch on to….I think this entry must be referring to the ‘bon viveur’ version, which I’d read about but never actually seen used. Thanks for your interesting research!

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