One of my favourite French abbreviations is also a backbone of life in France: l’apéro. In its longer form, ‘apéritif’ sounds stiff and formal. Shortened to apéro (pronounce: a-pay-ROH) it becomes something easy and friendly. One that goes down as lightly as a quaff of champagne on a summer’s evening.
I was reminded of this when we visited old friends and neighbours in Lyon last weekend. It was nothing fancy. We were in the area and wondered if anyone would be around if we stopped by? This is when the true stuff of French friends comes out. From a quick visit it became an evening event that our former neighbours organized on the fly during an otherwise busy weekend. A family reunion in the afternoon, a job that requires being on-call all weekend. Peu importe. We came for drinks and stayed till midnight. The apéro was ‘dinatoire’, meaning it took on the proportions of a meal, with plates of simple nibbles being passed around the big table. We’re talking pâté en croûte, squares of quiche, various dips and breads, chunks of melon, cherries and an apricot clafoutis.
I’ve been to fancier events that have been designed to literally mimic a 5-course dinner: starting with nuts and ‘verrines’ (small glasses) of chilled soup or layered salad; followed by canapés of smoked fish and meat, mini-quiches, etc.; then a platter of various cheeses with bread and finally, fruit pieces and small cakes. At such parties, even the wines follow the usual order: champagne, white or rose, red with cheese and more bubbles with dessert.
Interestingly, the French have a few habits that tend to stick regardless of how fancy the fête: generally, everyone arrives before you serve the first drink. In Canada, we have the habit of getting the guest a drink in his or her hand the instant they walk in the door. In France, we wait until most everyone is assembled, then serve a drink and have a toast, clinking glasses before anyone imbibes a drop. Needless to say, it is best to have friends who arrive on time!
The other thing is the French don’t like to remain standing or even sit in individual conversation groups, as is my preference. Even if it’s only an apéro, everyone will be seated around a common table and a general conversation begun. Once the ice is broken, and especially after a second or third top-up of drinks, the conversation will break into smaller groups. I dislike sitting in the same place for long and so usually find an excuse to get up and move about (and optimally adjust the position of my good ear to be able to hear what is being said.)
We don’t host many parties these days, but we did our share when we lived in the old neighbourhood. It made me smile when one of our friends noted on Saturday that all we were missing was ‘la sauce de Mel’. For the French, everything is a sauce. Salad dressing, dip, you name it. Yet I had no idea that my dip (borrowed from the Best of Bridge) had become a local favourite that bears my name. It’s basically a sun-dried tomato and cream cheese dip with garlic and basil. Very easy and fresh and extremely popular with the French! Recipe here if you’re interested.
Apéro hour is approaching so I’ll wrap this up with a ‘bonne santé’ and ask the essential question: what are you drinking?
L’apero IS my favorite part of France. I love how everyone gathers around the small table. I love how the do-dads (what my girls always called the snacks) are crafted then passed and shared. We attempt to share the apéritif here in the US and it’s always a big hit. We enjoy an occasional Ricard and or Pineau des Charente – just to reminisce. But in September we will be in France – for the real deal.
Do-dads! That makes me laugh as it was always my husband (do-Dad’s?) who can’t stop eating the nibbles! Hope you enjoy your trip to France and look forward to reading about your adventures!
That’s cute !
Your special sauce sounds deliciousI Will try it this weekend.
I like the apéro dinatoire for a big crowd. One thing is to have almost enough chairs. Then people who are standing will sit whenever a sitting person gets up to refill their plate. It moves the conversation groups around.
We’ve had many a just-drop-by-for-drinks moments evolve into impromptu dinners. I like it. People seem a little surprised, but we have a bunch of meals that are quick to assemble from pantry ingredients, and they’re on the table before you know it. The French usually plan things out, and so do we, but impromptu is fun, too. Where we live, the pantry has to be stocked because there are zero takeout options in our little village.
I know what you mean about the lack of takeout options — even when we do find a local traiteur, you have to get in early or place an order to be sure of getting what you want so it’s best to make your own. As you say, necessity is the mother of invention and it’s amazing what you can pull off with a well-stocked pantry. Enjoy the dip!
You’ve just described one of my favourite ways to get together with family or friends. We call it nibblies. Especially in the summertime, we’ve discovered that sit-down meals just don’t have the same liveliness that a flow of nibblies provides.
We’re also a gather-round-the-table kind of crowd with the occasional splintering off of conversations.
Thanks for the recipe. This one looks like a winner.
You are welcome! It’s indeed easy — the hardest part for me is finding fresh basil unless I make it to the market. It is nice to enjoy the ‘nibblies’ and get to talk to everyone!
I’m now planning to make this on the weekend. I already have the basil 🙂
L’apéro always seems to become nibbles and an e-l-o-n-g-a-t-e-d event here, which is wonderful, and is always better somehow when it is totally impromptu. And yes, before you know it, darkness is falling and the bats are swooping around and you realise that you have been sitting and chatting for many hours….simply wonderful! 🙂
I remember long summer evenings outdoors like you mention, when the conversation and the wine just keep flowing. Thanks for mentioning the detail of the bats — it brings back fond memories of our old house. We don’t seem to get them here in the Haute Savoie.
We’re drinking [almost] all rosé, all summer long, with forays into bubblies and light Pinot noirs. As for apéro, what could be more génial? The most civilized and delightful part of our lives!
Love the summer rosés too! Somehow calling it ‘l’apéro’ rather than drinks makes it seem more congenial and decidedly more civilized. Santé!
I do miss the apero from our time in France. It was such a fun way to get together with friends and neighbours. We had our fair share during our stay in Paris and it was always fun. (Suzanne)
It seems to be a universally popular way to meet and enjoy moments with friends and neighbours. Am just wondering why we don’t do more of this in Canada? Now that I think of it, in Toronto we tended to invite people over for a meal but not drinks in the way of the French apéros.
Here is only a theory… Maybe apero isn’t as popular in Canada because we do our bigger meal in the evening and not at midday like it is done in France. In Canada, inviting people for apero and only serving limited amount of food wouldn’t be sufficient. This might explain why we invite people for meals though we do normally serve a drink before the meal which we do call apero in Quebec.
For networking there is the Happy Hour or as we say in Quebec the “5 à 7” though not an expression to be used in France as it means something totally different. These would sometimes lead to having dinner with some of the people you have met for Happy Hour or you would go separate ways…
Very good theory, in my opinion Suzanne. Also, thanks for making me look up ‘5 à 7’ which I had no idea had different meanings between France and Québec.😳
Love the Apéro , as well as the Happy hour, and the After work ! Apéro is the best way to meet the natives even at work I know them by going out to do Apéros en bars… Just before getting home for the family meal.
Very true! In all of the offices where I’ve worked in both France and Switzerland, l’apéro was always a good way of networking. Some places are becoming rather strict about the ‘official’ offering of alcohol on work premises, but we usually found a way around it.
We go out for the apero ::)
Needless to say or add, Apéritif was conceived as a way to open up the appetite before the meals in reverse the Digéstif was done after the meal to help the digestion. Salut
Either way, with such traditions we are not losing any weight! 😆
weight what is that lol!!! life is too short.
Apero sounds wonderful and perfect for summer evenings with friends. I’m a very dull drinker. White wine well chilled or a g & T with a twist of lime.
I wish I were a less enthusiastic imbiber. Beer, kir, champagne and lately the trndy Aperol Spritz! Fortunately while I love G+T, I can also enjoy a tonic on its own and occasionally rest my liver. 😇 Santé!
I have fond memories of l’apero in Colmar sipping a Picon with my husband. Here in Ohio, the two of us can be found each evening around 6 having our craft beer l’apero on our little balcony. And we do stay up talking to watch the bats swooping over our back yard! It would be fun to have lots of people, but the balcony is tres petit!
I have just returned from Spain where i can buy a familiarly decent bottle of gin from a supermarket for below 5 euro and also the same for whisky . I would have to pay around £10-15 a bottle in London. So L’aperos are plentiful.there But the morning after is often regretful
should read fairly decent not familiarly.
Lol! Darn spell check…santé!
Sante MEL, i hope the weather stays nice enough for another round.
It certainly is warm enough! And I’m always thirsty…😛
I’d better drink quickly as the weather is due to undergo a big change from Monday.