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How much does the traditional 'apéro' really mean to French people?

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How much does the traditional 'apéro' really mean to French people?
Photo: ADT 04/Flickr
17:24 CEST+02:00
The apéritif, or apéro as it's known in France, is a French evening ritual that combines drinks, food and friends. But with attitudes towards drinking habits changing, how safe is the apéro's position as a pillar of French culture?
Come rain or shine, anyone enjoying an evening stroll through a French town or city can't fail to notice that from as early 5pm people start flocking to café terraces for these pre-dinner drinks that often last long into the night.
 
However, the tradition, also known as France's "evening prayer", isn't restricted to bars and cafés, with many people hosting friends and colleagues for a post-work apéro at home, or in summer, taking to the parks. 
 
But with drinking culture in France changing with binge-drinking becoming an ever growing phenomenon, just how sacred is France's treasured apéro.
 
According to Nelly Bonnet, the Secretary General of France's impressively titled Syndicat des Apéritifs à Croquer -- literally meaning the "federation of aperitif nibbles",  the apéro remains absolutely vital to the French, especially during tough times.
 
Photo: sardunor/Flickr
 
"If there is one value that has been safe-guarded for decades by the French, it's the apéro," Bonnet told BFM TV.
 
According to a survey by her federation 90 percent of French people consider the tradition a way of uniting during a period of sadness or uncertainty, which many would say France has been enduring for a few years now, given the high unemployment, morose economy and ongoing threat from terrorism, among others.
 
Another result from the survey revealed nearly 70 percent of French people say that apéro fulfills a 'fundamental need' - perhaps not really surprising, considering it is essentially a social gathering with food and drinks. 
 
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Photo: Laurent Maurel/Flickr

But to the French it is so much more, and is seen as a chance to wind down, ignore their mobiles and really be themselves. With nearly half of people surveyed associating the apéro with a chance to let go.  
 
And even though the apéro is traditional, it isn't something that only older generations do, although different generations are likely to value it for different reasons, Bonnet explains. 
 
"For 18-29 year-olds, it's linked to generosity while for older people it's seen as a way of living better together," she said. 
 
"In our universe saturated with individualism and isolation, the apéro is a bubble where we can be together and really be ourselves," Bonnet said. 
 
With as many as nine out of 10 French people engaging in these pre-dinner drinks, it's not surprising that there are different ways to enjoy it. 
 
Some like the creative side of coming up with new recipes, others prefer to share the workload and put the emphasis on friends getting together, while for some it's about the freedom that comes with eating with your hands in a social setting that lets them be themselves, Bonnet said.
 
And in whatever way they're choosing to enjoy the apéro, the French are certainly enjoying it more than ever, with the sale of products traditionally associated with apéro going up by 3.7 percent in 2016. 
 
Salted snacks, like almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and cashews are still popular on the apéro menus but the apéro snacks with the greatest growth in popularity in 2016 were assorted biscuits, with sales growing by 30 percent, and tortilla chips going up by 27 percent. 
 
This shows that while the French are still enjoying their apéro, the way in which they enjoy it is ever-changing.  
 
And as the French will be the first to tell you, the apéro is one of the great pleasures of living in France. 

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