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

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?

How much does the traditional 'apéro' really mean to French people?
Photo: ADT 04/Flickr
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. 

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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Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?