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Un apéro à la française Posted by on Apr 1, 2010 in Culture, Vocabulary, Wine

My favorite French custom, sans exception, is l’apéro, or l’apéritif: the late-afternoon, pre-dinner cocktail hour. Whether you’re in France or having friends over chez vous, here are the bons mots de vocabulaire (right vocabulary words)!

An apéro is a goûter (snack) for grown-ups. You’ll need des boissons et de quoi grignoter—drinks and something to snack on. These vary by season and by region. I’ve had apéros in a chic appartement in Paris in winter, and in a tiny medieval town in Provence (southern France) in summer. Let me tell you, a Provençal summer apéro is not just a nice thing- it’s a lifesaver. When I lived with a family in St. Étienne-les-Orgues (population 800) and spoke presque pas un mot de français (almost no French), l’apéro saved me.

Certain drinks are traditional for l’apéro: Pernod, Lillet, and Dubonnet are liqueurs called apéritifs. In Provence, the omnipresent apéro is pastis, an anise-flavored alcohol that is served clear, with un carafe d’eau, and turns cloudy and yellow when water is added. Super-rafraîchissant on a hot day! Un apéro provençal will also feature du vin rosé, and if you’re my famille d’accueil—host family—this may be from a box.

With just these drinks, and the setting sun glinting off your glass, you’re well on your way to the most important part of l’apéro : taking a moment at the end of the day pour apprécier le crépuscule (to appreciate the twilight), to regroup after a day working or playing in the sun, and to relax with your friends and family. Or, if you’re a poor foreign American who hasn’t had anyone write a blog to teach her the bons mots, it’s a chance to sit and look at the sunflower fields, and apprécier that people are speaking a little more slowly. Merci, pastis !

Of course, if it’s hot outside, or you haven’t learned to love pastis yet, you’ll need des boissons non alcoolisées. Try de l’eau fraîche avec du sirop, cold water with flavored syrup, or simply prendre de l’eau gazeuse : have some sparkling water. Cold water with du sirop de menthe is my stand-by on a hot day. If you have it with limonade instead of water, it’s un diabolo : with mint syrup, un diabolo menthe, or with strawberry, un diabolo fraise.

À manger (to eat), je vous conseille des olives, du pain et du saucisson sec. Olives, bread, and dry sausage are elegant finger foods that look as good as you’ll sound when you say, « Pardon, peux-tu me passer les olives ? » These are mes préférés, but add what you like to your apéro : du fromage, des mandarines. In Paris, ma famille d’accueil used to put out a bottle of red wine and a big wooden bowl of clementines (des clémentines)– tout simple, tout classe. What would you have?

Pour mettre la table (to set the table), you don’t need more than une jolie nappe (a pretty tablecloth), des serviettes (napkins), des verres et des petites assiettes (glasses and small plates). If you’re dehors (outside), allumez des bougies—light some candles. Notice how elles font des étincelles contre les verres : they sparkle (étinceler) against the glasses. Trop beau !

Respirez, prenez un verre, rigolez avec des amis : Breathe, have a drink, laugh with some friends. Le plus important, c’est de vous amuser. Bonne soirée !

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  1. Hailey!!!:

    Hi nice job!!!!!

  2. Lauren:

    Merci beaucoup pour ces mots de vocabulaire!!! 🙂

  3. Anna Greene:

    I really want to learn french now but I don’t whether I should get an expensive tutor or simple misunderstanding software. Do you have any suggestions

  4. Anne French Tutor:

    The best “apero” is at home! having your friends over and open a bottle of Martini, porto, wisky or simply “champagne” as we do in the Champagne region…and some little snacks like “petits fours”, “olives” ” cacahuetes”…tout le monde devrait prendre le temps pour un apero!
    That’s what the French are all about! enjoy the night and don’t worry about tomorrow~