Moving to France - hosting an apéro is a good way to make for friends and meet the neighbours
If you have just moved to France or you’re planning on relocating to France, then you’ll probably want to make some new friends as quickly as you can? A good starting point is inviting your neighbours over for an apéritif, in other words a couple of drinks and a little bite to eat. However, be aware that there is quite a social etiquette involved in hosting an apéro
a general overview
In theory an Apéro is an informal affair that generally takes place between 5-7pm before the evening meal. Apéritif is a French word, which, like its Italian counterpart, aperitivo, comes from the Latin aperire, meaning “to open or uncover”, but since the late 1800’s is considered to be an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite. Apéros usually last roughly an hour and seldom more than two hours for this reason. That said, apéros amongst good buddies can turn into an ‘aperitif dinatoire’, which is a more like a little party where guests are not seated formally for diner but mostly remain standing, and are served a variety of salty and sweet, cold or hot “bouchées apéritives” as dinner throughout the course of the evening.
But do bear in mind that if you invite French guests to come at 5pm, its doubtful that anybody will arrive before 5.15pm – its just not the done thing to arrive on time in France. Likewise, goodbyes take an age in France, so if you want to leave at 7pm, start saying your goodbyes at 6.30pm
Setting the table
Do not worry about this at all. From a naked table to a simple, everyday tablecloth, anything goes. It is informal with friends and entirely up to you. A few napkins might come in handy.
Depending on numbers, either everyone sits around the table to drink, nibble and chat or set up one table or area (kitchen worktop, for example) for food so that guests can mill about chatting if you have a large number of guests.
What drinks to serve
Well it’s a relaxed affair, so don’t stress too much as generally people will drink whatever you serve, but unlike an English drinks party, an apéritif is usually (but not always) something dry to stimulate the appetite – classic aperitifs include dry vermouth and white wine, fizz and bitter drinks such as Campari. Cocktails including martinis, G&Ts, spritzes and negronis are also great pre-dinner tipples. But of course you need to have some soft drinks available, maybe some beers – Leffe is a great Belgium beer that the French love. And some wine, which you might want to choose something that is produced in the region, or if you’re lacking knowledge adry white wine is always a good choice. The French really do love to pontificate over their wines – and it would be a risk to serve anything other than French wines.
When you serve your drinks, remember not to over-fill glasses – two-thirds full is normally polite. The French that I know are often quite shocked in an English pub seeing a wine glass filled to the brim.
And remember if there’s kids coming then a range of fruit-flavoured ‘sirops,’ water, local fruit juice and/or fizzy drinks should do the trick.
And how about food?
Carrefour will have a wide range of nibbles to choose from, just be sure to pick nibbles that don’t need a knife and fork, or even a plate. Cheese is always popular (again local is best, but maybe some English brands if you can get hold of it). Cherry tomatoes, breadsticks and some dips, crisps & nuts. The key is bite-sized, but if you’re handy around the kitchen a quiche is always a firm favourite.
You should cater for vegetarians, vegans and any gluton intolerance just to be on the safe side, so have a good look at the labels when you’re doing your food shop – there’s plenty of options in carrefour these days.
Welcoming your guests
Always welcome and say goodbye to your guests in the French way – with the “Bises”, a kiss (actually just a brush) on both cheeks, however the number of kisses depends on whereabouts in France you are, the etiquette will differ, in some areas, three or four kisses. Men will normally greet another man with a handshake, until you get to know them well, when a bis is fine
And lastly a Toast
Like in the UK, its generally appropriate for the host to make a little toast. This could take the form of a little speech, in French if you can manage it, but if not – its your house and your party so nobody’s going give you a hard time for making a speech in English. But you can also just offer a “cheers” to everybody and think them for coming – that could be “Sante!” (Good Health), “Tchin-tchin” (Bottoms up), or “a la Votre!” (Your Good Health) – but remember to look everybody in the eye when making a toast – its important.
Good luck, and have fun.