Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wine Culture

It is not possible to conceive of life in France without wine. EVERYBODY in France drinks wine. Even young children visiting their grandparents on the weekend are given a sip of wine while at the dinner table. The only meal in France that is not regularly accompanied by the consumption of wine is breakfast, although champagne creeps in as a brunch staple.

Parisians stop by their favorite neighborhood café most days of the week, and nearly every visit includes drinking at least a glass of wine. Apartments in Paris are minuscule (most Americans wouldn’t even call them apartments at all, with the exception of New Yorkers), too small for entertaining friends. So most people meet up at a café after work and talk over a glass of wine. Cafés are thus the de facto living rooms of Paris.

French exchange students who study at American universities are shocked to learn that they are too young to be served alcohol. Most have been regular wine drinkers since their mid teens. There is a legal drinking age in France (16), but enforcement is non-existent, and there are no ID-checks. If young people are old enough to be out on the streets without an adult, a bartender will serve them wine. If your dinner party orders a bottle of wine, and you ask the waiter for an extra glass for the ten year old at your table, the waiter will provide one without batting an eye.

Yet almost no one in Paris appears to be drunk. Because wine is so prevalent in France, there is not the temptation to sneak off to get drunk on alcohol, as is the case with American college students. The difference between young people’s attitudes toward drinking in the U.S. and in France was summed up by one U.S. college student who had been raised in Paris. “In France,” he said, “my friends and I used to go out on Saturday night to have a good time, and occasionally somebody got drunk. Here in the U.S., everybody seems to go out to get drunk, and occasionally somebody has a good time.”

Besides, we all know by now that regular and moderate consumption of wine has enormous health benefits. Recent studies find that regular, moderate consumption of wine helps in the aging process, as well - on multiple levels of physical, psychological and social well being.

"A votre santé" never had a better ring to it!

No comments: