Franco Files: How to Socialize Like a Parisienne
Mon 23 Aug 2010
From l’apéritif en terrasse to the early-morning croissant on the way home, what’s not to love about the Parisian social life?
Boire avec modération (drink with moderation) is your mantra for socializing in Paris. France may be one of the biggest wine producers and consumers in the world, but the French pride themselves on enjoying alcohol in a civilized manner. Savoring a glass of red with one’s lunch or dinner exhibits art de vivre—where’s the fun in deprivation? Getting out of one’s tree every Friday night exhibits a lack of self-restraint and, needless to say, is frowned upon.
Moderation applies to eating as well. It requires iron willpower in a city full of tempting bakeries and delis. But indulging in small amounts of rich food and drink seems to work pretty well for most parisiennes’ waistlines.
Parisians are reluctant to queue, let pedestrians cross the road or wait for you to move out of the way in the metro, but one thing they do take time over is dinner. I was lucky enough to interview the chef Gordon Ramsay when he opened his restaurant in Versailles, Le Trianon. He told me he was amazed by the staying power of French diners, who far outlast their counterparts in London and New York: “When clients at the Trianon come for dinner it’s 8:30, and three or four hours later they’re still there.” Socializing, he said, is not something done on the fly.
Enjoy apéritif spirits either at a restaurant before a meal or in a bar. Complimentary olives, nuts or nibbles will often arrive with your drinks. Parisian restaurants only start to fill up after about eight o’clock, while brasseries are more flexible, serving snack food and meals throughout the day in a more relaxed setting. The word “menu” is an unfortunate false friend in English. The French translation is “la carte”; “le menu” actually means “set menu” (“formule” is also used, especially for lunches). Set menus are generally good value. Carafes of water and baskets of bread are free, though you may have to ask for them.
Going out for a few drinks, even in moderation, isn’t a cheap habit, which is why the social lives of most parisiennes—that is, those of us who can’t afford to frequent Le Baron or Chacha—involve regular flat parties, with the odd petit resto. If the invitation says 8:00, aim to arrive at least half an hour late (and you still may be the first one there). Informal invitations can be misleading: “Come ’round for a drink” never, ever means just a drink and a few nuts. Even the most informal of soirées begins with an aperitif before proceeding to a main course (cue to cork the wine), dessert, coffee and a digestif. From which point it can all start to get a bit hazy—in a refined way, of course.
No one even thinks of setting foot in a Parisian nightclub until well after midnight. This inevitably leads to partying until 5 a.m. and catching the first metro home. Finding a taxi can be hit or miss if you’re nowhere near a stand, but there is a handy night bus that serves the city’s main axes. If you don’t want to pay club entry fees, there are plenty of all-night (or thereabouts) bars in areas such as Bastille and Pigalle. One rule: don’t wear overly revealing clothes. Once I ended up going clubbing still dressed in my office gear (aren’t impromptu nights out always the best?). I had never fit in with the dress code so well than in my conservative skirt and blouse. I think that says it all.
Un after (aff-TARE) is a particularly horrific borrowing that has found its way into French. Yes, it has somehow mutated into a noun, and yes, it sounds flaming ridiculous. But no one seems the slightest bit bothered (don’t get me started on franglais). A night on the tiles turns into un after when the revelry continues back home into dawn. Whatever you call it, there’s something magical about watching the sunrise over the cityscape from a rooftop terrace while soaking up any lingering alcohol with fresh butter croissants. Moderation can always wait.
Sortir en boîte to go clubbing
Faire un resto to go out for a meal
La carte menu
Le menu set menu
La carte des boissons drinks menu
Prendre un verre to have a drink
Avoir un verre dans le nez to be drunk (literally, “to have a glass in the nose”)
For restaurant tips, visit our dining section.