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Drunken Idiot’s Guide to Drinking in France
Posted by southstander on July 04 2005 - 08:09:50

By Max Rousie (Pictures by McLaren Field)

It won't have escaped too many peoples notice that there is a little bit of extra travelling to do for next weekends game against the Broncos. No normal trip down the M1 to the nations capital for us...oh, no....we're off to the South of France!

At great risk of trying to tell people how to suck oeufs Max Rousie brings us his ‘Drunken Idiot’s Guide to Drinking in France’.

There used to be a marked difference between drinking in Britain and France. In Britain drinking took place in pubs whose purpose was just to serve alcohol and whose opening times were severely restricted and attracted an adult, generally male clientele. In France cafes opened at the crack of dawn and also served food and plenty of non-alcoholic drinks to anyone from singles to families. The distinction is less pronounced now with cafe culture coming to the UK and pubs striving to attract families and diners but theres still a few differences.

Binge drinking is a peculiarly British phenomenon. Go to a French city late at night and you’re unlikely to see gangs of teenagers who seemingly can’t take their drink or know when to stop. Smoking is tolerated everywhere. Cafes and bars are generally more inclusive: only dedicated music bars are likely to be dominated by the young.

In most cafes you sit down and a waiter will come to serve you, in some bars you go and order yourself. In some cafes in prominent positions it actually costs more to drink outside than inside but its worth it to sit and people watch. I love drinking in France.

If you drink lager you’ll be ok. If you want a draught beer ask for ‘un pression’ and you’ll get a Kronenbourg, Heineken or similar. If you want something bottled ask for ‘une bouteille de seize cent soixante quatre’ and get an excellent Kronenbourg 1664. Be warned though, beers are pretty expensive in France.

Bitter drinkers are on dodgy ground. There are ‘brown beers (biere brun) but they’re still lagers. Go to a British or Irish themed place and you might get electric bitter or Guiness but neither will be well kept and both will be very, very pricey. You’ll never find a set of dominoes behind the bar.

My advice is to branch out a bit. A popular drink in the south of France is the pastis, of which Pernod is just one type. These are aniseed flavoured derivatives of absinthe and are drank mixed with water and ice and are very refreshing.

It’d be a crime to visit Languedoc-Rousillion and not sample the wine. Unlike homogonised ‘new world’ pap, French wines are not labelled with the grape variety but on the area they are produced in and local classifications include Cotes de Rousillion, Fitou, Corbieres, Cabardes and Minervois with the former being produced all around Perpignan itself. Excellent gutsy reds dominate though you canget a decent Rose. There are also sweet Muscats and an excellent sparkling wine (better than non-vintage Champagne) called Cremant de Limoux. If you’re a bit of a Mavis Riley there is an expensive fortified wine made in the region: Banyuls.

Whilst you can pay alot for wine you can usually get a very decent jug of wine very cheaply in bars or with meals ‘un carafe de vin’ or for something smaller ‘un pot de vin’ should do the trick.

For non-drinkers cafes usually do excellent chocolate (chocolat chaud), coffee (un cafe or un cafe creme) and awful tea (un tea). For cold drinks (and in 30 degrees plus you’ll need ‘em) theres the usual array of fruit juices, cordials, Orangina and mineral water. If you’re eating then ask for ‘une carafe d’eau’ and you’ll get a big jug of iced water as well as anything else you might want to drink. This is usually free.

Perpignan is full of cafes and bars with the Place de la Loge and Place de Verdun being popular squares with many bars and if anyone is there on Thursday night there will be a great atmosphere as its the weekly street market in the evening.

Have fun in Perpignan but don’t overdo it. In the heat its easy to dehydrate quickly with alcohol and if you get aggressively noisy or cause trouble be warned: French police are rather more ‘physical’ in their methods when it comes to drunken behaviour, and don’t touch the local women - their husbands carry knives.

Enjoy yourselves but behave!



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