The French do have a much more healthy attitude towards drinking than the English. Drinking steadily throughout the day means you’re constantly slightly tipsy, rather than downing it all in one go in the evening and getting plastered as is our proud cultural heritage. As the Americans will uphold their right to bear arms to the death, so will the French uphold their right to drink wine at lunchtime. French police even threatened strike action when in 2011 bosses tried to ban them from drinking on the job. Yes, French police were routinely on the wine at lunchtime before tottering off to solve a crime (or push some documents round a desk and scribble rude drawings on them). I’ve written before about government-employed labourers given vouchers for lunches that include unlimited wine despite their jobs involving driving heavy machinery.
So it won’t come as a surprise to learn that they start them young on the alcohol in France. Where in England we don’t let anyone under 18 into a pub unaccompanied, check everyone’s ID and tell our children “Daddy’s drinking dirty beer again”, it’s the complete opposite in France. Children are encouraged to join in, develop a taste for it and come to appreciate it as a meal accompaniment. They see adults nurse a couple of small wines throughout the evening while concentrating their main efforts on conversation, wild gallic gesticulation and a lot of flirting. In France they serve beer in demis; the bars don’t even have pint glasses – whereas a man would be laughed out of the pub if he ordered a half pint in the north of England.
I wasn’t sure if it was taking things a bit too far, however, when one couple kept allowing their one-year-old baby gulps from their wine glass throughout the evening. She seemed to enjoy it, or at least was fascinated by it. But only time will tell whether this strategy produces a raging alcoholic or a person completely indifferent to the effects of drink.