Hurrah for apéros

One of the many things I love about France is the ritual of apéros. Meeting for drinks clearly occurs the world over but I think that there’s something special about a French apéro invite and its clearly defined expectations. It fits neatly before lunch or dinner defining a reasonable time limit that only the insensitive or, dare I say, non-French would misconstrue or overstay.

In England, inviting someone for drinks (nowhere near as elegant as the word apéritif/apéro) is far less specific and often misunderstood. British "manners" frequently prevent either side from clarifying the other’s true intentions or desires.

Furthermore, there is invariably a weight of social expectation and hang-ups at play — what time to arrive, concern that one is not asked to stay and eat, what to take as a gift if anything, is there a subtext for the invite? etc etc.

I adore the concept. One can, without real judgement, invite people you know well or not be they neighbours or other acquaintances and the invite is perfectly understood and acceptable to both sides. We’ve been offered a range of drinks from rosé wine, champagne, pastis and all manner of fortified wines through to some very unique offerings that one can only assume become an acquired taste!

And what a joy to be able to offer up anything from some olives and salami slices through to nifty little canapés depending on the time you have to prepare, the season and mood you are in. I have to admit here that I love preparing miniature this and thats to accompany drinks – perhaps it stems back to having had a dolls’ house as a child!

There’s invariably a roll of parmesan shortbread dough in my freezer for quick nibbles (thanks, Nigella, for your foolproof recipe) and my creativity knows no bounds when it comes to little toasts, some cream cheese and whatever is around in the fridge, larder or freezer to top them off.

One look at the ready made nibbles isle in most French supermarkets, appropriately titled rather than just ‘crisps and nuts’ as you might find in a Tesco or Waitrose, underpins what a serious business this is. There’s a wide range from the lovely on one side to an array of garish puffy corn things of questionable synthetic colour and flavourings on the other (which I prefer to assume are there only to cater for the tourist market!) And you can discover lots of tasty things in the chilled section, too.

Of course, similar can be found in England but largely at Christmas and New Year which rather limits such social niceties to set times and not the year round relaxed experience we enjoy here in France.

And at this point, I’ve just noticed the time.