Teetotalers in France

Old May 23rd, 2009, 11:45 AM
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Teetotalers in France

I know a trip to France without imbibing in wine sounds like a sacrilege to many, but neither DH nor I are drinkers. Add in the fact that we're planning on visiting Burgundy and I'm sure several of you just rolled your eyes!

DH will drink tea, water or soda, and I prefer water or soda. Should we stick to water with dinner in Paris rather than face the disparaging looks from the waiter if we order sodas? When visiting the Napa Valley we were pleased to find rather good olive oil at California wineries and we enjoyed touring the vineyards. Should we plan on visiting any of the wineries in Burgundy?
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Old May 23rd, 2009, 11:54 AM
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I would stick to water with meals - the taste of a soda is so strong that it would ruin the taste of a good meal.

AFAIK, vineyards in France grow grapes and make wine, not olive oil.
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Old May 23rd, 2009, 11:55 AM
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No waiter will even notice if you drink wine or not. I would stick with water. The thought of sweet sugary soda with fine food does not appeal to me at all.Sodas are also more expensive than wine. Even tap water is a better choice. Do not expect to get your tea with your meal however, now that is a sacrilege.

I'd certainly visit a winery or 2. The process is interesting and no one will worry if you pass up the samplings.
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Old May 23rd, 2009, 01:00 PM
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hi shari,

DH and i spent two weeks in france and while i'm not a teetotaler, i'm not a drinker. i didn't have a single alcoholic drink while in paris and had no strange looks from waiters/waitresses. asking for a "carafe d'eau" was not a problem ... not sure about soda (i don't drink carbonated bevvies). i really don't think not drinking wine is a problem. also, definitely go to a winery if you're interested in it!
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Old May 23rd, 2009, 01:09 PM
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I total tee myself, with nary a problem anywhere (except maybe at those college parties where people looked at me strangely, but that was many years ago). In Paris, I drink tap water (ask for a carafe d'eau) or sparkling water. I have been known to drink soda with my meals at times, and I have noticed plenty of other people doing the same. This thing about French people not drinking Coke (or, as I prefer Coca Light), is way overblown.
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Old May 23rd, 2009, 01:38 PM
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50% of the French do not drink a drop of alcohol.
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Old May 23rd, 2009, 06:16 PM
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Is that really true, Kerouac?
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Old May 23rd, 2009, 09:22 PM
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Absolutely true. Just goes to show how stereotypes can mask reality.
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Old May 23rd, 2009, 10:39 PM
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Maybe only 50% of the French drink wine it is true the French drink an average of 280 glasses per year which is 4 times as much wine as Americans do.

Remember you can order your food how you'd like it in Paris but the chef will decide what you'll get.
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Old May 24th, 2009, 01:12 AM
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Kerouac - does that 50% number include children? The WHO reported only 12% of male adults and 16% for adult females to be "abstainers". They cite two other surveys putting the rates at 13% and 27% for men and women, and 7.3% and 11.1%, again for men and women. The last number includes a very wide age range that even includes people as young as 12.

Here is a link to the WHO's alcohol consumption profiles by country.


One thing to note is that, while the French drink much more wine than Americans, they drink less beer and spirits. Also, the French and Italians have seen relatively large decreases in alcohol consumption and a shift away from wine to other drinks in recent years.
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Old May 24th, 2009, 01:54 AM
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Another nonalcoholic option is "citron pressé" - squeezed lemon juice, served with water and sugar. It is a good option when sitting in a café.

Travelgourmet's link to the WHO reports is most interesting - it is fascinating to see how consumption has declined in France. IMO, the reason was the legislation on driving under influence (same happened in other European countries, but not so sharp as in France).
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Old May 24th, 2009, 06:08 AM
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I agree with traveller1959 that to large measure, the drop in alcohol consumption in France relates to a very strict interpretation of what defines driving while drunk (.05% blood alcohol count). The French has all but abandoned the digestif (liqueur at the end of the meal). The law has rigid enforcement and police checkpoints can be found at any time on any road - particularly upon those where you would not expect them.

Drinking only water at dinner will not be noticed in a restaurant. Asking for sugary drinks during the course of a meal will be noticed if you are dinning in a restaurant. At a café or brasserie, people drink a wider range of choices. The posters reference to tea might be "iced tea" which has become widely available in summer months in France. However, French iced tea will likely be peach flavored and sweet and is not typically served at mealtime in a restaurant.

There may be a few wineries which engage in olive oil production but they would be found in the south of France (perhaps Cotes du Rhone). Burgundy is not sufficiently hot for olives which is why cool weather grapes do so well there - pinot noir for example.

Generally there are other considerations for restaurant dinning which are more important than what one drinks. Reserving, avoiding special requests and substitutions, or not asking for a "doggie bag" are but a few.
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Old May 24th, 2009, 06:42 AM
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Makes no difference at all to the waiter. MANY drink the carafe of tap water,(une carafe d'eau as mentioned above) or bottle of water. We've never had a problem and never felt we were "different or odd". Same in Italy etc !
Maybe you wouldn't want to ask for a soda in a restaurant.... expensive and not usually ordered by the "locals'. IF you are craving an iced tea (or coke) you can always pop into a McDonalds in the afternoon for an "iced tea break, a seat to rest tired feet, and a good restroom! (but don't count on a lot of ice in your drink), though as mentioned above, that trend seems to be changing in FRance in the summer months.)
The trip to Burgundy should be very intersting,,,,even if you don't drink the wine!
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Old May 24th, 2009, 06:59 AM
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I've noticed more and more carafes of water on tables--I sense a slight backlash against bottled water or it's the economy or maybe they've just always been there and I notice them more because I am drinking ever so slightly less wine. I also think I read it was obligatoire to serve water if asked. Kerouac, is that correct?

I drink Badoit some, which is fizzy but not as fizzy as Perrier. I think I read somewhere the French don't as a rule drink fizzy water with meals but I am sure the French don't care what I do.

Funny little story--years ago we got on to Lillet which is a light citrus aperitif. We stopped in a little side street cafe on the Ile St Louis as we were early for our dinner reservation. I asked for "Lillet, svp," the waiter asked me to repeat it once, then said "Ah, oui," smiled and served me a glass of milk! That about sums up my French accent!
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Old May 24th, 2009, 07:16 AM
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I am also a "teatotaler" and have never had a problem in France drinking only water during meals. You should ask for a "carafe d'eau" in order to get a free carafe of tap water. If you simply ask for l'eau you may be asked "gaseous (sparking) or non-gaseuos (spelling awful)", the waiter will bring you a bottle of water and you will be charged for it.

You don't have to sample the wine but you can always take a tour of the wineries to see the process and learn about the culture of wine making in France. Just to see how passionate the vintners were about their vines and their land and the love they put into the wine they produce. It give a unique look at an important part of French culture. I found these tours to be fascinating.

I leave in 5 weeks to spend 3 weeks following the Tour de France, so it's countdown time for me now YAAAAY!!

Enjoy your trip to France.
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Old May 24th, 2009, 07:30 AM
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Travelgourmet, I saw that some statistical institutes consider that anyone who has drunk a drop of alcohol in the past year is a drinker. By those rules, I'm sure that 80% of the French can be considered to drink, because it is almost impossible to avoid a glass of champagne at least once a year, even if you hate the stuff like I do. The current president of France considers himself to be a teetotaler, yet he has to dip his lips into the edge of a glass at numerous state events.

Regarding people who consume alcohol on a DAILY basis in France, it depends a lot on the age group, and the latest statistics are eloquent:
ages 20-25 : 5.1% of men and 0.8% of women
ages 65-75 : 56.2% of men and 22.9% of women

Between 1961 and 2003, alcohol consumption dropped 47.5% in France. I would say that most stereotypes that people have about various countries are about 40 years out of date. I know a lot of Americans coming to France still expect the French police to be wearing a képi, for example.
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Old May 24th, 2009, 07:42 AM
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Cathinjoetown, it's true that any eating establishment must serve you tap water if that's what you want as a customer. There is a tradition (but it is not a law, as many of the French believe) never to refuse a glass of water free of charge to anyone who comes in off the street and asks for one. However, in recent years, I have noticed that the people who do that (usually gypsies or homeless) prefer to go into a McDonald's to get a cup of water, because it gives them a begging tool as well.

Badoit is considered to be a "meal" water, and that is how it is advertised on television -- showing people drinking it with their meals in restaurants or at home. Badoit has come out with a violently fizzy version a red bottle to compete with the violence of Perrier, and Perrier has come out with a delicately fizzy version in a blue bottle to compete with Badoit.

I have some good news for people dying of thirst on the streets of Paris. The ubiquitous 'sanisettes' (the automatic free toilets out on the street) are being replaced by a new bigger model, which also comes equipped with a drinking fountain on the back side. I have not yet seen any of the new ones in service, but they are almost ready around Les Halles, and they have also just removed the old ones near my office in the 8th arrondissement -- I expect the new models to arrive next week.
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Old May 24th, 2009, 07:49 AM
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IME, no one will bat an eye if you just order water or Badoit (or Pellegrino, which seems to be very popular in the south of France) and eschew wine. But ordering a soda with a meal, to me, defies the whole purpose of eating decent food.
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Old May 24th, 2009, 08:58 AM
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Nobody really cares what you drink, believe me. Order what you want, don't order based on what you think will impress a waiter. Why do you possibly care what kind of look a waiter gives to you?

I rarely ever drink soda, but the thought of "pop" (which I presume is what you mean by soda, not carbonated water -- but if that is what you want, that is very common, like Perrier) with dinner turns my stomach. Having said that, I have seen French people drink Cokes with dinner in Paris (adults as well as children), much to my surprise, actually -- in some small restaurants/bistros that I frequent in less touristy parts of Paris in the outer arrondisements. These are just regular neighborhood folks.

But really what other people like or don't like is irrelevant -- if you love Coke with dinner, order it. It's not cheap, however, and tap water is free, obviously.
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Old May 24th, 2009, 09:54 AM
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Cathinjoetown, another Lillet story: recently in Lyon we were talking with French friends about aperitives, and I mentioned that I liked Lillet. They had never heard of it. Although it is known here in the US, I wonder if it is one of those regional drinks in France, like Pastis in Provence, etc. It comes from La Gironde area, I think, w/o going to my fridge to check out my bottle!

And last week here in Pgh. at an upscale restaurant, they didn't have it. Waiter was puzzled but the bartender knew of it and suggested Dubonnet instead.
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