When you visit France or its capital city, Paris, you might have some questions about where to go, what to do, where to stay, how much you should budget for, etc. And in some cases, you may also be wondering what is the drinking age in France!
If you enjoy drinking and trying the local alcohols but you want to abide by the law and avoid getting into trouble, then here are the things you need to know.
However, those days are gone!
According to the new legislation, since 2009, only adults aged 18 years old and above are now allowed to drink alcohol, including beer and wine.
On top of this new legislation, the penalties have been considerably reinforced: vendors like bars, stores, and other establishments that are caught selling alcohol to people under 18 can be fined up to €7,500 for breaking the rules. Disregarding any drinking laws in the country carries monetary consequences.
It can be acceptable for younger teens to drink wine only if they are under the supervision of their parents.
Aside from knowing the drinking age in France, you may already be aware that the country is popular for its dining and drinking culture. It’s easy to see why! Each region offers its own range of specialties, making France's culinary and drinking traditions very rich and varied. If you don’t want to miss out on this important aspect of a trip to France, here are some key facts you need to know.
When ordering coffee in a cafe in France (which is something you should definitely do), you’ll typically be served a small shot of strong espresso coffee. Many places however also offer a filtered cup of coffee called "café à l'américaine" and other options if you specifically ask for them. Below are some terms you should remember to help you order more smoothly:
- Une noisette – A cup of espresso with some cream on top
- Cafe au lait – A cup of espresso with hot milk added
- Café léger or allongé – A cup of strong watered espresso (similar to "americano" coffee)
- Chocolat chaud – Sweet hot chocolate
- Thé au lait – Nice tea served with milk that you can pour in yourself according to your taste
- Thé – Nice tea served with sugar
You might not be ready to have a glass of wine with lunch, as many French people do. If that’s the case, ordering water is always an option. Tap water is drinkable in France and in Europe generally and usually tastes good, so you can save money and plastic by asking for "une carafe d'eau" (a jug of tap water).
Table water usually comes without ice in France, so if you need some ice cubes, make sure to ask for them. Drinking sparkling water is also common in France. The country has many natural springs that produce mineral carbonated water, so asking for "une eau gazeuse" or "une eau pétillante" is also a good option.
Before dinner, France has an active drinking ritual, called apéritif. If you’re over the legal drinking age in France and traveling in the southern part of the country, you may not want to miss a glass of pastis, which is the licorice liquor of France. Or maybe you'll want to try a kir, which is black currant liqueur with a mixture of either champagne (the kir royal option) or wine.
Many parts of France have their own apéritif specialties, so you can have fun trying what the locals drink everywhere you go. That said, it's no problem if you prefer a good old beer: that's also a popular choice. In French bars, beers are served by the half-pint. To blend in, you can order "un demi".
France also produces many delicious ciders. These can be a great choice for apéritif, especially when you need something refreshing in the summer. You should definitely not miss the local ciders if you go to one of France's two main cider-producing regions: Brittany (Bretagne) and Normandy (Normandie).
Read more: Top 7 places to visit in France
Finally, when it comes to apéritifs to celebrate special occasions, nothing less than champagne will do!
Of course, a trip to France wouldn’t be complete without trying the country's wines. Most French regions have their own wine types. Here are some French terms just to get you started:
- Vin blanc - white wine
- Vin rouge - red wine
- Doux - sweet
- Sec - dry
- AOC - short for Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, which means the wine needs to meet specific standards and have been grown in a specific part of the country to earn this label
- Vin de table - these are wines that do not have AOC. If you are lucky, you can find good ones, and they are in general less expensive.
As you would expect from a nation that prides itself on its wine, there are some right and wrong ways to drink wine in France. Here is a little guide to the French wine drinking etiquette that will make you feel like a local.
- Change your wine option depending on the season
Locals usually change the type of wine they drink from season to season. France’s harvest season is in September and when it comes to nouveau wine types, the most popular to have is Beaujolais Nouveau. It is usually enjoyed from the first Thursday of November.
Red wines are always popular in the winter season and through Christmas. If you happen to visit at that time of the year and you're of drinking age in France, then you may want to splurge a little on a Châteauneuf-du-Pape for a special bottle. When it gets hotter, it is time to switch to southern rosés and white wines. Make sure not to bring out rosé during the winter, unless you want people to laugh at you.
- Know how to pair your wine
While a lot of dinner parties in different countries follow particular rules on which type of wine to have, Frenchmen apply a few rules consistently. Wine is rarely drunk as an aperitif. White wine is best matched with dessert, seafood, and fish, while red wine goes particularly well with tomato-based dishes and red meat. There are also some specific dessert wines.
- Don’t drink anything other than French wine
While the French might admire other wines from around the world, they are probably going to laugh at you if you open a foreign wine. To be safe, keep in mind that you can never go wrong with a French wine.
- Open the wine bottle correctly
That small knife on the corkscrew exists for a reason; it is to remove the edge of the cork before pulling it out. You must not remove the whole foil capsule all over the bottleneck. Many French people think that it’s a bad thing to do. You just have to take off enough in order for the wine to not pass over the foil, or it may change the taste.
- Don’t fill the wine glass more than half
Most French people are used not to drink as much as in other nations, so overfilling a glass in one go may be frowned upon. While it may be fine to fill your glass in America and get a little tipsy, French people tend to be a bit more discreet and go for smaller amounts, focusing on quality over quantity - even if that means more refills!
Binge drinking and getting drunk fast is not really part of the culture, even when you're above the legal drinking age in France, so it is best to take your time. However, you must not worry about not having enough to drink. Your glass will always get topped up as soon as it's empty. If you no longer want to drink, then you may want to leave a bit in the bottom of your glass to let your host know not to refill it.
- Never continue drinking wine after having a meal
Unless you are drinking with your close friends, you may want to try not to carry on drinking wine when you're done eating. French people see wine as food courses – they usually don’t eat a snack between meals, but there are approximately five meals a day if you include apéritif nibbles and their version of mid-day tea, or le goûter. French dinner parties are known for lasting into the early hours.
If you happen to finish your meal and still feel like trying something else, you always have the option of ordering a nice after-dinner drink. Eaux de vie or brandies are popular.
Of course, you will be able to find Armagnac and Cognac, but Calvados is also something you may want to try. This is Normandy’s French apple brandy. A lot of people create their own brandies, and bar owners will usually serve you a little glass of their home-grown eau-de-vie at the end of the meal. As a nice bonus, it is usually on the house.
After having all this delicious food and tasty drinks, you may want to try one of France's herbal teas to help you digest your food better. Many varieties of herbal teas, which are locally known as tisanes, are easily found as a remedy to almost any kind of situation. Some famous ones include lime flower, verbena, mint, sage, and chamomile.
Tempted to go enjoy an apéritif at a terraced cafe in Paris or in the sunny French Riviera after reading this? Start planning your trip to France with one of our favorite guidebooks:
Knowing the drinking age in France isn't the only thing that will help you make the most of the local drinking and eating cultures. There are other facts you should know to have an amazing and flavorful stay in France. Hopefully, the information we shared in this article will help you have the best possible time, and of course, make your drinking experience in France more fun and exciting.
If you have other questions or suggestions on this topic, let us know in a comment below. If you find this article helpful, then make sure to share it with your friends and family. And if you enjoy reading helpful tips like this one, check out more articles on the blog!