When an American invites an English couple over

When an American invites an English couple over to her house in France, what cultural rules apply?

(please note that all italics in this entry refer to British Englishisms as I've experienced them)

I ask you this question because on Saturday, I had set up a play date for my daughter with one of her classmates, an English girl whose family had moved here about a year ago. Up until this point, we had run into each other but had never gotten together for a coffee, a drink or a meal.

So her mum brings her round about 11 a.m. so I invite the woman in for coffee. So far, so good. We have coffee (though I did offer her tea) and that also went fine. After about an hour of coffee and fun exchanges about adapting to life in France from a foreigner’s point of view, I asked on impulse if she and her husband and children (of course) would like to come round for a drink later that evening.

Mind you, if you are familiar with France, then you’d know something about all sacred aperitif. This is simply a “before meal” moment dedicated for drinks, usually of the alcoholic nature but juice and soft drinks are acceptable as well.

Typically, you can invite one round for drinks before the dinner hour. The French being the French and very regimented about timetables with food/drink, this would take place somewhere between 7 p.m. and 8p.m. Once you start nearing 8 p.m. the guest is going to start thinking a meal is involved. So if you just want to have them in for a drink or two, a quick 30 minute in-and-out kind of deal, you stick the 7 p.m. side.

Please note that it would most difficult to get any French person to come round for drinks any earlier than 7, say between 6 or 6:30 p.m. This is not the hour for the appéro (as it is affectionately called by many). No, it would a tough call if someone were to ring or pop in at that time of day. Do you serve an espresso? Kind of strong. A wiskey? Also kind of strong given the hour but in another sense. (Actually beer would be a safe call, or a soft drink. Again, stickler rules, stickler rules.)

Back to the English. In my experience, the English eat (at least what they tell me) between 7 p.m. and half seven. (Oh, pardon my English, I meant 7:30!) And the French not usually before 7:30 or more commonly 8 pm.

So given all these cultural points, I felt that I could not safely invite them before 7 p.m. and since we were tired and didn’t want to get involved in a lengthy dinner, I wanted to keep it as close as possible to that nineteenth hour of the day (ha! military time, very French, and also very regimented feeling to it!).

She said, Yes! That would be smashing and seven sounded fine for her.

OK, seven o’clock it is!

We got it all ready. I made a white bean dip (recipe and picture to follow). We had crisps ( I mean potato chips), several types of crackers, some of my feta and fennel loaf and the fig with ham loaf (freezes nicely! Thank you!). I also made a quiche. (A lovely item that can either be cut up into bite-size appetizer pieces, or into wedges and served with a salad for a more ‘dinner-like’ dish.)

Arnaud put a bottle of champagne in the fridge to chill; I changed clothes; candles were light, mellow music was playing in the background; children’s snacks were laid out. House was clean.

7 p.m. No company.

7:15 p.m. Still no company.

Do you think they’re coming? Sure they are, we confirmed when she picked up her daughter earlier that afternoon.

7:25 p.m. Hm?

Finally 7:30 p.m… Ding Dong! They had arrived!

They came in, we settled in around the living room coffee table and I whipped out the goodies… Eyes kind of budged. Huh-oh.

They nibbled politely (well, they are English) while Arnaud and I also nibbled but our stomachs were working up to roaring, ‘SEND DOWN THE GRUB OR ELSE!’

After sometime, I realized that they had already eaten. Thus the tardiness. Yes, we hadn’t really agreed that it would be a “before dinner” drinking ordeal.

You see, it has also been my in my experience that English people invite you round for a drink AFTER dinner sometimes (an advantage when eating early).

As an American, who used to have dinner around 6:30 p.m. this makes sense. Also, it’s not uncommon where I lived in the States to invite people around just for dessert, maintaining that low-key feeling.

I realized that as an American asking an English person, somewhat new to French life, over for drinks at 7 p.m. meant that she didn’t know that I was referring to French appéro! Wisely, they filled up before coming, so as not to have growling stomachs sending up riotous comments while sipping a glass of bubbly.


Once that was discretely solved, my husband offered them coffee and chocolates to finish off their ‘meal’!

We on the other hand went to bed without proper tea ( I mean dinner!).

Alas, it may sound kind of sad, but actually it wasn’t. Since we didn’t want to make them feel bad and tell them we were famished, or pull out the quiche and more food, obliging them to eat another meal, we politely nibbled throughout the evening and found that it made for a low cal meal albeit the wine and chocloates!


Anonymous Alison said...

Love the italics!

This happened to me once here in SmallTown. An American invited me over for a glass of wine at 1900 hours. Well, she said "7 o'clock?"

So I went. Without having eaten. My kids hadn't eaten, either. I thought it was an apéro.

The Americans had already eaten dinner.

We all got along great, adults and kids.

I took my famished kids home some time after nine, I mean 2100 hours, fed them, and sent them to bed.

10:24:00 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

Well, you faired better than I. getting out at 21h00 is sooo early! Did the children keep coming into the living room devouring the peanuts and asking, when is the nice lady going to serve you dinner?

10:34:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home