Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

I will always remember my first day at work in London. My then-boss gave me my security pass and my phone, and immediately started a lecture on the fact that I wasn’t supposed to drink any alcohol during my day at work, not even a small glass of wine. I felt like I was being lectured by my headteacher. Except that I wasn’t at school any more. Not nice.

Apparently, he felt strongly that, because I was French, he needed to make this point really clear. He also said that they would be random drug and alcohol tests. Now I was warned.

Random-test me all you want, I thought: I will not turn up sloshed at work just because I am French.


The thing was, I didn’t drink wine at work. Never had. Never would. It was true that, in the company’s canteen in Paris, you could have a glass of wine with your meal, but they stopped doing it a short while after we moved to London. And I was told that the wine wasn’t great anyway. But my British boss was still convinced that all French were having half a bottle of wine for lunch. As in, every day.

Nothing could be further from the truth. For most French, it is all about quality, not quantity. And a glass of wine needs to be enjoyed. This means that I follow three cardinal rules:

1.  I never drink on my own. Drinking wine is a social activity. There must be a conversation going on, eye contacts and flavours to discuss. After all, drinking wine is all about conviviality. When I am having a good time with friends, a glass of wine is always nice. But not mandatory, come to think of it.

2. I like a good bottle, but now and then.  I can’t stand mediocre wine -it gives me terrible headaches. And there is no need to have more than a glass or two to have a good time. It is all about enjoying the taste, the flavours, the history of a specific bottle. A good glass of wine keeps me happy the whole day. Maybe even a whole week. It depends on the company.

3. Wine needs to be drunk with food. Preferably with a good meal, even. There is nothing sadder than drinking wine without good food. They just go together like horse and carriage. They complement each other.

In short, I believe that I am quite reasonable (Did you hear the British understatement here?).

Imagine my surprise when, the following Friday, all the team went to the pub and the said boss had far too many pints of lager and started sharing with the whole world and his sister that he once had a one-night-stand with Geri Halliwell. Of course he had.

A colleague took me by the arm, and muttered:

“You know, he likes his drink”.

Yeah right. It clearly looks like he has a drinking problem. (turns out, I was right, he was getting drunk at least twice a week).

The guy was completely inebriated. We had to put him in a cab in the end, and prayed that he wouldn’t be sick in it.

I was flabbergasted: this was the guy who had lectured me about not drinking during lunch. He acted completely normal the following day.

I couldn’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, on this occasion he could learn from the French. A glass of wine now and then won’t kill you, but getting drunk on a regular basis might…

On this note, I need to leave you. I have a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon waiting for me. With friends and a dinner party involving steaks. It will be divine. Because life must be enjoyed, right?

  • I can’t believe he said that! My hubby loves a ‘good’ wine, he is very fussy, but I feel bad for him because I don’t drink it. To make him feel better (and warning my friends and family think I am strange for this), but I poor myself a glass of whatever I am drinking (like ice tea or coca cola) into a wine glass. I actually love the feel of the glass, but don’t enjoy wine! Yes I am strange.

    • I can’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, you haven’t found the right wine Mac…Keep looking! It took me a long time.

  • It’s taken until my 41st year to finally be able to enjoy and savour one glass of wine, two max, without finishing the bottle and feeling grim in the morning.

    We could learn a lot from the French! Hate our culture of boorish drunkenness.

    OMG I think I’m growing up!

    • Welcome to the club. I am exactly the same. Cheers, and enjoy! Pressure is off…

  • John Jackson

    Quality over quantity every time!

  • disqus_72GXGq6drQ as an idea Licence IV may say something about this!

  • dth

    Agreed but there’s a balance, and as a nation we have very different relationships alcohol. Both nations has it’s own Issues with alcohol, but am disappointed that the French now can’t even be relied on any longer for booze. Where i work it has been banned, not even for customer celebrations.

    it bemuses me here when i watch football in the pub that a publican has paid to screen a match but his pub is full of people nursing a demi for 90 mins then leaving immediately. Uncurteous if you ask me.