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?