The Parisian Idea of Wine

Olivier Magny, Stuff Parisians Like. Berkley Books, 2011 (official release date: July 5 2011).

France is a real paradox when it comes to wine.  Outsiders imagine that wine holds a special place in French culture and, while this might once have been true, it seems that it is today just a romantic myth. French per capita wine consumption has fallen by about 5% per year in the last decade, from 58 liters per person in 2000 to less than 40 liters in 2009.

If that sounds like a big drop consider this: the French consumed more than 125 liters of wine per capita in the early 1960s. Wow — what a collapse!

I’m always looking for insights into how French attitudes towards wine are changing, so I was pleased to receive a review copy of Stuff Parisians Like. The author knows Paris and he knows wine; Olivier Magny is, as the press release says, “Ô Chateau Sommelier, Wine Bar Owner & Parisian Ambassador of Hipness.”  The book is based on his blog called, naturally, Stuff Parisians Like.

Because wine is so important to Magny, I was pretty sure that he would tell me all about the Parisian wine scene and, in the process, update my understanding of French wine culture. This he did, but not in the way I expected.

What do Parisians Like?

Parisians apparently like lots of stuff and learning about it helped me to better understand my experiences in Paris and my Parisian friends.  Parisians like conversation, for example, but its is not about having an exchange of ideas according to Mangy, it is about winning the exchange. Conversation, to a Parisian, is a contest and there is always a winner and a loser. This explains a lot about my friend M, who will never give up on a losing conversation.  Choosing at random from the short, punchy chapters, Parisians like …

  • Having Theories;

    A Unicef Card

  • Making Lists;
  • Crossing the Street n a Bold Way;
  • Saying They Like Classical Music;
  • Bitching About Waiters;
  • The Idea of Moving Overseas;
  • The Idea of Sailing;
  • New York;
  • Urinating in the Street;
  • UNICEF Cards;
  • Bashing Tourists;
  • Scarves and Wearing Black;
  • Despising les PSG (you need to be a soccer fan to understand this title);
  • and so on for more than 250 pages.

Where’s the Wine?

I admit that I enjoyed this tour of the Parisian psyche, but I soon became impatient. What about wine? What kind of wine “stuff” do Parisians like? I expected to read about wine right at the start but, by about page 200, I began to worry that wine might never appear.

I was almost right. Wine is invisible until page 274 (right after the chapter on why Parisians like Barack Obama). The last chapter is titled Why Parisians like … “Not Drinking Wine.”

Zut Alors! (I learned that in my 7th grade French class — Magny teaches that a Parisian would probably say “Putain!” instead.)

“It is very easy to spot tourists in a Parisian cafe,” Magny writes, “They are the ones drinking wine.”  Having a glass of wine gives the tourists pleasure. Not drinking wine is what Parisians like to do.

Even if I hated the rest of the book (which I obviously don’t), these few pages would be worth the modest price of admission. Magny, with obvious frustration, enumerates all the reasons wine has fallen from grace in Paris. Once it was the default choice, he says, but now young people especially understand that they have many choices, most of which are easier to comprehend and have better marketing behind them. Water, beer and spirits — these are the go-to beverages of Paris now.

There’s a Theory for That

Women are a particular problem, Mangy says. They think drinking wine makes them fat and encourages them to lose control. No Parisian woman would want that!

When Parisians do drink wine, he says, they drink bad wine. This is especially true for the bobos who flock to wine bars specializing in vins naturel, (“natural wines,” made with minimum manipulation) which hide their obvious technical flaws under a cloak of “authenticity.” I guess this is evidence that Parisians like “Having a Theory” (real wine = natural wine) more than they like “Not Drinking Wine.”

I started this book hoping to learn how Parisians are different from the rest of us, especially with respect to wine. I am struck instead, however, by how much the Parisian way of wine is not as different as we (and they) might want to think. Oh, the poor people of Paris!


2 responses

  1. I’m from the US but now live in France, I went to school at the AUP in Paris. We don’t drink wine at the local pub and bars in Paris due to the fact that it the cheap vinegar tasting wine. Even low level restaurants sever it @ 7 euro for a 25ml. (most tourist can’t tell what level of junk they’re drinking and the Pub,bar or restaurant makes a killing off of it). We drink wine at the house with meals with guest for about 5 euros a bottle we can get some good wines that would run around 30-40 dollars in the US. Plus, the French know if you want to have wine at a nice restaurant bring a bottle (that you know and like) with you and they’ll open for you for a small fee of course.

    On a different note the younger generation in France has now started to binge drinking like in the US/UK. 10 years ago I would only see bums walking around with a pint of beer on the metro and now I see 18-25 years with a six packs or pints, drinking them on the metro on there way to the bar.

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