How The French Learned To Drink Less – And Better

Alcohol consumption has halved over the past 50 years, as the quality of wine has risen.

How The French Learned To Drink Less – And Better
Rafaële Rivais

PARIS - The comedian Coluche, in one of his famous sketches in 1974, expressed a traditional French sentiment when he said, "Wine…it should be mandatory." But even by the 1970s, wine was no longer a required fixture at dinner tables in France. The decline had actually begun the previous decade, which marked the beginning of a trend that would see alcohol consumption drop nearly 50% between 1960 and 2000, according to the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies.

In 1957, French adults consumed an average of 5.65 drinks per day. By 2009, that daily number had fallen to 2.71. Broken down by alcohol type, that amounts to 1.55 glasses of wine, just over half a shot of spirits, a half a glass of beer, and 7% of a glass of cider or some other alcoholic drink, according to a study by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addictions.

This latest study took into account people over the age of 15, and was calculated using sales tax records. Today, men in France consume an average of just over four drinks per day, while women drink two, according to the Observatory.

Wine consumption differs according to class

Table wine consumption in France has declined since the 1950s, despite traditionally being considered "a fundamental part of meals and of everyday life, to the same extent as bread," as sociologist Claude Fischler wrote in the book "1907-2007: A Century of Ardent Red."

Several societal changes might have contributed to the shift. One explanation could be France's shrinking number of agricultural and blue-collar workers, who tend to be bigger drinkers than people from other professional categories. White-collar workers "don't have the same type of lifestyle or the same consumption patterns as blue-collar workers," said Fischler. "In office environments, people drink coffee or tea, and happily drink water, especially women," who have made up more and more of the white-collar work force since the 1980s. Advances in packaging may have also influenced what people drink during the workday. Water was first packaged in plastic in the 1970s, and arrived in smaller plastic bottles by the 1980s, Fischler explains.

Demographics may also be contributing to the drop in daily wine quaffing in France. "The elderly, who are daily consumers (of wine), are disappearing, while younger generations have a different way of drinking wine," said François Beck, head statistician with the National Institute of Health Education and Prevention. Instead of having a glass of wine with a meal, younger people tend to drink more sporadically and for social reasons, according to a 2010 study of 4,000 people conducted by FranceAgriMer, a governmental agricultural and fishing organization.

Today, many people prefer to buy higher quality French wines, sometimes using them to replace traditional pre-dinner drinks. Simple table wines, which represented 65% of French wine produced in 1979, plummeted to 11% in 2005, in part because of an increase of high-quality, more strictly regulated varieties such as AOC category wines.

"In the change from an everyday product to a high-quality one, wine became high-class," said Raphael Berger, a researcher from the French Center for the Study and Observation of Life. "Wine is no longer seen as a product of the countryside, a symbol of French gastronomic identity, but is instead seen as a risk."

That may explain the gradual disappearance of the classic French combo of wine and sausage. The traditional meal is now promoted primarily by the organizers of anti-Islamic events seeking to advance French-only culture, as both food products are forbidden under Islamic dietary laws. The French now consider wine as one of the products to avoid, second only to charcuterie, such as salamis and sausages, according to the French Center for the Study and Observation of Life.

Public service warnings of the dangers of drinking became more prevalent in the 1980s. A 1988 study by the International Center for the Research of Cancer indicated that alcoholic beverages were carcinogenic, and campaigns against alcohol consumption asked questions like "did you see yourself when you were drunk?"

This public awareness push has continued, and often involves more specific health-related information. The French government launched a campaign this month to combat excessive alcohol consumption, citing the three-drink maximum for men and two-drink ceiling for women. Go over that limit, the posters warn, and you put your health at risk.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Neil Conway

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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