A Typical French Night – Drinking and Fighting, Fighting and Drinking

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I always forget how common it is to see French people engage in verbal and physical fights.

As I’m typing this, it’s 3:15 a.m. on a rainy Sunday night and I can hear three or four voices shouting outside—“J’vais t’tuer!” “Fils de pute!” “Lâche-le!”

I’m willing to bet that if the bouncers in front of the nightclub downstairs don’t break up the fight, I’m going to see the blue flashing lights of a SAMU—medical aid services—or a police vehicle in about ten minutes. I’m not sure what the story is here, I’m sleeping in my underwear and I’m too lazy to get up and check the scene from the balcony. The usual, probably. Bouncers bounced, rivals met, the wrong person was hit on—typical middle-of-the-night arguments made worse because all the characters are very, very drunk.

Just another summer night in Nantes.

The city isn’t known for serious urban violence and I didn’t grow up in a dodgy neighbourhood. French people are friendly “social animals”—they complain in private, protest in public places but they are loyal to their friends and not particularly paranoid or aggressive.

However, French people drink. Like, a lot.

The excuse is always the same—wine culture is part of the French art de vivre, we’re not like these dumb American who demonize alcohol. French teach kids moderation and to appreciate a perfect food-and-wine pairing. Drinking is socially acceptable and even expected because hey, it’s dinnertime/summer/Friday night, etc.

I don’t drink alcohol because I’ve never developed the taste for it but I don’t care if I’m the only one sober in the room—we all have our poison. That said, I do find many French drink way, way too much.

At one point, drinking is no longer a social pastime, a way to relax and have fun.

In Nantes, it’s common to see people getting completely trashed in the middle of the day. Broken glass bottles, drunks peeing behind garbage cans and a bitter lingering beer smell are part of the cityscape. Bars are full from Wednesday to Sunday and those with less disposable income—typically young teens and students—just buy booze at the supermarket and drink it in the street.

Drinking isn’t a pastime, it’s a full-time activity.

I go for a walk after dinner, usually around midnight—yes, we eat very late. That’s usually when it’s starting to turn sour. Feng and I witnessed two fights only a week apart. First, a guy beating up a woman (his girlfriend??) a block from our apartment building. I ran to get the bouncers from a nightclub nearby, I didn’t have my phone to call the police. Then, a few days later, we walked past a man who grabbed a traffic sign post—how???—and started to use it as a weapon to hit another guy. This time, I went to get the transit police patrolling nearby.

There’s a café and a nightclub downstairs. The music isn’t an issue, the walls are completely soundproof. However, people drink, loiter, party and fight in front of the venue every fucking night and it’s been going on for as long as I can remember—when I was a teen, I used to find puke, blood, stabbed people and other “party” leftovers behind the building front door on my way to school.

It’s not just my parents’ neighbourhood, which is right in the city centre. Bouffay, another downtown neighbourhood, is even worse—cafés and bars are so packed and so noisy you can’t hear yourself think.

And somehow, all of this is normal. If you call the police—over the years, my parents reluctantly did a few times—you’re told that “street noise is normal when you live downtown.”

Drunk people are loud, annoying and aggressive. I also noticed the difference as a woman alone. Feng came back to Canada a few days ago so I complete my night walk alone. Let’s just say I was offered to try interesting sexual positions and a few lines of cokes quite a few times despite the fact that I didn’t ask for anything, I was minding my own business, i.e. going from point A to point B.

French people are nice. Just not when they drink too much.

The paramedics just arrived. End of the story… for tonight.

Just another Saturday night, Place de la Bourse, Nantes

Just another Saturday night, Place de la Bourse, Nantes

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

10 Comments

  1. Cecile Puertas on

    Hello Juliette
    D’après toi c’est donc typiquement français de s’alcooliser outre mesure ? Il me semble que c’est aussi beaucoup le cas dans les pays anglo-saxons…
    Mais peut être que je me trompe…

    • Disclaimer: my own experience is anecdotal! Binge drinking is also a popular activity in North America, or so I’ve been told because I’ve never witnessed it. It tends to happen at home, not in public. Buying alcohol is also more complicated than in France–sale is restricted, legal age is enforced (although I’m sure there are ways around it…) and alcohol is expensive. What’s unique in France to me is that drinking (and over drinking) is socially acceptable and French start drinking super young.

      I’m not against drinking at all but I’ve seen the bad side of alcohol too often. This is especially true in Brittany…

      • Cecile Puertas on

        Tu as raison de dire que c’est socialement acceptable en France d’être bourré. L’alcool a encore une image festive et joyeuse. C’est même au point que c’est assez mal vu de ne pas boire d’alcool en soirée que ce soit dans le cadre d’une soirée privée ou même au restaurant (comme si on était capable de s’amuser que sous l’emprise de l’alcool … ou d’apprécier un bon plat seulement avec un verre d’un grand cru classé … quelle bêtise !)

        Personnellement je trouve cela dramatique de voir des gens bourrés dans la rue, d’autant plus que certains de mes proches sont morts des conséquences de l’alcoolisme et que d’autres y sont toujours confrontés …

        • My mum doesn’t drink at all and I can’t remember the last time I had alcohol. I just don’t feel like it, I don’t enjoy it. But as soon as you say “no thanks”, people suspect you’re pregnant or a recovering alcoholic! This is crazy to me. You’re also seen as a killjoy which frankly, I’m not. I don’t care what you drink (although I did skip “binge drinking nights” when I was a teen), I’m not judging you, I just don’t want wine or beer!

          You have my sympathy, addiction to alcohol is common in France. I’d say this is partly why I don’t try harder to develop a taste for it. I’ve seen too many people “enjoying” alcohol a bit too much :-/

  2. bit Out of topic.
    Currently there’s a trend in my country, especially in Jakarta. our Air Quality index is top 3 worst in the world, even worse than conflict area such as Kabul. We keep checking this app, screen cap, then posted in our social media, blaming government, blaming everyone. it is not a new issue, however, we had know this condition years ago. But having an app to measure such a thing gives another “hey! we live in dangerous area!”
    and it is even funnier, my friend who regularly post this AQI thing, never got out of her car either. I feel bad for myself, why I never have a gut to leave this city, I risk my health.
    but After reading your post, it’s not bad after all. *face palm*

    • I don’t know if it can make you feel better but Paris has issue with air quality too and it trends on social media every now and then. It does feel pretty pointless because hey, what are you going to do… not breathe??

  3. I have to say, while I saw the impact of the drinking culture in France, it is NOTHING compared to what I saw in Scotland where socializing with friends involved going for a pint right after work or at 1pm on a Saturday rather than gabbing a coffee and drunk fighting people were a common sight at 5pm…
    I don’t drink much (though I do enjoy a glass of wine once in a while or one vodka soda to loosen me up when I go dancing).
    I wonder if there are regional differences too between Nantes and Metz…

    • I don’t know whether Nantes is part of Brittany (it’s a hot button topic here!) but culturally, it kind of is, and Brittany has a Celtic drinking tradition. Nantes is nothing compared to Rennes, which is probably the best/worst place to be if you have addiction issues :-/ Beer for breakfast? Bring it on!

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