(asked by Jo from New Zealand)
You wouldn’t happen to know what the law is on serving water at bars in France, would you? I am sick of going to bars here in Nice and basically getting bullied into drinking everywhere I go. On Saturday night, my friend and I were in a very crowded pub and yet in the space of about 5 minutes a waitress came and handed us a drinks menu, then I went up to the bar where they *did* serve me a couple of glasses of water, but then when the waitress saw us drinking them (identifiable by the plastic cups) she pointedly gave us another menu, at which point we just left. This kind of thing has happened to me before and my friend said that she’s even been lectured by a bartender telling her he has to pay the bills so she should buy a drink. Of course, they do have to pay the bills, and this is not to say that I go out on a Saturday night and drink only water, but if you’re trying to drink responsibly, at some point you’ll probably want to take a break from alcohol and rehydrate - and then there are the sober drivers to consider. Where I come from (New Zealand) I believe pubs are legally obliged to give you water - if they’re not, then certainly they always do and I’ve never experienced such an implicitly aggressive ‘drink or get out’ attitude at home or elsewhere in Europe. And the French are held up as such shining examples of responsible drinking chez moi!
Anyway, that turned into a rant, but it was really annoying… So I guess the question is, is this just touristy Nice or is it everywhere (I used to live in Chamonix and in Nord-Pas-de-Calais and admittedly I don’t recall it happening there, but maybe I was drinking more!) and is there any law on it that I can quote to them (and probably get myself kicked out…) If you want to say some words on the cultural divide between how the rest of the world sees the French as sophisticated a-glass-of-wine-with-dinner-and-no-more drinkers and the likes of my lycée students who snort with derision when I mention this stereotype to them, feel free!
First of all, I won’t be looking for the answer in the “French book of restaurants and bars law.” I don’t know how things are in New Zealand with laws, hopefully, not like in the US (where lawyers constitute one third of the population, and the second third hires them to sue the third third) but in France, when it comes to these particular sorts of things, laws don’t matter, only habits do.
So my first advice is whatever the actual law says, the last thing you want to do is to quote it to bartenders if you’re in disagreement with them.
As you’re already aware of, the only result you will achieve is to get yourself kicked out and blacklisted from that place (and give a bad reputation to New Zealanders in the process, you wouldn’t want that, would you?)
So, yes, it’s all part of the “when in Rome” thing and the fact that no, in France, the customer is not always right. Always remember that when you go to a privately owned place (small business, restaurant, bar) you are in somebody’s place, they make the rules of that place (as well as the laws they’re willing to follow: i.e. the ones that will get them into trouble if they don’t) and you’d better agree with them as you’re in their place.
Would you like to have somebody in your house behaving the way they feel like and thinking they can just because they threw a few bills at you?
I didn’t think so.
So, water in drinking places.
From what I know, the law states something like: restaurants and bars can’t refuse to serve water (that’s tap water for the few clueless tourists that think Evian is the only water available in France) to their customers.
The keyword here is “customer”.
In other words, no, you can’t just go to a bar and drink only water. If you don’t order something else, you’re not a customer, so they can do whatever they want with you.
In the first example you gave me, it seems like the bartender didn’t notice that you didn’t order anything else. The waitress did.
But once you’re a customer, I’ve never seen anywhere people having trouble getting water (especially late at night, when you’re drunk and need to rehydrate… of course, it’s implied that you got drunk in that same bar, French people don’t do bar hopping much by the way)
All of that being said, I’ve never been to Nice -so I won’t bash the place too much- but I’ve never heard a good thing coming from this city. It is my understanding that people from Nice are not nice (lame pun, I know), and are even more snotty and unpleasant than Parisians.
Finally, yeah, “the French as sophisticated a-glass-of-wine-with-dinner-and-no-more drinkers” reputation is a big mystery too me. I really wonder where it comes from, I guess from the same people that misunderstand appearances and turn them into stereotypes, same as “French people drink wine in cafés.” However, I don’t really have much to add about this reputation. Except for the fact that it was always hilarious to go to wine tastings when I lived in the US, and see people trying to act all French there (that is acting all sophisticated, almost drinking their wine with the pinkie up and pretending to be something they were not) and in the meantime I’d just get drunk and have lots of fun in the process.