French Women Don't Get Hangovers

Non. I have never seen Jägerbombs in France. Photo by Ryawesome via Flickr.

Last night, here in Amerique profonde, I drank three glasses of wine over a span of about three hours, which included a rather leisurely meal. I don’t think that’s excessive, especially since we were out with London-dwelling friends we only see about once a year—we talked much more than we drank.

And yet, I woke up this morning feeling like I had spent the night doing Jägerbombs.

“What’s this all about?,” I wondered this morning as I popped a couple aspirin. After all, when in France, I often start dinner with an apéritif and then have a glass of wine or two. I always feel just fine the next day, or if I don’t feel exactly just fine, I never feel awful. And a French breakfast always, always sets me straight.

So, I started to think about it. Why is it I never get hangovers in France? And why is it that no French women I know ever complains of being hungover? And on those rare occasions where I do feel a bit fuzzy headed in the morning, why do I get over it so quickly?

Lillet. Serve in small portions. Photo by Jonny Ho via Flickr.


I’ve thought it through, and I have some answers:

1. In France, the first drink of the evening—the apéritif—is never a head-spinner. Stateside, often, our first drink of the night is a cocktail—and that’s a high proof drink. Or, we start in on a full serving—six ounces or more—of a glass of wine, and generally one that’s 14 percent alcohol.

You’re on your way to taking in too much, too quickly.

Conversely, the first drink of the French evening is often a small glass of something. A little kir, for example (a tablespoon crème de cassis and about 4 ounces of wine). Or a small glass of the sparkling wine of a region. Or a very small glass of a wine-based apéritif (such as Lillet). Or vin doux naturel, a naturally sweet wine that’s high in alcohol  but served in very, very small portions. Sure, the French drink cocktails, but usually on vacation or as a greater celebration.

Look closely at the lower left hand of the label. This Cab-based wine is only 12.5% alcohol. Photo by kevygee via Flickr.


2. European Table Wines Won’t Clobber You. Good lord! I just took a look at the Chardonnays, Merlots, and Pinot Noirs in my wine rack, and they’re all 14.5% alcohol and above. Conversely, the European wines are 13.5% and below.

Does one percentage make a difference? Yes. If you drink a 12.5% glass instead of a 14.5% glass, you’re getting about 13.8% percent less alcohol in each glass you drink. That will make a difference over a couple glasses.

And let’s get one thing clear here. I’m not anti-buzz in any way. I like (actually, I adore) that nice lift and feeling of well being that moderate drinking can bring. But I also like to sustain that light, pleasant lift over an evening, and not get stupid halfway into the first course.

And I like feeling good the next day….which leads me to the next point:

Breakfast of Champions: A Café Crème and Croissant. Photo by destempsanciens via Flickr.

3. Those French Breakfasts Will Set You Straight.
So today as that not-so-great feeling lingered into the day, I wondered why I wasn’t getting over it.

And then I thought about what I had had for breakfast. A whole-wheat English muffin with a little butter and jam, orange juice, and a cup of tea with just a wee bit of milk.

That, mes amis, wasn’t going to do it. What I needed was more caffeine, more protein, and some fat. Anyone who has ever craved a Big Mac or another juicy burger after a night of drinking knows that there is something about protein and fat that makes you feel better “the day after.” But you don’t have to go to such extremes if you follow the French breakfast model:

• Café au Lait:  An almost 50-50 mix of strong brewed coffee and milk. Add a little sugar. The coffee perks you up and the milk is soothing, restorative, and sustaining. An espresso with milk (café crème) will do the same thing.

• Croissant or Tartine (or better yet, both): Croissant has butter, and there’s your fat. Or, slather some major butter on sliced French bread, top with jam, and enjoy what the French call “tartine” (from the verb tartiner, which means “to spread.” Either way, you’ve got those fats—but not nearly as much as in the usual hangover-burger cure—to do whatever it is fat does that makes us all feel better.

All of which, of course, has me counting the days until I find myself here:

Collioure, France. Photo by mararie via Flickr.

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7 comments to French Women Don’t Get Hangovers

  • I’m counting the days until Collioure, too! Our 20th anniversary is 2014, so we’re taking the whole fam. 🙂

    Off to see what my wine labels say, in the meantime.

  • Wini

    Great choice for a 20th anniversary trip. Collioure is a fabulous spot for families–so walk-able and very little traffic in the older areas. ENJOY!

  • Lizzy

    You are so right about European wines. I can drink two glasses, and feel great both at dinner and in the morning.

  • Rick

    You kind of forgot the most important part. The French eat well with whatever it is they drink. They’re not slamming down drinks on an empty stomach.

  • Andrea

    Supposedly European wines are made without sulfites…this is why drinking them doesn’t result in a hangover! I’ll be buying more European wines from now on! 🙂

  • […] If today you’re nursing a hangover—or if you’re through with hangovers in general—why  not start drinking like a French woman? That is, drink in moderation and drink European wines. Why Euro wines? They’re lower in alcohol which also means they’re lower in calories. For example, a six-ounce glass of 12% alcohol wine contains about 130 calories, while a six-ounce glass of 15%-alcohol wines has 160 calories. Make the switch, and you’ll get that nice lift that a gentle wine gives you, without getting drunk or fat. For more info on how to drink like a French woman, read my post, French Women Don’t Get Hangovers. […]

  • Great article. Agree with you totally and Rick has a point. French does not drink on an empty stomach. Aperos are an elaborate fair itself. No one is served alcohol without food.

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