It was a nice event. There was a prize draw to win a bottle of sheep dip, several discounts, balloons for babies, a sandpit for children, and a free “country-style” buffet for anyone who fancied it.
This was an entire bowl of paté, a wheel of brie, several massive loaves of bread, jars of pickles, and almost an entire barrel of crisps.
There were drinks, too – the usual “softs”, plus a couple of boxes of wine (one red and one rosé) and a bottle of pastis, along with an extra-large bottle of whisky.
Even after decades in France, I was astonished. The buffet was laid out in the space between the cash desks and the doors, where the mini-tractors are usually displayed. But it was full of farmers, standing around tucking into the buffet and enjoying their apéros.
No one was serving the drinks – the bottles were plonked on the table for people to serve themselves. Anyone could have walked in and drunk the lot.
In the UK, free alcohol might have attracted a gang of youngsters arriving with the intention not only of clearing the buffet, but of draining the bottles too.
Things would probably have got out of hand. The shop might have needed security guards, or at least staff dishing out the drinks to ensure no one made off with the entire bottle.
Perhaps it is because alcohol is cheaper in France, or maybe because of the strict laws surrounding ivresse publique et manifeste (obvious public drunkenness), but whatever it is, you can drink in all kinds of places in France.
My old works canteen sold wine, the teachers at my daughter’s school had wine on the lunch table, you can even buy wine in Disneyland Paris, and we always take wine to Aqualand. Can you imagine being allowed to take drinks into a children’s theme park in the UK?
The thing is, in France it’s not how much you drink that matters, it’s how drunk you act. The guys at the mobile bar in our village on July 14 drink solidly from lunchtime through the afternoon, evening, past midnight and almost into the dawn.
The number of empty barrels round the back is impressive. But they just drink and chat, they don’t shout or sing, they don’t smash things up or vomit or make nuisances of themselves.
Most of them even manage to walk home. And my postman has explained why. “Thing is,” he told me, “you Brits are amateurs. You drink, you get in trouble, you get ill, you can’t work, and then the law prevents you from drinking.
“Here in France, we are professionals, we’re in it for the long haul. We drink, but we don’t make trouble and we don’t get ill. Because of this, we will still be drinking long after your doctors, your police officers, and your children have made you stop.”