5 Entertaining Tips Every French Woman Knows


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Jul 14, 2023

5 Entertaining Tips Every French Woman Knows

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Put out the fancy stuff, make happy hour your raison d’être, and more pointers from an ultra-stylish expat.

Parisians find joy in what they eat, where they go, and how they spend their time. It's their North Star. When they join with friends and family at a table, it's beautifully set with all the different pieces they have found, the better for enjoying long, multi-course meals when conversation might revolve around wine, travels, and history. Rarely do they talk about work.

As a Nigerian raised in Austin, Texas, I thought the best things in life were reserved for affluent people. I grew up thinking if you were lucky enough to have something special or fancy, you saved it and didn't dare use it. Since moving to France in 2011, I have come to realize that finding joy in my everyday life is a value I’ve always deeply desired. Joie has become my guiding principle, and these entertaining ideas are just a few ways I express it.

Apéro is a cherished way to gather that is no-fuss because it usually doesn't involve cooking. There are many ways to host your own apéro. Whether it is a spontaneous apéro or a planned apéro before dinner—at which point it gets late and…oops! "We need to roll this into dinner," aka apéro-dinatoire—here are a few suggestions for what to set out. Feel free to rotate new ideas in and out. Whatever you decide, keep it easy and beautiful.

Drink suggestions: Something light but on the sweeter side; kir (white wine with a drop or two of creme de cassis); a light, crisp white wine; champagne; or a Lillet on ice.

I don't like to be snobby about etiquette rules, especially if they might make a guest feel uncomfortable, but knowing how to properly cut cheese is a fun party trick.

ROUND: ­Cut these like a cake, into small triangles from the center out.

SQUARE & WEDGE: C­ut in lengthwise slivers, but don't ever slice the nose (aka the rind)!

ATYPICAL SHAPES LIKE HEARTS: Start in the middle and cake it up again.

PYRAMID SHAPES: C­ut these like a cake, too, into tall, narrow slices.

CHEESE IN A WOODEN BOX: These are usually heated, so scoop it up with cutlery.

Every day is worthy of "the good china" and all the other pretty pieces you buy. (And "the good china" can truly be a metaphor for anything you love.) You may have chosen them for their beauty or story and, therefore, they bring you joy. So, what are you waiting for? When you welcome someone to your table and share your treasures with them, you’re offering them a gift. Why buy antiques and special pieces only to lock them away in a dark cabinet? Whether you want to bring people together for memorable moments or you’re just enjoying a quiet dinner alone, these occasions are deserving of your best items and collections.

In the early days of my living in France, most of the Parisian dinner parties I was invited to featured tables set with linens. I loved the way they felt: so light and soft. It didn't take long before I started using them, or tying napkins with twine or a ribbon to see how they changed the vibe. I know that some people are wary of the wrinkle factor. Personally, I find that it adds a nice texture to the table, but if you’re a purist (yet still want to avoid busting out the iron), here's a little secret I learned from a French grandmother:

1. Wash your linen, remove it from the washing machine, and use your hand to smooth out the wrinkles.

2. Fold it while still damp and set it aside for an hour, or overnight if you’re lazy like me!

3. Unfold it and hang it to dry if still damp.

4. If it is warm outside (or in your apartment) you can spray the tablecloth with a light spritz of water while it is hanging or on the table. Then run your hands over it to smooth the wrinkles, and watch your table cloth transform from wrinkly to wrinkle-free before your eyes.

Voilà! Your linen fabrics will be a little crisper and perfectly "ironed." For a softer look or feel, before you use them, toss them into the dryer with a damp cloth for 15 minutes. (This is my preferred method, because I like the textured vibe. It will give your table that romantic, "I just threw this together" look.)

I am not a professional florist or designer, but over the years I’ve discovered unique and less conventional ways to play with, and display, flowers. First tip: Start buying the foliage, fillers, and strange-looking buds. You don't need to break the bank; c­heap and cheerful go a long way. The more you experiment and play, the better you’ll get and the more personality your arrangements will have. Try new flowers, repeat old ones, dry them out, work with only a single color and foliage, or even just a single flower—the world is your Tradescantia spathacea (oyster plant). Also, you don't have to stick to traditional vases. Here are a few other vessels I use quite often:

• Little antique apothecary or oil jars for small bouquets.

• Water pitchers and cans for casual arrangements.

• Silver chalices or champagne buckets for short stems and big blooms.

Joie Copyright © 2023 Ajiri Aki. Photograph copyright © 2023 by Jessica Antola. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.

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