Drinking Wine While Pregnant in France

Dear Helena,
I have a trip planned to France with my husband, during which I'll be five and a half months pregnant. We'd like to enjoy wine on our trip, but obviously I can't drink very much (usually one glass every couple of days is my rule). I'm not asking for advice on whether or not I should be drinking during pregnancy, but rather: What are the customs around drinking wine in French restaurants? If we order a bottle and don't finish it, will French people look down on us for taking the leftover wine "to go"? Do French people freak out over visibly pregnant women drinking even one glass, the way many Americans do? Are there very many places in France that offer wines by the glass, or is it mostly bottles?
—Babymoon Boîte

Dear Babymoon Boîte,
In America, total strangers often accost pregnant women if they see you with a drink in hand. They may even criticize you if you order a latte, as I discovered recently. The barista looked pointedly at my pregnant stomach and asked, "Wouldn't you prefer a decaf?"

But in France, for the most part, no one will bat an eyelid if they see you sipping vin—let alone treat you to a lecture on le syndrome de l'alcoolisation foetale. That's partly because the French are more reserved about approaching strangers, says Elizabeth Bard, author of Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes. "I can't imagine from a politesse point of view that a person you do not know would question your eating or drinking habits." But that's mainly because it's fairly common there for expectant moms to enjoy a glass of wine. According to a 2008 study, over half of French women said they had had at least one drink during their pregnancies (whereas in the U.S., only 12 percent admitted to having done so).

But French moms-to-be aren't exactly knocking back tequila shots. They typically enjoy their Merlot in moderation, and with food. As Bard points out: "The French almost never drink just to drink … wine is very much part of the food ritual." And French wines are sometimes more pregnancy-friendly than American ones, because some are lower in alcohol.

You need not commit to a whole bottle. Restaurants always have at least some wines available by the glass, though some will have more than others. In fact, wines offered by the glass—or carafe, or half bottle—are increasingly common, says Martine Saunier, owner of Martine's Wines, a company that imports French wines to the U.S. This is because the government has cracked down on drunk driving. "[Nowadays,] on a country road you can have roadblocks, especially over the weekend. They make a sign and you have to stop. It's really had an impact on the consumption of wine." So pregnant women aren't the only ones who don't want to polish off a whole bottle.

There's certainly no French etiquette rule that says you have to finish a bottle. But don't even think of trying to take it home with you. Yes, in some states in the U.S., it's perfectly acceptable to stash a half-full bottle in your purse or trunk. But, says Saunier, "in France, no civilized people would do this." And let me remind you that asking to take your leftover coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon is also a faux pas. "In France we don't have doggy bags," sniffs Saunier. "It is not our custom."

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