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Wednesday
Jul172019

Are you sure you know the drinking laws in France?

There’s so much confusion over the laws about drinking alcohol in France, from the legal drinking age to where and when you can consume alcohol in public in Paris, that I thought it was time to lay it all out for you.

First, the legal drinking age for ALL alcoholic beverages in France is 18.

The French government's official website, Service-Public.fr makes it clear on their page on "Drunkenness-Alcoholism" (translated from the French): "Minors cannot buy or consume alcohol in public places." 

Furthermore, this notice can be found posted in every establishment that sells or serves alcohol:

Translation:

IT IS FORBIDDEN TO SELL ALCOHOL TO MINORS UNDER 18 YEARS OF AGE.
The person delivering the drink may require proof from the customer of his or her age, in particular by producing an identity document. It is illegal to offer alcohol free of charge to minors in drinking establishments, shops, or public places. It is illegal to receive minors under the age of 16 in alcoholic beverage establishments who are not accompanied by a parent or a responsible adult.
 
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO OFFER ALCOHOLIC DRINKS AT REDUCED PRICES FOR A LIMITED PERIOD OF TIME ("HAPPY HOURS") WITHOUT ALSO OFFERING OVER THE SAME PERIOD OF TIME ALCOHOL-FREE DRINKS AT REDUCED PRICES.
 
IT IS FORBIDDEN FOR BAR OWNERS TO TO GIVE DRINKS TO PEOPLE OBVIOUSLY DRUNK OR TO RECEIVE THEM IN THEIR INSTITUTIONS.
 

IT IS FORBIDDEN TO BE IN A STATE OF INTOXICATION IN PUBLIC PLACES.

Not so complicated, right? Except that once upon a time it was legal for 16-year-olds to drink “fermented beverages” such as beer, wine and cider (but not hard liquor). That law changed in March 2009 once the French teenagers discovered the joys of binge drinking. When I was a student in the 90s, only the American and British students were drinking until vomiting, while the French looked at us like we were crazy. But in the past decade, French kids started turning up en masse each weekend in hospitals with alcohol poisoning, or completely trashing public spaces like the Champ de Mars after receiving their Bac, so the authorities have cracked down.

However, when I updated this information on my website's "Smoking & Drinking" page, ten years later people are still emailing me insisting I’m wrong. Sorry folks. The party is over. If you're interested in the exact legalese, you can read the detailed laws (and the dates they were changed) of the Public Health Code here: Article L.3342-1, L.3342-3

Open Container Laws Have Changed in Paris (and glass bottles are a no no)

In fact, not only are you not allowed to be caught with alcohol under the age of 18, the City of Paris keeps adding more restrictions to where and when alcohol – and even non-alcoholic beverages in glass bottles (because the broken glass left behind has become a nuisance) -- can be consumed in public. Gone are the days of being able to crack open a bottle of wine anytime and anywhere (as long as you had a corkscrew). 

The latest directive from the Prefecture de Police Arrêté n°2019-00562, published on June 24th this year, prohibits the consumption or carrying of alcoholic beverages AND ALL BEVERAGES IN GLASS BOTTLES (even for non-alcoholic beverages) on the quays of the Seine between midnight and 7am, including the Ile St-Louis, Ile de la Cité, the Left Bank from Pont Mirabeau to Pont d’Iéna and Pont Royal to Pont de Tolbiac, and on the Right Bank from Pont de Bir Hakeim to Pont de Tolbiac. You can still drink after midnight in bars and péniches on the Seine as long as you remain on their designated terraces (and obviously drink their alcohol, not yours).

Unfortunately these laws are actually quite complicated and hard to follow because each arrondissement's mayor can make their own neighborhood-specific rules, and these change often. Official government websites (Mairie de Paris, local mairies, the Prefecture de Police, and Service-Public.fr) are the only ones I trust to give updated information, so I will try and include the English translations on the Smoking & Drinking page of this site as I learn about them. This is what I've confirmed so far:

Alcohol is not allowed on the Champs de Mars and other green spaces surrounding the Eiffel Tower between 4pm and 7am, as well as on the Champs-Elysées, the Place de la Bastille, the Rue d’Oberkampf, almost the entire 18th arrondissement, and the Canal St-Martin (which is extended a bit from 9pm-7am).

"But I see people drinking at night all of the time!"

Clearly no one got the memo. But that doesn’t mean the police patrolling the parks and quays won’t visit your picnic to ask that you dispose of your bottles. Because they aren’t the jerks everyone thinks they are, as long as you’re otherwise behaving yourselves and don’t seem drunk, they usually give you a warning on the first pass (try that in the USA), but if they come back an hour later and you’re still sipping your pastis, they will confiscate your alcohol and possibly give you a fine (up to €7500).

Since it’s hard to be sure 100% of the time where and when adults 18 and over can drink in public, if you don’t want the police to break up your picnic then avoid glass bottles completely (wine in a box has improved over the years), and avoid drawing attention to yourselves by keeping your alcohol in unmarked containers or tucked away in a bag. And do I really need to remind you to clean up after yourselves? Judging by the state of the parks and quays in the morning (and the number of rats running around gorging themselves on the leftovers), clearly we can do better. Public trashcans full? You hauled your stuff all the way out there; you can haul it all back to your home to dispose of it properly if needed. Encourage your entourage and neighboring picnickers to do the same. It would be a shame if France finally decides to go the way of the US with their strict open container laws.

 

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Reader Comments (8)

I knew that, but what box wines could you suggest?

Perugia, where there are also many foreign students, also has a ban on glass bottles (of anything) in the evening.
July 17, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterlagatta à Montréal
In practice the public laws against drinking in public in Paris are rarely enforced, and like many other similar laws they are only there to give police officers legal standing when they want to get rid of people who constitue a public nuisance.
Another example is tripods:
It is in fact illegal to take pictures on a tripod in Paris though truly no cop has ever given me a hard time about doing so. I knew about this before because people told me about it, asking questions about the law though the only time someone told me about that in public was some night when a guy in his mid 20s who appeared to be a law student thought it would be fun to get under my skin. That no tripod law exists only for cases when someone has their tripod legs extended very widely causing people to trip over them. In that use the police can tell them to pack it up and go home and if the photographer refuses, they can arrest him or her…
July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Henry
Hi David, the whole point is to stop the public nuisance of drunken behavior and the garbage/broken glass left behind each night in Paris. Unless this improves, the regulations will keep becoming more strict (as we see already). Of course the police are being selective at the moment, thank goodness for all of us trying to behave. But I HAVE seen them ask people to dispose of their bottles (mostly in parks), so it happens.

As for the tripods, that is more heavily enforced in public parks; I've seen wedding photographers asked by municipal parks agents to put their tripods away (unless they have a permit, which is another matter).
July 18, 2019 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler
Ha you make it sound like teenagers are not allowed to drink alcohol in our country... they are, just not in public places...
Also I think you should specify that it's really your personal experience: me and my friends (Frenchies!) were totally binge drinking in the 90s and we were not the only ones, trust me!
As for glass bottles since it's between midnight and 7am in Paris - people usually picnic before it gets dark - we can still drink our wine in peace on the quais in summer ;)
July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDomi
Hey Domi,
Good point! I was going to include somewhere that the law in French actually states "in public" for the underage drinking. What you do behind closed doors in France is another story (so you can't send the kids out to buy your wine and cigarettes for you, but you can give it to them in your own home). The binge-drinking thing...having experienced US universities (like Arizona State) before coming to school in Paris, I can tell you it was certainly a big difference! There were always a few French friends getting hammered, but it wasn't a group sport by any means. And for whatever reason, it didn't result in the high number of hospitalizations of students due to alcohol consumption that we see today. The stats definitely have gone up. So has the trashing of the public spaces after Bac celebrations. Maybe in the 90s we could just hold our alcohol better and cleaned up after ourselves? A voir... ;-)
July 18, 2019 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler
I'm coming late to this thread, sorry.

One of our traditions over many years when visiting Paris is a daytime picnic in Place des Voges... bread, cold cuts, cheese, olives and a glass bottle of wine.

Is the wine still permitted or not allowed any longer?
August 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Zimmerman
Hi Steve,
Sorry to rain on your party, but alcoholic drinks have never been allowed in Paris parks (well, not in the past 25 years since I've been living here). There are signs at the entrance to each park that show what you can't do, and you'll see an image of a wine bottle and beer can on there.

You can find it in writing on City Hall's Paris.fr website here (in French): https://www.paris.fr/jardins#reglementation-generale-des-parcs-jardins-et-espaces-verts_23

There's a link on that page to download the official law, which says in chapter 4, article 8: "La consommation de boissons alcoolisées est interdite" (the consumption of alcoholic beverages is forbidden); it is however allowed if the drinks are sold and consumed within the cafés/bars inside the gardens. But last time I checked the Place des Vosges didn't have a café in it.

I'm sure you've been able to get away with it many times, but you should be aware it's not legal and can be confiscated by police.
August 4, 2019 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler
I think this is an interesting comment thread. The author is just providing the most up to date legal guidelines, and also offers links to the law itself online. The author also gives some personal anecdotes, which are clearly stated as personal. Yet, people like Domi immediately say, the author is making it seem like young people can't drink alcohol - and comment that they can just not in public. When in fact, the author's first sentence clearly states he providing the law of consuming alcohol, "in public in Paris." I guess people will always see and hear only what they want to see and see, not always what is actually there.
August 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

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