Getting to know one another is always a bit of a dance. We pat snippets of information about ourselves back and forward, waiting for the kids to come out of school, over the fence with a new neighbour, in the office tea room. Then, when we are fairly certain you might make reasonable friend material, we make a move.
In the old days, say when Jane Austen was writing or Queen Victoria was on the throne, we English had rules to follow that involved visiting cards and invitations to take tea. These days, we are more casual and only need to offer the phrase 'drop by for a coffee' to start the ball rolling to a beautiful friendship.
But in France, the rules are different. In France, you have aperitifs.
When we first arrived, bright eyed, bushy tailed, dead keen to make friends, we offered tea to everyone we met. Our dear neighbours accepted the offer with amusement and good humour but there was an odd formality about the occasion, a stiffness to the conversation.
As a return match, they invited us for aperitifs. We partook of some fierce firewater with little nibbles on the side. Conversation flowed. When we finally took our leave and stepped gingerly over the flowerbed that separates our two properties, we were, to say the least, a bit squiffy. I think we abandoned dinner that night.
I am no expert on the social mores of the French, but from my perspective I am learning that the hour or so before dinner is the ideal time to chew the fat and cement friendship, especially with the aid of something a little stronger than a British cup of tea.