Think Dry January is tough? Try doing it in Paris

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Living in Los Angeles, I’d never felt the need to attempt “Dry January.” The city itself forces you to be sober enough to get behind the wheel of a car, while simultaneously incentivizing a healthy lifestyle with sunshine and hiking trails. In LA, overindulging actually requires more effort than simply consuming alcohol in moderation. 

But since moving to Paris in 2017, moderation has taken on a new definition for me. Almost every meal at a restaurant includes a cheese platter accompanied by a few glasses of wine. Instead of meeting over coffee, my friends and I usually gather around a bottle of Pouilly Fumé or Bourgogne, lingering in bistros until midnight. It’s not that we are unable to hang without a hangover. But lingering over sparkling water seems silly — especially when it is more expensive than wine. (A glass of wine at your average bistro starts at 4 Euros. Sparkling water usually starts at about 6.50.)

So, why am I going without wine for 31 days in the country that considers it mother’s milk?

Over the holidays, or – let’s be honest – since COVID restrictions were lifted in the summer of 2021, my social circle has made up for lost wine like it was a full-time job. By December, I noticed that my jeans were tight. Really tight. I figured Dry January would get rid of the extra 10 pounds. 

The French live it up in October 2021 at a restaurant in Montmartre as the area celebrates the harvest of the year’s grapes.
The French live it up in October 2021 at a restaurant in Montmartre as the area celebrates the harvest of the year’s grapes.
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The one-month sobriety challenge, which originates from 1940s Finland but was made popular in the UK as a public-health campaign in 2013, has now gained traction Stateside. A recent survey conducted by Morning Consult shows that nearly one in five Americans planned to forgo alcohol for the first month of 2022, in order to reassess their relationship to drinking. For some, it can be a troubled one, perhaps worth severing altogether. 

I’ve done Dry January a couple times in the past, mainly as a challenge and a reset. But during this past month of going booze-free in Paris, I discovered that abstinence is not the hard part. What cutting off alcohol kills is a desire to indulge in anything.

When a friend suggested a traditional French bistro on a Friday night, I rejected the idea like she wanted to serve seared kittens for dinner. A full-on restaurant meal without wine feels not just like heresy, but a complete waste of calories. Instead, I suggested small shareable plates at a tapas place, where my friends and I turned down the staff’s welcome drinks, chirping, “Non, merci. Le Dry January!

(The French don’t have an equivalent term. They see no point.) 

We were convinced we could have fun without the booze, but our normally lively banter became unusually subdued as we focused all our attention on eating every morsel as slowly as we could. We tried dragging out the meal, but with no wine, cocktails or steady stream of welcome shots to extend the evening, an hour later we were done. What was usually an hourslong affair had served mostly as perfunctory caloric intake. By 9:30 p.m., we were all home, watching “Emily in Paris” instead of living it. 

They – you know, experts and the internet – say it takes two weeks to feel a lifestyle change and three weeks to see it. In the case of Dry January in Paris, it was the reverse. By Week 2, I watched on social media as my friends paired their beautiful, never-ending restaurant meals with exquisite French wines. By Week 3, I felt like life was slipping by me.

Having done Dry January twice before, I knew it wasn’t just the geographical location dragging me down. Previously, it had felt like an exercise in solidarity that happens to have health benefits. But for the past two years we had done just that by shutting ourselves indoors during the pandemic. Did we really need another deprivation challenge to prove our commitment to a cause?

Wine and Paris go together like pizza and New York — so how’s a gal meant to give up the grape for a whole month in the City of Light?
Wine and Paris go together like pizza and New York — so how’s a gal meant to give up the grape for a whole month in the City of Light?
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I wasn’t alone in feeling the pointlessness of it all. On Day 10, one of my friends caved in the face of an 18-year-old Chablis. On Day 14, two more celebrated a promotion with Champagne. And on Day 21, I watched all of them share multiple bottles of Sancerre, while I sipped a soulless nonalcoholic beer wishing I was in bed watching “The Good Doctor.” And for what?

So far, I have not lost one single ounce. With just days to go, I have soldiered on with “Le Dry” fueled solely by a promise I made to myself and pride in my willpower.

But it’s also more than likely I will give up before February. Because, really, life is too short not to drink wine. Especially in Paris.

Carita Rizzo is a travel and entertainment journalist for outlets such as Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Playboy and Fodor’s Travel. She divides her time between Paris and Los Angeles. Follow her on Instagram @caritarizzo





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