France loses its taste for giant cocktail parties

Brice M. was trying to impress his friends with his ability to slide down the parapet of the steps leading steeply from a railway bridge in the centre of Nantes. It is the kind of thing that seems like a good idea when you are 21; you are attending an open-air drinks party for 10,000 people; and you have drunk the equivalent of 12 glasses of whisky.

Brice, a student and volunteer fireman from a village in western France, fell 20ft and smashed his skull and chest. He died later in hospital. The death of the young man – described by friends as gentle, charming and energetic – has shocked France. Young French people die in their dozens in road accidents each week after leaving bars or clubs. Brice's death was different. He is the first victim, a martyr to some, of a youth phenomenon sweeping France: the apéro géant, or giant cocktail party.

The idea, driven by social networking sites, is to assemble as many strangers as possible to drink and chatter at spectacular town-centre sites in the open-air. The parties, which began in western France in March, have become an unofficial competition between French towns to gather as many young people as possible – a kind of Jeux sans Frontières with wine, alcopops and hard spirits.

There was already growing public concern before Brice's death on Thursday night. Several apéro géants have been banned, including one planned next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris for the week after next.

The events in Nantes have now launched an anguished national debate. Should the government step in? The interior minister, also a Brice, Brice Hortefeux, has convened a meeting of senior politicians and officials next week. Or would it be better, as one junior government minister suggested, to police the phenenomenon more closely and wait until the craze fades?

The idea of giant open-air drinks parties for young people, organised through the internet, is believed to have started in the US. It has taken off spectacularly in France since March for several reasons.

The French, even the young French, are very individualistic, but they like to do things individually en masse. It is also no coincidence that the aperos geants have been most successful in cities with large student populations: Renne, Nantes, Brest and – the record-holder with 12,000 people on Thursday night – Grenoble.

French universities do not have the same campus culture and crowded entertainments schedules as British universities. The idea of giant parties where young people could come together and have fun, and annoy their elders, filled a great vacuum.

The apéros géants are also a symptom, sociolgists say, of a shift in French society away from gentle, permanent tippling towards binge-drinking. The booze of choice at the gatherings is not beer or wine but tequila, vodka or whisky. Police said that 72 young people were taken to hospital suffering from alcohol poisoning during Thursday's party in the centre of Nantes.

In other ways, however, the parties have remained very French. Until Thursday night – and that was a stupid accident – there have been few violent incidents. The parties are mostly agglomerations of alcoholic picnics in which groups of friends stay together and largely avoid talking to strangers.

A French sociologist, Monique Dagnaud, who studied the rave culture in France a few years ago, says that the aperos geants are part of the same trend: the desire of young people for "collective apotheosis", or having a good time in big numbers. She also points out that the parties are an extension of the Facebook idea of collecting as many scarcely-known friends as possible.

The parties have been interpreted by other French commentators as the revolt of the internet generation against the notion that they are all bedroom-bound nerds incapable of social interaction except through a computer screen.

The minister for "youth and active solidarity", Marc-Philippe Daubresse, said yesterday that a blanket ban on Aperos Geants would be pointless and wrong. There should be more police surveillance to prevent further mishaps. "But there is no point in closing our eyes to the way that society is changing," he said. "You have to deal with causes not symptoms."

He said the giant parties reflected "the malaise of our young people, who feel the need to gather in tribes and party". The Socialist mayor of Nantes, Jean-Marc Ayrault called for all-party talks on the phenomenon. He also called on organisers to abandon the "stupid idea" of another giant party- a third - in the city next month.

The public prosecutor for Nantes, Xavier Ronsin, called for the competitive spiral between towns to end. "Where is the glory in this?" he asked. "What is so great about ... having 11,000 or 12,000 drunks in Nantes because Montpellier managed to assemble 10,000 drunks? Do you also want two deaths next time instead of one?"

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Sport
Peter Moores was criticised for failing to handle top players when he last led the England team
sportFive years after being sacked from the job, Peter Moores to be named a cricket coach
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit