Something happens when British Summer Time hits. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but with lengthening days comes something that was not there before: energy. Whereas in winter, I’m often under my duvet within an hour of closing my laptop, in the warmer months the post-work hours seemed bathed in possibility.
But, alas, I am no longer 22. Gone are the days when I can drink pints out of plastic until closing time on a Tuesday and be a functioning human the next day. Adulthood, like summertime, requires a different way of doing things. Enter the “cinq à sept”.
It goes like this: you’re done with work, but the light outside is still too delicious to be in your flat. It’s too early for dinner, but you plan to be up early in the morning too, so going home and coming back out again is not an option. So, you find some way to draw out the precious moments between 5pm and 7pm, and, in turn, to maximise the pleasure of your week. In other words, it’s a wind-down from the workday that doesn’t impinge on the start of the next one.
It’s true that, in Britain, this may roughly translate to going down the pub. But, while we do excel at drinking, it’s the stopping bit that we struggle with. One post-work pint inexplicably (but also inevitably) turns into devouring a regrettable kebab on the night bus. A cinq à sept or, to use a more modern French term, l’apéro is a much more refined affair, borrowed from the hours in Paris where it’s not even possible to get a table for dinner, so you have un verre and a salty snack instead.
It’s too early for dinner, but you plan to be up early in the morning too, so going home and coming back out again is not an option. So, you find some way to draw out the precious moments between 5pm and 7pm
On various stints I’ve spent working in Paris, I’ve developed a mental map of the best sidewalk bars for people-watching, where I can nightly partake in the practice; it’s as glorious alone with a book or with friends.
The possibilities for a cinq à sept are endless and not necessarily limited to alcohol. While, of course, there is always the strong option of touring the city’s rooftop bars during the golden hour – which comes with a helpful built-in reminder to stop when the light fades – there’s also stopping by a fancy market to buy highbrow dinner ingredients, or scouring your favourite bookstore for your next read. Or, there’s a gratuitous detour through the park in the spirit of flânerie – that sense of urban exploration that’s low on agenda and high on possibility. Equally, you can catch the latest exhibition without the Saturday crowds, or catch a lecture or a book-reading.
It came to my attention in the writing of this piece that, in France, cinq à sept bears a distinctly sexual connotation, as well. As Françoise Sagan lamented in her 1965 novel, La Chamade, “In Paris, no one makes love in the evening anymore; everyone is too tired.” And, while it’s true the phrase may have its origins in French men running to their mistress before reconvening with their wives for dinner, there’s no reason you can’t reclaim the hours for more modern romantic means.
As dating columnist Dolly Alderton reminds us, a low-stakes weeknight drink is ideal for a first date, as giving up your weekend for such an affair “inevitably, [ends up] an inoffensive but disappointing two drinks with a man called James who works in finance, and then a precious unit of your weekend has been stolen from you”. Combine that advice with Carrie Bradshaw’s sage plan of arriving at a date with fictitious plans immediately following it (in case things are bad), and you’ve got a perfect recipe for a last-minute Happn or Bumble date, where the light of day offers a buffer against bad decisions. After all, a bad date that ends at 7pm is easy to get over, and a good one only makes you all the more mysterious.
However you spend it, the beauty of the cinq à sept lies in its power as a punctuation point on your day and, by extension, your week. It beckons the evening without consuming it, and allows you to reach Friday and look back at the previous five days to see more than a flurry of emails and awful morning commutes with a low-key hangover. It’s high time you traded rush hour for the golden hour and gave it a go.
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