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Sam the driver in France


Did you know that in France the designated driver is called “Sam”?

I was at a Champagne House, oh how I love to casually drop that into the conversation, the other day in the lovely area of Cote Des Bar in the Champagne region. There were six of us and we stopped there to sample the bubbles and take a tour of the incredible cellars of Champagne Drappier, including a 12th Century cellar, which hold millions of bottles of Champagne.

The lovely people at Champagne Drappier offered us a glass of their traditional Champagne, then pink champagne, then something else and my friend Sarah, who was driving declined to join in.

“Oh” said the nice man pouring fizz “Sam?”

Sarah nodded with a bit of a crestfallen look on her face and the rest of us held our glasses out eagerly.

André Drappier came into the room where we were all by this time rather gaily toasting each other. All except Sarah that is. Drappier Père (as he is known to all) is 80 years old and 6th generation in the Domaine with a lifetime of experience of making Champagne. He is as effervescent at 80 as any of his delicious Champagnes. He joined us on the sofa, asked which of us wasn’t married and proceeded to entertain us all with wonderful stories. “You’re young” he counselled “ Don’t waste a single day, make every one of them count, have fun, laugh, drink Champagne”. Then noticing Sarah had no glass he looked sympathetic and said to her “Sam?”

Sarah lives in Champagne-Ardennes and works for the tourist office and her French is impeccable so I asked her why everyone kept calling her “Sam” sometimes and Sarah other times.

It turns out that in France, the designated driver is called a “Sam”. Right across France this happens. If you don’t drink and your fellow passengers do, you’re “Sam”.

sam the driver in France

Sam, celui qui conduit, c’est celui qui ne boit pas say the French. Sam is the one who drives and does not drink. The name stems from a very successful drink/drive campaign which began almost ten years ago in which a cartoon character with a big head called Sam drives his or her rather worse-for-wear friends around in a car. They drink – Sam does not and always has a big smile.

The term has passed into everyday language in France, a great idea that has groups deciding in advance who is going to be Sam.

I have to say, I’m pretty glad I wasn’t Sam that day, the Champagne was delicious… cheers Sam!

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