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Bon vivant is French for good liver or good living and in the modern sense defines a person who enjoys the finer things in life, especially those related to food and drink. The term bon vivant can be nearly synonymous with gourmet or epicure. Of these two related terms bon vivant is more closely related to gourmet. An epicure, in addition to enjoying fine consumables is also deeply interested in the arts.
The term has been used for several centuries at least, to describe those people with a refined taste. In general, the bon vivant wants to enjoy the finest things and the most expensive. It’s therefore necessary to have an ample budget or generous friends in order to become a bon vivant. If you live in complete poverty, it would make no practical sense to hold out for only fine food and wine. Instead you eat or drink what you can get. Thus the term implies a certain social or economic class, too.
The idea of not only enjoying but also becoming a specialist in the pleasures of the table and the best wines to choose has become a thing some people actually train to acquire. While perhaps some bon vivants may be born, others are made through classes, offered in many cities. These classes might consist of learning how to properly taste wine, distinguishing the “good” from the “bad,” and expanding your knowledge of culinary trends and the most desired foods. If you have distinct tastes or a limited diet, it may be hard to enjoy the “highest,” since it generally involves accepting certain Western cultural norms about what constitutes the most desirable drink and tempting food.
Another obstacle to being a gourmet is a willingness to accept whatever you eat or drink, and simply not caring about your living circumstances. For instance, you’d find few people who rigidly practice Buddhism that are bon vivants. This is beautifully illustrated in Somerset Maugham’s novel, The Razor’s Edge, where the narrator is contrasted with Larry.
While the narrator is the quintessential epicure and bon vivant, Larry is equally comfortable living with next to nothing, or enjoying the pleasures of a good table. Larry can’t be a bon vivant, because he is willing to take on any circumstance, eat at lousy restaurants or good ones, and live in circumstances that are greatly reduced. He doesn’t actively seek pleasure through food or fine accommodations, but instead seeks mental quietude and a sense of peace.
In the main, however, the bon vivant may not be only a pleasure-seeking individual, but may merely enjoy wine and food and know a great deal about it. His or her happiness is not necessarily based only on the pleasures of the table. Yet he or she may be delighted by good food or drink, or the opportunity to showcase his or her knowledge in this area.