I always knew I was a Francophile, but it wasn’t until I stayed in France for an extended period of time that I could truly appreciate its charm and differences from the U.S.
While I studied in Bordeaux, I lived with a French family. My older French sister, Marion, was kind enough to take me around town and introduce me to a café I would end up spending most of my euros at, Auguste (and it happened to be the café that would lead me to meeting JP at the gelato shop he was working at right next door!)
Marion and I sat down at a little table and immediately we were greeted by a waiter (this isn’t super typical–you may be waiting for a while at a café before you get a waiter’s attention, but it’s part of its charm…)
“Oh, nous voulons une carte si vous plaît” she turned to me, “you can always ask for a menu. Normally, they are for when you want food, but it is okay to ask.”
I nodded and scanned.
“Uh–well–can I just have a regular coffee?”
“Ah–well you can have an espresso–but that is a little small.”
I furrowed my brow and looked at the menu again. I didn’t really want an espresso–I just wanted a “regular” coffee. The funny thing when going abroad is you expect everything from your country to be the norm or the “regular” thing to have or do. It’s a good thing I dropped this attitude when it came to coffee, because as it turns out the French know what they’re doing. I would later become addicted to espresso and be utterly disappointed when I returned to the U.S. to find they just couldn’t make it the same way.
“You can have a double espresso, that is a little bit bigger.”
I nodded and the waiter returned.
I had been debating over my order for quite some time and when we just ordered two double espressos (simply, “deux cafés doubles”) he laughed.
“C’est une grande production pour un espresso!”
There is an art to the café lifestyle in France that is lacking in California.
In California, you get up, order a coffee (there are no wines or beers or cocktails in Californian cafés), wait for your drink, maybe do your homework or study, then leave. Cafés are for studying or working or maybe a first date. (Key word being first–there is a reason in California you choose coffee for a first date–coffee dates are quick.)
In Bordeaux, I noticed that the café lifestyle wasn’t as quick or frantic. You find yourself a table, and wait. Yes, of course people can study or work at cafés in France, but it didn’t seem to be most peoples’ primary reason for stopping by. Cafés are for socializing or relaxing. You can grab a coffee or a beer. You can journal or write postcards or read–for pleasure, not for an assignment.
There’s just not as much of an urgency within French cafés.
And it’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to about returning!