At a recent dinner party here in Paris, I asked a gentleman from New York City how he was enjoying his trip. He responded it was fine, but “I can’t find anywhere to get a coffee in Paris.”
There’s been perhaps 3 times in my life where I’ve been speechless, much to the consternation of anyone within earshot. And this is the first time this century.
How can anyone say there’s nowhere in Paris to drink coffee?
(I’ll forgo any mention of how the same guest began hacking the beautiful artisan cheeses, carefully selected and arranged on a platter, into little bits after the host set it down. “That’ll make things easier!” he proudly announced.)
I still have no idea what he was talking about.
Make what easier?
Paris is a city filled with cafés.
In fact, the concept of the café was invented here in the 1600’s at the Le Procope in the Latin Quarter, unfortunately a sad victim of a hideaous remodel about a decade ago. Cafés flourished when struggling artists and writers like Hemingway and Picasso (and more recently, Lebovitz) would escape their freezing-cold apartments for cozy heated cafes.
People come to sip coffee, read, argue, and have a smoke. There’s a café on every corner, on every street, in every neighborhood. Because apartments are so small and Parisians are rather private, invitations to homes are rare. Instead people meet in cafés, and many consider them the living rooms of Parisians.
So I scoured the city in search of a café.
After 3 seconds I found one. Then another. And then another! Mon Dieu! These things are everywhere! Just in case you come to Paris and need to find one, this is what a café looks like:
After giving it more thought (perhaps more than it deserved) I may have figured out what he was talking about. He wanted Starbucks. Ok, so that’s coffee.
They said it couldn’t happen here, but Starbucks has made it’s way to Paris, opening several outlets over the past year. The appeal of Starbucks in America is pretty easy to understand: Starbucks gave Americans permission to sit down for 20 minutes, have a decent cup of coffee, read the Times, and use a bathroom (although unless you’re rather acrobatic, not all at the same time). This concept has been embraced by Americans as neighborhood diners morphed into fast-food outlets in cities and towns, erasing local culture and communities. But do Europeans know what to do when confronted with a giant 20-ounce coffee in a paper cup, ‘les brownies’, and vente-mocha-soy-low-fat-chai lattés?
Here’s the list of beverages explained for the French clientele. It’s a bit hazy, since the people working in the shop were eyeing me suspiciously, (perhaps with even less comprehension than most French people eye me.)
When I travel to other places, I look forward to experiencing other cultures, and “doing as the locals do”. Living in France has taught me that attempting to “fit in” means learning the language (the verbs are killing me), dressing up (I changed out of sweatpants to take my garbage out last sunday in case I ran into any neighbors), buying my cheese in one shop and my wine in another and my butter in another…and my vegetables in yet another. But in between it all, I take the time to enjoy a coffee in real cafés, one of the pleasures of living in Paris.
But just in case I run into anyone looking for a coffee, I finally found just the place to send them to…
Note: I’m off to Italy this week to lead a Chocolate Tour from Piemonte to Tuscany. I’ll have lots of pictures and stories when I get back. I hope to post some entries from the road as well.