Attempting to get a Starbucks coffee in the U.S. can be a hectic experience, especially during morning rush hour. With the long line of people in a hurry to get to work or school, customers may feel pressured to order as quickly as possible—money in hand, their “usual” on the tip of their tongue. Because of my previous experiences with establishments in the U.S., my first visit to a French café surprised me.
In an attempt to have a traditional, and a somewhat cliché, Parisian breakfast, I ordered a coffee and a croissant. Looking around the restaurant, I noticed that most customers had ordered something similar while others sat with a lone cup of coffee in front of them.
After my friend and I had finished our breakfast, we waited for our waiter to bring us the bill. Because he walked by our table at a brisk pace, avoiding eye contact with us, we assumed that he was busy with other customers and would sum up our total as soon as he was able, but as the minutes dragged by, I realized, with a growing sense of discomfort, that we needed to initiate the process.
In the U.S., it is typical for servers to bring customers their bill when they are nearly finished with their meal, saying something along the lines of “whenever you’re ready” when placing it on the table. Because the French waiter would not make eye contact with us, I realized that I would need to wave him down even though I felt uncomfortable with the motion. Friends of mine who have worked in the food service industry have often griped about customers who have rushed them—not letting them attend to other tables. Being so forward with my request almost felt rude due to my American upbringing, but it was essential that I readjust my mentality. For Parisians, a waiter handing them their check is the equivalent of pushing them out of the café—a breach of etiquette.
When looking around the café, no one but us appeared to be in a hurry to leave. Customers sipped their coffee or had pushed aside their empty cups while reading their newspapers. At this moment, I began to realize that the Parisian lifestyle moves at a slower pace, which may due to a federal law that prevents employees from working more than 35 hours a week. In contrast, Americans often have a 40+ hour workweek, meaning that slower service is considered a nuisance—impeding the potential for productivity. Since we are always on the go, pressed for time, drinking coffee and dining out has become a rushed experience, reflecting our societal values.
The existing labor laws in France may feel inconvenient for study abroad students who want a cup of coffee or a bite to eat before heading to their next tourist destination, especially on Sundays when most cafes are closed; however, the limited café hours and the slower service merely reflect how French culture places value on an individual’s wellbeing in the workforce. Therefore, while visiting Paris, I recommend that American tourists adjust their internal clocks and allot for a little extra time when getting their morning coffee and croissant, enjoying the full taste of the Parisian experience.