If you’re reading this, chances are you’re an American. Which probably means you’re in a hurry for something. Which means if I do not get to the point of this blog entry soon, you’ll stop reading it. But that is exactly my point! Americans are always thinking about the most productive way to spend their time, but not the best way to spend their time. Americans are designed to be always on the go. But for Parisians, that is no way to live. The French take their time, whether it be to relax or read, to socialize, or most importantly, to eat. Café culture in Paris is unlike any dining experience back in the States.
Steve Smith, co-author of Rick Steve’s France Guidebook, explains how “slow service is good service,” when it comes to Parisian café culture. Smith continues to advise that, “it is not about how fast you eat. It is about how well you eat.” While in France, I have sat next to many foreigners at cafes who have become frustrated with the customer service. They are annoyed with how slow it takes to order or get their check, or how the language barrier makes it seem like the waiter is being rude. My advice for those people is to not travel unless you are willing to learn how to be patient and open-minded. Many Parisians have a favorite café they make part of their daily routine so waiters often memorize their orders. Parisians tend to sit at their local café for at least an hour during their lunch, and pass the time with mindfully eating, smoking, drinking an espresso, socializing or reading.
I really admire how the French do not work at lunch. I have many friends who have just entered the American corporate work force, and they often tell me that their work schedules are so demanding that they tend to skip lunch or go buy a lunch to take back to their desks to eat while finishing up their tasks. On the other hand, café culture in Paris reflects the Parisian lifestyle. The Parisian lifestyle is about slowing down, appreciating, being in the moment, spending more time with your family, friends and self. Although French labor laws are controversial, the motivation behind them is so people can have a more fulfilling quality of life.
Ordering at a café can be intimidating when in a different country. Some things to keep in mind is that the entrée is the starter in France whereas in America it is the main course. So do not be surprised if you order an entrée and it is actually quite small. One should also consider ordering meals that are in season to get the freshest food for the best price. There is often recommended specials at each café that you should consider buying because they tend to be food that is in season and therefore cheaper.
Café culture in Paris is for me. I’m an ambitious person, which is actually a negative trait to have here in France, but I do sometimes get frustrated with America’s nonchalant attitude and expectations about long work hours. For the rest of time I’m in France, one can find me drinking wine, sipping coffee, gossiping with friends or reading a magazine at my own leisurely pace. There are over 12,000 cafes in Paris, so the next time you are in Paris, find your favorite café, and make it apart of your daily routine.