Parisian café pleasures

Imagine a Parisian café around four or five in the afternoon. The leaves are beginning to fall, it’s a little chilly outside and the sky is overcast. There are a few tables outside on the pavement but most customers have opted for seats behind the glass walls of the spacious covered terrace from where they can watch the passers-by in comfort.

“Madame ?”, a waiter addresses you. You hesitate. For months you have been drinking cooling fruit juices, sparkling water, sodas, but now it’s time to change. It’s time for hot drinks again. “Un chocolat chaud, s’il vous plaît.”

That first sip of hot chocolate immediately evokes Sunday afternoons in winter, the cafés full of Parisians enjoying an hour or so in the warmth after a brisk walk around le Jardin du Luxembourg or along les quais de Seine.

Those for whom ‘un chocolat’ is a little too sinful will content themselves with ‘une infusion’, a herb tea. ‘Un tilleul menthe’, lime tea with mint or ‘une verveine’, verbena tea, are popular choices. No self-respecting French lady drinks tea in the late afternoon. It’s considered ‘un excitant’ and likely to affect one’s beauty sleep.

Frenchmen may still opt for ‘une bière’ even when it’s cold outside. Most fall back on ‘un express’, that tiny cup of bitter, dark liquid drunk in a couple of sips and served with a glass of water to counteract its dehydrating effect.

Only tourists will order coffee with milk, strictly a breakfast or mid-morning drink for French people. Savvy tourists know to ask for ‘un café-crème’, or simply ‘un grand crème’, rather than ‘un café au lait’, but even they will not escape the scorn of Parisian waiters when ordering a white coffee in the afternoon. An insult to the digestive tract considered even more horrifying when ordered after a meal.

After savouring your ‘chocolat’ and deciding you are probably not going to write an amazing novel at your café table, in the tradition of so many French writers, you will make your way outside. It was the first ‘chocolat’ of the season and there will be many more to come.

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Un grand merci !

Pam Bourgeois



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