Café au lait, s'il vous plaît.
Visitors to France will quickly find that French culture does coffee differently than American. Portions are far different from ours (forget your 20oz iced coffee!), they don’t use half and half (what I live for), and their purpose for drinking it is a far cry from ours. I gave up my iced coffee fixation for my trip, because they simply don’t serve it that way (and who’s going to keep visiting Starbucks when you’re in a coffee mecca like France!)
While “America runs on Dunkin’,” sprinting through their day and gritting their teeth to get through the 9-5 grind, gulping down their caffeinated beverage of choice as a means to an end…the French prefer to sit simply: relaxed, pensively skimming their copies of Figaro, and sipping their café with leisure, enjoying the art of its quality.
As a waitress in the States, I was trained to be readily available at all times, anticipating the multitude of a patron’s special requests sure to come at any given point in their stay. Relatively speaking, American customers are often rushed and needy. But in France, guests are there to eat and drink in peace - savoring the meal, taking their time, engrossing themselves in conversation with a companion, pouring into a book or their newspaper. Waitstaff know this, and after serving you what you’ve asked, they leave you be, not to ignore you, but to allow you to remain content to sit and enjoy yourself.
En France, c’est la vie.
For me, the creamier the better, so I found solace in the café au lait, café viennois, or café crème (asking for simply a “coffee” often got me an Espresso.) Because on more than one occasion, I would ask for a coffee and looked on with surprise when the maître came back and presented a little dink dink of a cup - of good coffee, mind you - but one I could have downed in three gulps max.
However, as I got better at slipping into the French way of life, I began to mimic their daily ritual: slowly sipping a cup of something beautiful, artfully made and hand crafted for its recipient. Why would I not continue that same ritual, wherever it is I happen to be?
While I’m thinking back on my trip - having already adjusted to life back in the District - I’m thinking back on those quiet moments I enjoyed so much in my mornings in Paris.
Paris is covered in cafes that are build for customer comfort. Their entrances are flanked by tables and chairs outside, where passers-by can plunk right down from off the street, at any time of day (or year, as most restaurants have invested in outdoor heaters), to commence a scrumptious meal and a good cup of coffee. The best ones lie on the corner, for maximum visibility to take in everything around you - we all know that people watching at a cafe in a new country is the best thing ever, especially somewhere as fabulous and fem as anywhere in France, but especially Paris. Some of my favorite parts of my foodie experiences were the fun banter with all the cheeky waiters and baristas I met.
My point is I remember so many varied sensory details because I was able to pay attention to all of it. We live in a world full of beautiful imagery and pleasing aromas and gorgeous sunrises and smiling people, and it needn’t take a trip halfway around the world to find those things. A great place to start is a morning ritual woven together however it pleases you, with a little self-discipline and creativity.
What if we searched for more of the beauty in the small things where we are now?