Drinking Coffee in France: A Cultural Perspective

Published: 24th January 2012
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Coffee is inextricably linked to French culture, and one of the reasons why Americans switched to coffee from tea is because of the French. The British drank tea, while the French drank coffee, mostly due to the colonies that each of them possessed. The U.S. being a British colony a very long time ago had begun to consume tea just like its English rulers used to. However, after the famous Boston Tea party, and with growing influence of France in terms of democracy, concepts of liberty, and other political thoughts, coffee culture was imported, too.

Drinking Coffee in France Is Very Different

However, the similarity of coffee culture between America and France ends there. If one were to visit Paris and order a coffee, it just wouldn’t be the same way it would be in the United States. In North America, a coffee can be had anytime and in any manner, and one could always request for customizations without worrying about if it is good or bad etiquette.

However, in Paris there are many rules one would have to follow before ordering a coffee. For instance, a cappuccino is drunk only with breakfast, and never during the later part of the day. With breakfast, you could order 'un cafe', which is plain coffee without milk or sugar. If you so desired, you could ask for sugar. Breakfasts in France are very light, and do not go beyond a croissant, or a cake, and coffee. During the later part of the day, one could of course drink coffee as they wished, but if one is ordering for a coffee after lunch or dinner, it literally is served after lunch or dinner.

In the U.S., it is common to drink coffee along with the dessert, but in France, coffee is never drunk along with the dessert. It is always after the meal. Moreover, now that smoking is banned in public places in most parts of Paris, people tend to drink coffee after a meal, instead of smoking a cigarette. Even the coffee houses of Paris are slightly different from what visitors from the U.S. might be used to. Americans are used to big tables and comfortable sofas where one could drink large sized coffees which are tailor made according to their wish.

In France though, you have a choice of standing at the bar (brasserie) and drink at the counter. One would just order for 'un cafe' or 'l'express', which is espresso. Moreover, coffee tends to be very strong in Paris or elsewhere in France, and not the watered down sweetened liquid that one is used to drinking in North America. Drinking coffee while standing at the bar counter is a cheaper way of consuming coffee, but it must be restricted to morning hours.

If one has just had a long siesta in one of the luxury Paris apartments that are rented out to wealthy travelers, one has the choice of sitting at a brasserie in leisure, and watch people while sipping on a macchiato. The best part however is that once a visitor gets used to the unsaid coffee etiquettes and rules, one can always find quaint coffee shops and cafes every hundred feet. These are places to socialize, to watch people, or just bask in the glorious Parisian sunshine. These cafes are places where a keen observer can notice the subtle ways in which the French differ from the rest of the world, in terms of wearing clothes, talking and gesturing. Perhaps grabbing a cup of coffee at a cafe is one of the best ways to learn about Parisian culture!

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