National Coffee Day, The French Way

Typical French breakfast: un express and a croissant.

Apparently today is National Coffee Day. The first thing I thought when I saw the string of tweets this morning related to National Coffee Day was “Gawd, how American!” (A week in France isn’t without some snobbery, right?) But in the American spirit many coffee chains like Dunkin are offering a free cup of Joe, and those that aren’t (cough, Starbucks) are being slammed on social media sites for not doing so.

The mere mention of coffee makes me nostalgic for France.  During my little sojourn there, culture differences began to reveal themselves the way those things do throughout international travel. This topic was often a coffee break discussion and I found myself appreciating NYC/ America more in small ways. (Note: this appreciation somewhat dissolved when I returned to discover Michael Vick dog jerseys for sale and 2010’s political campaign ads.)  So here are those glaring differences and things New Yorkers/ Americans take for granted, starting with today’s namesake, of course:

Coffee.  There is no brewing of coffee like we do here in America, but rather everything is espresso based. The most common way to drink this is obviously a straight up espresso, which the average French person drinks five of a day. You have your other variations—latte, café au lait, cappuccino, etc. Now I love a good espresso but, my goodness, my stomach and brain can’t handle that much acidity and caffeine in one day!  The brewing we do over here is a good neutralizer and I appreciate that baristas don’t look at you like you have eight heads if you ask for “decaf.”

Bills, bills, bills. Every meal in France takes approximately two hours.  Tip is included in the price of your meal so waiters are not working to earn your wallet’s affection.  Each restaurant only has a couple servers that are hustling like crazy to the entire joint, and consequently things take longer. Much longer. You may ask for l’addition and it arrives 45 minutes later. But you’re supposed to be sipping un express or two after you eat anyway. I love the idea of including tip in menu prices, however, I love that it doesn’t take hours to pay a tab here in NYC—quite the opposite actually. Someone actually showed me a regression analysis on restaurant table turnover in Manhattan restaurants. (The French only plan for one place setting per evening in nice restaurants.)

The French win the food round. Fresh, flavorful and naturally grown strawberries at the market.

Convenience. Here in NYC we can basically have anything delivered with a mouse click or phone call. And I mean anything; seriously let your imagination run with that. The French don’t take home leftovers or have coffee in to-go cups (hence the two hour meals, huh?).  I can also get a cab in less than two minutes, with the exception of rainy days and New Years Eve.  Trying to get one in Paris at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday took more than 45 minutes and consequently we missed a train.  Here in NYC when you get a MetroCard you can have multiple rides on one card, or say put $20 on a single card. In Paris, if you get a 10-ride pass you actually receive 10 individual tickets.  On one of our winery visits, the guide was kindly assembling the bill for our wine loot when the stapler broke. He just shrugged and said, “Welcome to France.”

To say that America has life all figured out would be a gross misjudgment. The French undoubtedly win the food round. Everything I ate last week was fresh, preservative-free and did not arrive in a plastic package.  There will be a French food post soon, and until then I’ll drink my express in a to-go cup from the French café downstairs and daydream of the Frenchie No-Carb-Left-Behind-Yet-I’m-Still-A-Skinny-Bitch lifestyle. Au revoir!


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