Easy answer. The Café culture.
I was recently lucky enough to be invited to spend a week in Paris with my Parisian boyfriend, Arnaud, who had to return to France to renew his work visa for the US. Apart from staying with his family in Cergy for the weekend, which was both a familial and gastronomic delight, we had a corporate expensed hotel room in the 5eme arondissement near Montparnasse. Who could refuse?
Arnaud had to work for most of the working week, and I busied myself on this, my fourth visit to the French capital, with miles and miles of walking the neighborhoods, taking photographs, drinking in the atmosphere of it all. And, of course, the obligatory two to three stops per day to sample sweet delicious and watch the world go by in Paris cafes.
There is something very unique about Paris cafes, and I think it’s because they are as much a fundamental part of a Parisian’s life as is their daily commute on the Metro. Coffee is taken very seriously, and is always served as an espresso in the mandatory teeny cup. Except for me, of course, the perennially annoying “touriste” who insists on ruining her café by having it “au lait”, or worse yet (quel horreur!) in a big bowl, which I greedily devoured in a street café in the Montmartre.
I love cafes not just for the people watching and for the delicious cakes, pastries and croque monsieurs; which by the way is the world’s best sandwich. Hello? Béchamel sauce baked in with cheesy hammy wonder? I’m drooling just thinking about it. But I digress. I love cafes in Paris because each time I have a secret personal competition in my head as to where I can find the worst-mannered wait staff.
You see, they already hate me when they hear my English (or American, depends on whether you’re English or American) accented French. And they usually respond in English because they know it will piss me off. But then I go and massacre their sacred café by ordering it in a bowl and then they can’t slam down the silverware on my table hard enough.
I find it incredibly amusing. And refreshing. In the States, the over-the-top false niceness of service can sometimes be downright irritating. But they’re working for a tip, so one can understand. In Paris, I sometimes felt I had to stand and wave my arms above my head just to get a server’s attention.
It’s a good thing for French waiters that the l’addition typically includes the tip. So they can roll their eyes at you, mutter under their breath, slam your food on the table, and still wish you a “Bonne Journee” without breaking a smile.