Coffee, Croissants, and Culture




One the first day of my arrival I went to a small cafe a couple of blocks down from my apartment. It was about 1:30 PM and I needed my coffee, as I walked inside I went straight towards the counter and ordered with the help of a friend. However, something was not quite right, I sensed a bit of tension in the air. The coffee was great and warm but the service seemed a little cold. I questioned my actions, was it me, did I say something wrong, was coffee not an appropriate drink? As I sipped my coffee I contemplated my actions but shortly I began to daydream and people watch. I left the cafe and dismissed this incident out of my head. I figured I might have over analyzing the situation. The day was still young and Paris has more shops to offer so I went with a group of students on a stroll.

Later that same day we arrived at a bakery shop. The chocolate dipped croissants displayed by the window intrigued us so it was a must to stop at the shop. This time, however, a fellow student stop and said “Bonjour comment Allez-Vous” which means “hello, how are you”. The rest of us did the same and entered the shop. With a big smile, the store owner replied back “Bonjour, hello”. With great customer service, we left the shop. Simply greeting people and saying “Au revoir”–goodbye– makes a great difference on how people will treat you. And at that moment I realized what I had done wrong at the cafe. It was not what I said but what I didn’t say, I did not greet the employees as I walked in. In America, I am accustomed to entering a storefront or shop as discreetly and politely as possible without speaking load. Purchasing something is more than a transaction but a human interaction. Saying hello and goodbye something so simple yet in America, we don’t say it unless they are your acquaintances.

The next day I woke up early to get my morning coffee this time, however, I was ready to say “Bonjour”. As I stepped inside I greeted the person at the counter and I received a smile with a nod. For some reason my coffee tasted better, I don’t know if it was made differently or it could have been that that politeness is always sweeter. My first visit to the cafe I didn’t mean to be rude but I do recognize that America has me accustomed to a different consumer culture.

In a couple of days, I learned a good amount of the Parisian culture. There is a misconception that French people dislike Americans, this is not true what they dislike is the social disconnection that many Americans have. Even if you don’t know the language a simple “Bonjour” and “Au revoir” will do. Are large percent of the Parisian population know, however, they want you to make an attempt to speak their language. Once you have attempted to speak French they may talk back to you in English.