That is the question. My first flight alone arrived at 9:30 AM on Wednesday morning, I swiftly maneuvered the Parisian public transportation system from an airport shuttle to a city bus to get to my host family’s apartment. My apartment building was locked and a neighbor directed me to my host family’s antique shop where I could find Monsieur de Beauvais. I found Mr. de Beauvais. I had my first conversation in French. I settled into my room and gave myself a minor pat on the back for going three for three with some arguably difficult tasks to accomplish alone and in a foreign country. Two days passed before I mustered up the courage to approach the cafés.
Little did I know the real challenge would arise at 9:00 AM when I head out to get my morning coffee and croissant. That’s a whole thing here. How does this even work, though? Do I just sit down? Do I ask for a menu? Do I let someone know I’m here? Do French people just say the items they want or do they precede it with “may I have…”? Am I wearing enough black to look like a local? Is my hair effortlessly messy enough to look Parisian?? Crucial questions. And yeah, I hovered to the left of the restaurant pretending to be on my phone while I watched locals mosey in and out, observing the most natural progression of the French café experience. I’m trying to limit my cultural blunders to, like, three a day, okay?
The first approach – just coffee. I go to the bar of the café, say, “un café, s’il vous plait” (nailed it), receive a nod from the server (I’m a natural), and stood by to wait. The coffee is placed on the bar and I take one sip before thinking, “Oh, I’ll move to the one of the tables to get out of the way” because I’m CONSIDERATE. Except, no. The server quickly rushed to my side to say something quickly that I couldn’t quite understand but enough to realize I had sacrificed my first of three cultural blunders for the day. The tables and the bar are two completely different approaches, people, let me tell you.
I drag myself back to the bar and gather my euros together to pay, and find the server to give her my money. Another no. Maybe if I had hovered outside the café a little longer I would’ve noticed that you can just leave your money at your spot on the bar. That’s two of my three allotted blunders for the day!! So naturally, I decided to avoid dinner all together to limit the embarrassment and minor culture shock that emerges when ordering food. What do you mean I have too much pride? Why are croissants so stressful???
Next day I took approach number two – coffee and a croissant… at a dang TABLE, nonetheless. I did my research this time. Say “bonjour,” pick a seat, wait for server. I won’t bore you with the other mundane details that clearly mean way too much to me. All you need to know is I left with all three cultural blunders to exhaust later in the day. Success.