€4,50 by the way, if you're wondering the price. That's not really the point of this short story though. Let me back up a little. The point of this of this story begins with a girl on a mission.
That girl is me. And that mission is to find a café. Not just any café, though; the perfectly quaint Niçoise café, full of charm, ambience, and character, where one can get a decently priced cup of joe (and a small pastry for when they get hungry), listen in on French chatter, perhaps be received by friendly staff (although that’s a rare gem in France), and have wi-fi connection so I can work on my laptop. Right. Easy enough. So I googled it. No better way to find an authentic experience than the internet, huh?
I found one recommendation from a Nice blog called Café des Chineurs and reviews were good, so I decided to try it. After school on one day, my friend Daniel and I got off the bus and I told him I was headed there to do some work if he wanted to join, and he said sure. So off we went. Unfortunately, we got off the bus too early, so the place was over 20 minutes away by walking. On our way over, we passed numerous tempting boulangeries, but we weren’t sure if they had wi-fi (and I was pretty intrigued by this place) so we passed them up. We finally arrived and that’s when I saw the €4,50 hot chocolate on the menu outside. At this point, I thought, I’ve dragged Daniel all the way through Old Town, making us pass up equally tempting eateries, so we have to go inside, and this place better be good.”
Turns out, it WAS good. The inside was covered in mismatching antique pieces (I googled chineurs and it means antique items). We snagged a table by the window that looked out onto the populated Garibaldi Square. They played fun disco music. Wi-fi connection was stable. The waitresses were actually smiley and accommodating. And yes, my hot chocolate was overpriced, but it was probably the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. It’s difficult to explain, but it came with the inside of the mug coated by housemade chocolate syrup, and then a little jug of steamed milk to pour into the mug, and then a spoon on the saucer to stir. It was terribly cute and frenchily hipster. I loved every minute of it.
What I forgot at the time, though, was that part of the €4,50 covered the cost of the experience. Which is something I need to keep reminding myself of. It was not just a hot chocolate, it was an experience, which looks different for different people—a time for self-reflection or reading the news over a cup of coffee, a time to swap gossip with a close friend over a glass of Chardonnay, or a time to share tapas with colleagues after work. These were all things I saw people doing as they came and went during the two hours that I was enjoying my own experience in the Café des Chineurs.
One of the things I find most beautiful about the French culture is their ability to enjoy food and drink. I find that Americans are plagued by this culture of busy-ness and sense of urgency that detracts from our ability to slow down, engage with others or ourselves, and appreciate the very substances that our nourishing our bodies. This desire for immediacy and efficiency is exactly why take-out and fast-food is so popular in the US. Instead, French restaurants enable people to enjoy their dining experience: no waiter tries to take your plate before you’ve finished, no “boxing it up for lunch tomorrow” or calling in take-out, and no check left on the table looming to be paid—you have to ask for l’addition, s’il vous plait.
Whether it’s a small drink or a five-course dinner, I am loving and appreciating the French’s retention of the traditional meal. Even at my homestay, dinners last at least an hour (as long as I can keep up the French conversation) and my host lady insists on setting the table each time and having a proper main meal followed by a salad and then dessert—which can also be yogurt, fruit, or bread and cheese. This insistence upon tradition is a humbling reminder that we should take time out of our day to honor the very things that keep us alive: food, and the company of close friends or family.