Notes From a Paris Cafe

WATCHING PARISIAN WAITERS is watching an angry, anxious modern dance where things break and crash and no one ends up happy. Two young men will determinedly stare ahead and chug towards each other quickly, like rushing into a mirror, and at the last possible moment stomp down hard on the black-and-white tile floors and leap to one side as if staging a choreographed fight for West Side Story, then continue forward in one jerkily memorised gesture. They do this every 10 minutes or so and it’s mesmerising.

All the stereotypes about Paris, especially in swanky cafés, are true. My server was a young pudgy-faced man with surprising seriousness and searching green eyes. He clearly resents having to warp his thick Parisian accent into English, and zooms across the floor in his white apron-skirt and black bowtie with the self-importance that rightfully belongs to the French. The host was cramming tables together so tightly that my jerky waiter had to begrudgingly mutter “Pardon, excusez moi” every time he was forced to squeeze between diners, which was often. In contrast, the patrons gibbered aimlessly, laughing and lolling with their chins resting upon their hands, indifferent to the chaotic strife around them. The ones who do vie for attention are easily (purposely?) ignored, which results in sympathetic eye contact amongst the patrons and shrugs all around.

Three things fell. The mug crashed and caused that comical silence across the floor I’ve until now only seen in movies; my fork dropped twice, to my waiter’s great chagrin; later a tray backstage toppled and many heads turned to catch the accident. This was just one hour, so it makes sense, to my mind, why these places are so expensive: their collateral damage must be obscene.

One thought on “Notes From a Paris Cafe

  1. Loved your story on the Parisian café! I remember a similar story in which a man had the ‘audacity’ to question the waiter on the fact that his coffee came without milk. In no small amount of angry, superior tones did the waiter explain that coffee comes without milk in Paris. We all felt like idiots! Oi! and this is why we love Paris!

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