The Next Generation: Café Culture in France and the Art of Taking One’s Time

For a glimpse into today’s Bryn Mawr, we’ve turned to the real experts—current students who blog for the College and share an intimate view of their experiences.

I live close to a metro station named François Verdier. It is a section of the city that is particularly lovely, in large part because of its many parks and squares. One thing that has surprised me is the proliferation of public parks and squares in France. Three large parks, the Jardin des Plantes, the Jardin Royal, and the Jardin du Grand Rond, sit side by side in my part of the city. Furthermore, the sheer number of cafés that surround each of the parks is impressive. I would say that the number of outdoor public spaces reflects the way people enjoy life in Toulouse.

The other week, I went to the water’s edge (the Garonne, a beautiful large river, runs through Toulouse to the west) and shared a pizza with a friend from university. She remarked that in the warm weather, one can find all of Toulouse sitting outside and soaking up the sun in the afternoons. As spring approaches, the parks are almost always filled with people picnicking, reading the newspaper, or sleeping. The generous one-hour lunch break, followed by the one-hour coffee break, is part of a culture I admire and that I hope to introduce to my life once I return to the Mawr! Furthermore, there is a distinct lack of laptops in cafés here. Friends will sit on the terrace of cafés before lunch, after lunch, and before dinner to enjoy each other’s company and, over a cup of espresso, watch the world walk by. There is a balance of pleasure and work here. As my host remarked, “One should take time to eat, to savor.”

I’ve observed that the conception of time in France is different from that in the U.S. While in the States, one might order a venti Starbucks frappuccino to go, here people will nurse a tiny cup of espresso for more than an hour. Although there are some fast-food restaurants, the sidewalk cafés far outnumber them. And so, whether spending a calm day in the park or at a sunny terrace of a café, people take their time in public spaces, and the spaces reflect this slow-paced and tranquil culture.

And there is always that waiter who will ask you, after a two-hour lunch, “Would you like something else? Perhaps an espresso?”