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cafes in Paris -- how much time?

Ok this is probably a dumb question, but how much time do you spend in a cafe? I've heard people say something to the effect of "don't rush to see everything, stop to enjoy time in a cafe" but what exactly do you do in a cafe? I imagine we could stop and have a coffee or glass of wine, but that seems like it only takes 20 minutes or so. And yet somehow I've come away with the impression that people spend far more than that amount of time in cafes watching the world go by or something. So for people that have been there, how much time did you spend in cafes? Was it just a somewhat brief stop for a drink of something, or did you camp at a table for a while? I know there is no rule that applies to everyone, but on the other hand I don't want to miss out on the experience by cutting it too short or waste time by spending too long. Second question: do you sit at a free table or have to ask to be seated? The latter might be an issue since I don't speak French. Stories and advice appreciated!

Posted by
11450 posts

Ok,, interesting question. First off, you can seat yourself at a table usually, but, if you see some tables set with tablecloths and silverware( and others not), then those tables are if you plan to order food, so if just wanting a coffee, don't sit at them. I tend to hesitate at the cafe entrance and see if I can catch a waiters eye,, often is they see me standing there I will nod towards a table and they will nod back( meaning go for it ,, seat yourself).. there are generally no hosts,, just busy waiters,, so don't hesitate to sit down if waiters don't see you cause they are rushing about. Second,, I have spent 1/2 hour just having a quick drink and a bathroom break( very important,, never pass up chance to use a washroom, lol) ,, or I have spend an hour, writing in my journal,, postcards,, or even just reading my ebook.. just depends on how pooped out I am,, also, if I order food( which I often do for lunch0

Posted by
2 posts

In many places in Europe there are regular "time outs" in the day that Americans generally don't take, and these "time outs" are often spent in cafes. Growing up with a Swiss mother, we always had a 4 p.m. "coffee time" -- without coffee when we were kids, but always with something to drink and possibly a snack. Many Europeans end the work day with a glass of wine in a cafe, postponing their evening meal until much later than Americans usually eat. For me, pacing my day like my hosts do is part of my travel experience. Thus, in Switzerland or Germany I stop mid-afternoon for coffee, pastry (it's okay -- we walk A LOT!), a quick glance at a newspaper or guidebook, some journaling, conversation if I am with somebody, and yes, people-watching. I usually take about an hour for this, and I have renewed energy afterwards. One of the dangers for me in traveling is that I feel compelled to rush, and these "time outs" remind me to slow down and really look at the places I have come so far to experience. One of my favorite travel memories is watching the light change on the facade of Notre Dame as the sun was setting and I was enjoying an evening glass of wine in a Paris sidewalk cafe. It was an hour well spent.

Posted by
8429 posts

I've spent anywhere from 30 min to several hours. I love sitting in cafes in Paris relaxing, people watching and soaking up everything around me.

Posted by
9110 posts

If you march yourself past the tables and head for the stand-up bar, you can save money, slug down a beer or coffee in three minutes, have the whole damn experience over and done with, and get back about your business in short order. That's the way us sophisticated red-necks do it, but you have to have a certain amount of elan to pull it off with class.

Posted by
8515 posts

Say if you were in deep conversation with friends and were to hit the one-hour mark, you should re-order. The waiter and cafe are trying to make a living.

Posted by
711 posts

The short answer is, "as much as you feel like". Seriously, I'd say just wander into a cafe, select a table, and have a seat. Depending on the cafe, it could 20 minutes before your addressed by a waiter ;-) Relax, enjoy your wine or coffee and enjoy the world going on around you (there is a reason Paris tables position the chairs facing outward toward the street). My wife and use this as a ritual in every city we visit when travelling, and it is always some of our better memories. You'll probably find that your cafe visits will get longer as your trip progresses, as you become less antsy to "see it all" and just take in Europe for all it's worth, people, culture, pigeons, etc. We've spent two hours in cafes quite a few times, although 30 min feels a bit cheated, unless your late for a scheduled tour or something, so you're on the move. I encourage you to sit back, ignore your watch, and take it all in.
French not required, but I'd suggest you learn the pleasantries (hello, thank you, I'm sorry, etc.). You'll be rewarded.

Posted by
517 posts

How long to hang out in a Paris café? Why, until you've finished that short story that you are writing for Life Magazine. Until the mysterious man in a fedora slips the secret documents into your pocket. Until you fall in love with a beautiful stranger who keeps peaking at you over the top of her newspaper!

Posted by
524 posts

John You do have a great question! I agree with the PP above. Ah, Ed will just have to miss all of the great people watching. I get a different vibe in cafes at different times of the day. Another thought is to go when your body says STOP: when you are thirsty, need to use the toilet, your feet need a break, or your travel companion says you are cranky! Which cafe? I also suggest you pick cafes in Paris neighborhoods rather than in the tourist areas which cost way way more for your drink and, well, are full of tourists. Usually just a few blocks away, you will find a cafe on a quiet corner, a walking street, or a place (ie. square) where you are with Parisians. Have a wonderful, refreshing time in Paris cafes! Bobbie

Posted by
4535 posts

Agreed, spend as much time as you like. But a minimum is probably 20-30 minutes to account for waiting to order, getting your drink, consuming your drink, getting a check, paying. Just don't expect to rush in and out (use Ed's advice at the bar for that). It can take time to get your check and pay, don't wait till the last moment and then try and rush that, it is considered rude. Drinks are expensive at cafes because you are "renting" the table for as long as you like. Don't feel you must leave once your drink is empty and you will not be pressured to have another. You can people watch, read, chat, flirt, or engage in espionage. Just don't get caught flirting or spying... Often a small bowl of nuts or nibbles will be brought with your drink. There is no charge in Paris for that. Unless set for dinner, sit at any open table. The waiter will find you. It is polite to say hello in French. Never call a waiter by saying "garcon" which means "boy." It is polite but not mandatory to give the waiter a few coins (often just round up to the nearest Euro). BTW - your questions are not so silly - most Americans are not familiar with the etiquette.

Posted by
8293 posts

Thomas of Vienna: Loved your answer! It made me laugh out loud. Thanks.

Posted by
147 posts

Norma, it made me laugh out loud too. I love Thomas' imagination. Wouldn't it be a much more interesting world is one or more of those things were to happen in our busy, hectic world?

Posted by
1806 posts

It's not a dumb question, but it is definitely odd. It's almost like you are wondering if there is some magic number to strive for where if you sit in a cafe for X-minutes you will have an "experience", but if you leave by Y-minutes, you will have either not stayed long enough or wasted your precious sightseeing time. Gotta agree with James, that sounds very much like something that you feel is necessary to check off your list of must-dos in Paris. Treat Paris cafes the same way you would your favorite bar in California. Some days in California you may just pop in and have 1 quick drink and then be on your way, other days you may park yourself on a stool and talk with friends while you eat dinner or watch a game on tv and you are occupying that bar stool for a few hours. There is no guarantee you will have any sort of "experience" when you sit down in a Paris cafe. Sure it's possible you may strike up an interesting conversation with someone sitting at a nearby table and if you are outside, you can see an endless parade of people passing by - but it's just as possible that you might have no other "experience" other than resting your tired feet while you pay a premium to have a drink at a table. If cafe life is not your thing, you could always just grab a free seat in a local park and drink from your water bottle while you watch the world pass.

Posted by
711 posts

In John's defense, I don't necessarily think he's viewing it as a checklist item, but more as an opportunity. We had to experience a first time for everything (i.e. Europe, France, Paris, Cathedral, Cafe, etc.). While he may not think of a cafe visit as an important part of his trip, he may learn to comprehend the French culture while there and begin to appreciate it. Or, he may not. I remember my first (reluctant) trip to Europe, I was blown away by everything that Italy had to offer. I didn't see it coming (this was my wife's idea). I don't think that I stopped once in a Roman Cafe to savor the moment, for fear that I would miss something in my remaining days in Rome. 3 weeks later, I was chilling at a table in Venice's residential neighborhood for an hour enjoying my wine, writing in a journal. People change, even in 3 weeks...

Posted by
1821 posts

I'd rather sit at a cafe (in a nice area with good people watching) than go to yet another museum. The first thing that strikes you is all the chairs are facing the street. If two people sit at a table they are next to each other so nobody has their back to the street. The idea is to people watch. I normally can't stand cigarette smoke but there it doesn't bother me. Have a glass of wine in the middle of the day, sit for an hour or more and take in some authentic French culture. To understand the people you have to get into rhythm. Take a nap afterward, plan a late dinner. You'll be amazed at how tight the waiter's shirts are. Running around trying to see everything isn't my idea of a vacation.

Posted by
3696 posts

@Thomas... name of the cafe please???? I am definitely a cafe person... just waiting for all the experiences it has to offer...I have lots of down time in my travels and frankly don't care if I miss the 'must-sees'... who chose those anyway? I love hanging out in cafes just wasting that 'precious sight-seeing time.'

Posted by
334 posts

Everyone has given you a good picture of cafe sitting. I like to investigate my general location and its cafes at least once. Generally I have found the most interesting cafes are around the streets close to a metro station. I go from corner to corner looking at the menu, more to see the patron mix than what there is to eat. Does one seem to be busier than another? Are they eating or just drinking? Is there anything else going on, like street entertainment or a roving musician (St. Michel). I found the least exiting have direct views, closest to places ( Notre Dame, Louve). I have also had some good meals, croque monsuier, chicken and steak/fries at cafes. My least favorite was anywhere on Champs Elysees. I will go anytime to a cafe but I usually like to sit after a day of being out and about the town, usually before going back to the hotel to regroup for the evening. I have gone for a standing croissant and coffee in the morning, waiting for shops to open at 10am, lunch at noon, stopping to use the restrooms with a cup of coffee. I stay as long or as short as I want. I am a big market person, hitting as many morning markets to people watch, eat street food and gather gifts. I love Paris and as Hemingway said "A Movable Feast".

Posted by
711 posts

@Terry Kathryn: "who chose those anyways?". Rick. ;-) Seriously, though, I agree. With each Euro Trip that I take, I focus less on the sights, and more on the "moments". Cafes deliver.

Posted by
776 posts

thanks all for the advice. I'm looking forward to visiting a few cafes on my trip.