vocabulaire quotidien: sur place – when buying food or drinks at “faster” food restaurants in Paris, one has two options: sur place and emporter – to eat in the restaurant or to take away. One of the drastic differences between NY and Paris is that despite the ever-present rushed pace of daily life, Parisians always find the time to pause and sit for lunch or a coffee or, more often, a cigarette. I was walking through an upscale antique market with my parents and sister when they visited me in Paris about a month ago, and as lunchtime came the vendors nonchalantly brought out their plates and silverware, eating full meals with vegetables, rice, and meat as customers walked by. Basically, eating a sandwich or drinking a coffee as you walk through the streets of Paris is hardly a step higher on the ladder of civilization than sitting in a cage at a zoo (in other words: an uncivilized American slob).
Going to Starbucks in Paris makes me feel almost as American as eating or drinking in the street, so I tend to avoid it just as much. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being American! In fact, I consider myself pretty patriotic…it just gives me the feeling that I’m sticking out like a sore thumb, and I’m trying my best to adapt to Parisian culture.) Still, this morning I was craving my Starbucks vanilla latte, and so, what can I say, I submitted to my desires. I walked out of the cold and into the Starbucks down the street from my school and ordered a vanilla latte and blueberry muffin. (The display of food offered at Starbucks, or rather at all fast food restaurants, in France is so different from that of the United States. American Starbucks never serve coffee in mugs if you decide to drink sur place nor would you ever find tempting slices of cake in the dirty MacDonald’s of the states.) I decided to take my breakfast sur place, concluding that at least if I was going to yield to my American habits, at least I’d add a little Parisian flavor, right?
“Coming [to Paris] has been a wonderful experience, surprising in many respects, one of them being to find how much of an American I am.” –Augustus Saint-Gaudens
So I ask myself how it is possible that in an American franchise, where the store in itself is literally American, where I’m actually eating sur place and not taking my coffee to go, the most French thing possible in such a place, I still managed to order a “BREAKFAST US” as it is written on my receipt.
- Isn’t everything there inherently American style?
- But I ate sur place…doesn’t that account for anything?
And so, I’m American through and through, and maybe I shouldn’t try to fight it but rather embrace it. I am American who has fallen in love with Paris, and there will always be room in my heart for both.
“One gets a good look at one’s country from this perspective, and one learns to see one’s nation with double eyes, to feel what we have got and what we have not got. I’ve learned more about America in one month in Paris than I could in one year in New York.” – Richard Wright