Sunday, 30 June 2013

Two coffees, please

I am breaking one of my cardinal rules today and re-posting something that originally appeared nearly two years ago on another blog.

I do like French coffee. Ask for a coffee in a French bar or restaurant and what is automatically brought to you is an espresso; small, dark, strong and (one hopes) hot. There is one bar we used to stop at regularly where I became aware of a bit of a scam over coffee and Englishmen. I ordered a coffee in exactly the same way as every Frenchman does - "Un café, s'il vous plait" - expecting the usual espresso. What came was un double, a large (double-size) espresso at twice the price. This happened several times before I twigged and insisted on being served a normal café.

The Old Bat likes her coffee white - which leads to several different complications. The first doesn't really matter, but we do find it amusing when her request for café au lait (coffee with milk) is repeated by the waiter or waitress as café crême (coffee with cream). She actually prefers milk to cream in her coffee but this doesn't matter as she is invariably served with milk. We have never fathomed why it is that in some bars, white coffee is café au lait while in others it is café crême.

The next question isn't always asked: does she want her milk hot or cold? It is always brought in a separate jug to be added as she wishes, but sometimes it is brought hot and sometimes cold - and sometimes, albeit rarely, she is given the choice. In our favourite restaurant the proprietor remembers that she prefers her milk cold, but he always makes a point of checking that is what she wants - especially in cold weather when she does sometimes ask for hot milk.

The really awkward complication arises in our village restaurant. What size cup does she want? In most places the answer is accepted readily: small. A standard espresso is served with its accompanying jug of milk. Except at Le Fourneau. Nicholas, bless him, complicates matters by asking is the size is normal, medium or large. The problem is that sometimes his 'normal' is the standard espresso but sometimes it is un double. A request for a 'small' rather throws him, even if the request is spoken in French.

Which reminds me of another complication that arose while we were in the Auvergne. It was while we were on our way to the source of the Loire and we decided to stop at a roadside bar for a coffee. There was a man behind the bar of about my age (ie getting on a bit) to whom I posed my request for two coffees, one white, one black. I spoke in French, as usual, in the expectation that my request would be understood despite my English accent.

[Going off at a tangent: I am told that the French consider French spoken with an English accent to be sexy, just as we think of English spoken with a French accent.]

So, I expected to be understood - but I wasn't. So I repeated the order. Still the Gallic shrug and a puzzled expression. I tried using slightly different words. 'Two drinks,' (waving two fingers), 'one black coffee,' (waving one finger), 'and one coffee with milk,' (waving one finger again). At this, the barman disappeared and returned with a lady (his daughter?). I repeated my request for two coffees, one white, one black, in my very best French with a sexy English accent. The lady turned to the man and said exactly the same as I had (but without the sexy English accent) and, wonder of wonders, he understood!

That is the only time I have had difficulty in making myself understood when ordering coffee.

No comments: