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Embracing Café Culture in France

Certain aspects of the French lifestyle come naturally to me. In fact, some have always been a part of my life, like keeping my makeup minimal, wearing classic clothes and shopping at weekly farmer’s markets. Other aspects of French life take some adjustment. France’s café culture is one. While I love stopping at a café while traveling to rest and quench my thirst, frequenting cafes is not something I do on a regular basis. But for the French, café culture is a habitual part of their lives — and for good reason.

What I love about the café culture

For the French, taking a break for coffee or another type of hot beverage is something they do any time of the day, whether it’s at a sidewalk café, a bar, a boulangerie or a tabac (a shop licensed to sell tobacco products). Just as the English do afternoon tea, the French take time out of their day to rest, recharge and connect with others.

After 5 pm in France, you have only to pass a café to realize the French know how to enjoy life. Whether you’re in Paris or a small village, the cafes, bistros and bars fill up with folks of every age. You won’t see people eating anything more than a charcuterie plate as most restaurants don’t open until 7:30 pm. After the workday, and before dinner, is the time the French enjoy an aperitif, whether it’s a glass of wine, a mug of beer or a cocktail. Most importantly, it’s a time for good company and good conversation with friends, family and co-workers.

Why I resist the café culture

When I see friends at the weekly market, they always say, “Let’s stop for a café.” The same is true if I'm shopping with a friend, happen to run into a friend or traveling with a friend, it’s always, “Let’s stop and have a café or a glass of wine.” So often the first thought from my type-A, American brain is, “Why? Why stop? I don't have time. I have things to do.”

Why do I resist this French way of living? I see the benefits and importance of taking a break during the day and getting together with friends after work, but my American habits are deeply ingrained. I’m not used to slowing down and having these mindful moments. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Why are Americans in such a hurry? We can take a lesson from the French to slow down, take a break and spend more time with our friends and family. From my own work experience in corporate America, I know many employees barely take time for lunch, and breaks are rarely taken if not mandated by law. There’s always so much to do, as well as the fear your boss or co-workers will see you as unproductive. Yet just the opposite is true. Taking short breaks can make you more productive and focused.

I’m envious of the way the French come together at cafes after work. It shows they prioritize time spent with friends and family. In America, we’re often too exhausted after work, and live too far from each other without good public transportation. The last thing we want to do is extend our commute time. Why make the effort when it’s so much easier to go home, veg in front of the television and catch up on social media? No wonder there is an epidemic of loneliness and isolation in America. According to a recent API poll, one in three Americans feel lonely. While social media and other technology enables us to connect to others, it doesn’t replace the benefits of in-person interaction. And a lack of social connections can take a toll on our mental health.  

Incorporating café culture into my life

Café culture plays a valuable role in the lives of French residents. It’s a way to spend quality time with friends and family, to catch up, discuss, relax and let go of your cares. Gradually I've come to appreciate the value of this time and have incorporated it into my life.

I relish café time with friends. Taking a break from my workday and connecting with others leaves me feeling refreshed, energized and with a better sense of balance in my life. Truth be told, I'll choose time sharing a glass of wine and good conversation with a friend over watching a TV show any day. Even when I’m out alone, I find it beneficial to stop at a café and spend quiet time people watching. It’s a gift to myself; a moment to remind myself to be fully present.

You don't have to visit or live in France to enjoy café culture. Take advantage of the cafés, coffee shops, restaurants and bars where you live. Invite a friend for coffee. Join friends and coworkers for a happy hour. Make café culture a regular part of your life.



Hi, I’m Lori Cronwell. As a writer and frequent traveler, I admire the values most Europeans embrace: choosing quality over quantity; residing in smaller, more sustainable homes; working less and spending more time with friends and family.

Those values were key in my decision to drastically downsize to a 700 sq. ft. accessory dwelling unit (ADU) with the goal of creating a simpler, more sumptuous life with time for travel.

Slow travel, that is. Spending more time in one place — even if it’s just a week. You'll not only spend less, you'll discover a deeper and more meaningful travel experience.

Please subscribe below and join me on a journey to find affordable ways to explore Europe in the slow lane and to live a more European lifestyle every day of our lives.

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