Parisians have perfected outdoor dining. Their interpretation of “sitting outside” is a side-by-side dining situation for two or three people around a small round table where you place your drinks and maybe food on—and you all face out and watch the world. You talk about people. You talk about the city. You are dining with Paris.
This is a brilliant dining situation. It’s awkward and tight at first and gives off the feeling that you are the stupid couple who sit next to each other instead of across from each other: it’s an obviously weird dining situation that has you facing strangers and staring out into the world instead of someone else. But you know what? This is what you should be doing if you are with great company. You already know their face and you can hear their voice. Don’t face them: both of you face something else. It’s like watching television together where the screen is interactive and all of your senses are engaged: it is real life, for you both to react and riff off of. It really is a bonding experience.
It doesn’t get old, either. Countless Parisian cafés have this setup and, while I’ve seen it American and have been confused by it, something clicked when you see masses of people all sitting, facing streets to watch all the action. Drinking is fun with a friend but, typically, one person is distracted by a view. So what if you both get the view? Everyone wins. Everyone gets the same distractions. Everyone gets the same laughs. Instead of going “Did you see that??” you all see it together. No one misses a thing.
Obviously this dining and drinking situation is for limited people, for only two, maybe three, maybe four or five spread across two tables. It’s such a special experience, though. It’s so uniquely French and so uniquely “kindly judgmental,” a quality that I am going to safely assume is what make the French so attractive. Sitting outside at a café in paris, facing the streets, watching people watch you and not watch you, is yet another thing that makes the city so special. I wonder if it can be replicated in America.