The traditional French café has been in decline for so long that we tend to ignore its plight. […] Last year, 2,000 neighbourhood cafés and bistrots closed for good in Paris and the surrounding Ile de France region. […] In the 1960s, there were some 200,000 in France. There are now about 30,000.
There were four little cafés around the corner from our old office on the Place de l'Opéra. A couple even had the flipper (pinball) and 'baby-foot' games that used to be standard everywhere. All have disappeared since 2000, replaced by fashion outlets. Two Starbucks have opened alongside.
That’s Charles Bremner, a British expat, in the Times. The Starbucks thing is pretty sad, but other than that, I don’t really see anything here to be sad or protestical about. There are a lot fewer companies making tape decks than there were in the 1960s too.
The decline has become a talking point over the past two weeks after the Senate held a conference on saving the bistrot. The proprietors say they are being driven out of business by taxes and state campaigns against alcohol and tobacco. They complain that customers no longer want to buy much. They order a sandwich and a glass of water rather than the old menu with wine.
With cigarettes banned indoors and police waiting for drunk drivers, people no longer while away the hours with rounds of apéros after work. People drink less and they do it more at home.
Oh the horror! Cafes are going out of businesses because their customers want to do other stuff. Quel tragedie!
The Government is pointing the finger at the owners' failure to adapt. An example of this came from Bernard Quartier, President of the IDCCB, an industry group. In France, the most widely consumed drink is Coca Light (Diet Coke), yet until very recently the majority of bistrots did not sell it, claiming that it is not suited to their clients, he said. The modern public no longer has an appetite for the traditional menus of leathery steaks, oeufs mayonnaise and pichets of plonk. Service also has to improve, Quartier says.
This type of shit is precisely why Americans make fun of Europeans, and why they should. If your national culture is threatened by people choosing to eat and drink in a slightly different manner than they did 100 years ago, then you don’t have one.
Whenever these ‘decline of the [whatever]’ issues appear in our newspapers, we always underestimate the extent to which culture is a byproduct of necessity. The French went to cafes (and the British and Germans went to pubs) because their houses were too fucking small to hang out in, and there wasn’t anything particularly else to do that normal people could afford. These forms of public life weren’t an expression of the French (or British, or German) psyche, they were simply a response to poverty, close living conditions and lack of entertainment.
The fact that we have vastly more comfort in our homes and means of pursuing happiness in our free time is a good thing. When you find shit to do that you like, you tend to do less of the things you used to do when you were bored. All of the reasons for preserving public space—dialogue, interaction, experience of culture—are not only alive and well, but aliver and weller than they were at the height of the café era. Fuck those high-backed, checkered chairs.
Instead of pouring money into preserving a cultural eight-track, politicians should be supporting their constituents in the shit they actually want to do. Fuck it, Voltaire's already spinning in his grave because of the Cola Light thing.