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French Language Lessons: Café Talk
One of the great pleasures of being in France is going to cafés. In the morning, people stop by a café for a quick espresso or a café au lait and a croissant. After a strenuous day tracking the movements of the hero of "The Da Vinci Code" you might relax in a café near the Louvre with a dish of ice cream. Later on, a café might be just the place for a nice aperitif before dinner.
People often go to cafés to socialize or to take a break from work. Newspapers are usually available for patrons as well as restrooms. Cafés open early and frequently stay open late, or at least through the early evening. You can listen to the lesson.
For more information about French cafés and a sample menu, read Slow Travel France - Cafés.
Notes on Pronunciation
French words tend to be accented lightly on the last syllable or the last syllable of a group of words. In rare instances for emphasis or where this is not the case, an accented syllable will be indicated by ALL CAPS. Liaisons are indicated by red, italicized initial consonants (e.g. "Puis-je vous aider?" pronounced as "pwee-zhuh voo zeh-day"). See Guide to Transliteration for more information.
Where to Sit/Stand and How to Order
Most cafés in France have both counter and table service. In larger cities, prices tend to increase as you move from the bar to a table inside the café to an outdoor table. In smaller towns, the charge might be the same regardless of whether you sit or stand. For table service, simply sit down at an available table and a waiter should appear shortly.
* Notice the subtle difference in pronunciation between voudrez (voo-dray) in the question and voudrais (voo-dreh) in the answer.
** Second syllable capitalized for accentuation. Also remember that the vowel sound for this syllable rhymes with "cat".
In the morning, it's likely that you'll want to order a cup of coffee. You might try a few different coffee variations, from basic espresso to café au lait.
* See After-Dinner Drinks, later in this lesson.
** If pronouncing all of the consonants in "frwah" is too difficult, you could try leaving out the "r" which will give you an approximation of the word. However, note that "fwah" also indicates two entirely different words meaning "time" or "liver"!
Later on in the day, you might prefer a cold drink, fruit juice, a glass of wine or a beer.
Aperitifs, or before-dinner drinks (to stimulate the appetite!), are very popular. Here are a few of the most commonly found ones.
* Sometimes made with black currant syrup.
Also, many people like to stop at a café for a nightcap.
Food served in cafés ranges from simple plates of bread and jam, eaten with morning coffee, to full meals. People tend to eat smaller things in cafés – a croissant with their coffee, a sandwich for lunch, etc. Here are a few commonly found food items one might eat at a café.
* Easier, but less accurate, pronunciation: kwah-sah.
** Reminder: rhymes with "cat".
Paying the Bill
There a few different ways that you might pay at a café. Sometimes, the waiter will ask you to pay when your order arrives. Other times, he/she will bring a receipt and make a small tear in it after you've paid. Otherwise, you'll pay your bill when you leave. A service charge is routinely added to the check. Additional tips can be left at your discretion, but customarily, they are small – 5 to 10%.
You can hear this dialog being spoken.
Download MP3 soundtrack: fr_cafetalk.mp3 (1.7mb)
Early one morning, you and a friend (both male) enter a café and sidle up to the bar. The bartender comes over....
You help yourself to sugar for your coffee and eat and drink as other customers come and go. When you're done and would like to pay, your friend gets the bartender's attention.
Your friend pays the bill (it's only right – you paid for dinner last night!), leaving a small tip for the bartender, and you're on your way to the Tour Eiffel!
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