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What Parisian Cafés Taught Me About French Culture

By Nathalie Bradford

My heart was racing as I stepped off the plane and into the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. The exhaustion I felt from the twelve-hour flight melted away almost instantaneously. Having never lived on my own before, let alone in another country, I had no idea what the next five months had in store for me but I was excited to find out.

I crammed my massive suitcases into a taxi and did my best to pronounce the name of the street my apartment was on. After I arrived at my apartment I unpacked quickly and attempted to map out a way to get to my first class, which began the next day.

After about two hours of taking the wrong metro lines I managed to locate my classroom and ran inside. The professor gave a brief introduction to the course and began to explain our first assignment. We were to conduct a semester long ethnography on a Parisian café of our choosing. This meant we needed to choose a café and visit it at least 3 times a week for two hours at a time until the end of the semester, making detailed observations of everything and everyone while we were there. Initially, this assignment did not seem too intimidating to me; I mostly saw it as an excuse to drink copious amounts of coffee.

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