Tea to go, an alien concept in France

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

May 05, 2002|By Patricia Soper | Patricia Soper,Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

I tried to learn French before my first trip to France. Once there, I managed to find bathrooms, ask directions and buy lunch, though I ate ham sandwiches three days in a row because jambon was the only menu item that I recognized.

There was, however, one need that went unmet. Each day, after sightseeing, I imagined how pleasant it would be to sip a cup of tea on the bus ride back to the hotel.

Little did I realize that the common American practice of tea or coffee to go is a cultural anomaly in a country where chefs are a national treasure. Several times I innocently approached a shopkeeper and asked for tea "aller" -- to go. I received a variety of responses and, once, a can of iced Lipton, but never my favorite hot, soothing beverage.

After about a week, while in Chartres, near the famous cathedral, I approached a waiter at an outdoor cafe and tried again, using my version of his native language and universal hand motions.

The young garcon was cordial but clearly perplexed, so he beckoned the maitre d'. The two engaged in an animated discussion about my request, both studying me with a great deal of curiosity.

After I repeated myself, the waiter questioned, in careful English, "Do you mean you want to take it with you?"

"Yes, yes!" I exclaimed enthusiastically, but the young man countered, his arms waving passionately, "oh, no, no!" So, once again dejected, I bought a postcard and moved on.

Later that same day, I made a final attempt. I assessed and entered a small luncheonette and politely petitioned the hostess: "Bon jour, Madame, avez vous tea aller?"

She smiled, melodically answered, "oui, oui, Madame," and called over to the service area.

Relieved, I stood at the counter, awaiting my order, my mouth beginning to water. But after a few moments, I felt the stares of the woman who had greeted me and the elderly man who was boiling water.

The cook eventually said something and pointed to the street. I realized he was directing me to sit at a patio table. I obeyed and minutes later he walked toward me. He carried a tray upon which rested a china tea set complete with pot, cup, cream, sugar and silverware, which he served ceremoniously.

Finally I understood how alien Styrofoam is to this epicurean society, and, checking my watch against the bus departure, simply uttered "merci, Monsieur."

I sat back, surrendering to the wisdom of the unhurried, people-watching lifestyle of the sidewalk bistro and delicately raised my warm and splendid teacup in silent affirmation.

Patricia Soper lives in Copiague, N.Y.

My Best Shot

Silence and sunrise

Colleen Donnelly,

Baltimore

During a weeklong silent retreat at Lebh Shomea in Sarita, Texas, I enjoyed peace and solitude in many places. My favorite place was the front porch of the Spanish-style ranch house where I stayed, at sunrise. The time I spent there was precious: The dewy cool of morning would soon give way to the blistering heat of a South Texas afternoon.

Readers Recommend

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Julia Heiner, Columbia

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Saratoga, New York

Fred Weiss, Baltimore

"For a weekend of family fun, visit Saratoga Race Course, America's oldest race track, in Victorian Saratoga Springs, N.Y. During racing season, which begins in July, check out the horses in the outdoor paddock before placing your bet on some of the best thoroughbreds in the East."

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