A Math major at Bowdoin College, Alex Burns participated in the Hamilton in France program during the fall semester. Right before heading back to the US in December, he explained how he enjoyed the culture of French cafés.

This semester, one of my minor objectives was to go out and get coffee as much as possible. Instead of choosing a local favorite spot in early September, I opted to expand the scope of my mission by getting off at a different metro stop every time and wander until I found something nearby. This is neither hard nor intimidating, due to just how many cafes there are in Paris. They are numerous and indistinguishable from one another, all with the same menu, similar prices, and outdoor seating facing the street that is equal part welcoming ambiance as it is intriguing opportunity to people-watch.

At first I was surprised by the small quantity of drink in my cup (ordering a “coffee” here will land you with an espresso), but these are not meant to be chugged in the 20 minute break you give yourself between problem sets. The cafes in Paris are places that you are able to — and expected to — sit and talk for hours. Walking to class in the morning I saw people getting their morning coffee and croissant. Coming home from the gym I’d see groups start to congregate at cafes after a long day of work, espressos on the table, cigarettes in hand, and briefcases on the floor. The Parisians were not ashamed of, and didn’t deprive themselves of, an opportunity to be social. There is a clear divide between work and play. I too was happy to engage in carving time out of my day to unwind with a coffee and talk to my friends as the sun set behind different scenery than the day before.

Alex Burns