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Un petit déjeuner parisien Posted by on Apr 5, 2010 in Culture, Vocabulary

One of the things I miss most about Paris is the breakfasts—les petits déjeuners. (Before we go any further, did you know that « jeuner » means to fast, so « déjeuner » is literally to break the fast ?)
Un petit déjeuner parisien, for me, c’est tout simple. It depends if you’re eating chez soi (at home) or dehors (out), like dans un café. At home, on prend du café, du thé, ou du chocolat (one has coffee, tea, or hot chocolate- among other choices!). Moi, j’aime bien le café déca, ou décaféiné. I usually eat des céréales avec du lait frais (cereal with cold milk), or du pain grillé (toast).
When I lived in Paris, I had breakfast by myself most mornings. I turned on Radio Jazz and listened to the same Serge Gainsbourg songs on repeat : « Si c’était trois fois rien, trois fois rien entre nous… » (For extra credit, find and listen to that song ! For double extra credit, what does « trois fois rien » mean ?) My host sister would leave out un bout de pain, de la confiture, or her yaourtière, which she used to make fresh yogurt (yaourt) every week. I’d munch cereal in a yellow bowl, or crunch un pain grillé, and daydream about an idealized version of la vie française.
For the actual ideal version of French life, I only had to go to the corner cafe, le café du coin. Even after going there three times a week for months, the woman at the counter barely noticed me. Les journaux leaned on their wooden dowels in the corner, L’Equipe (the sports newspaper) always the most abused. People breezed in and out, taking un café à emporter, or a coffee to go—I know, quel horreur !
If I could, I’d spend a whole day au comptoir, watching people on their way to work and school, dunking my croissant into my café crème. Debout au comptoir (standing at the counter), on command (one orders) un café, un café noisette, ou un café crème (parmi d’autres choix– among other choices). Un café is a coffee, of course, but the other two are hard-earned vocabulary words I hope will help you someday.

Café noisette, ou « un noisette » : Coffee (espresso) with a little bit of steamed milk and foam, like an Italian macchiato.

Café crème, ou « un crème » : Coffee (espresso) and steamed milk ; the actual name of what we call « café au lait. » Attention : il ne faut pas commander un « café au lait » dans un café français ! What you want is a « café crème », without a side order of mockery :).

On a sunny day or when it’s raining (au soleil ou sous la pluie– another great song !), my fantasy France exists at a comptoir in a café, crème in hand. As much as I love cereal and Gainsbourg, le petit déj parisien des mes rêves (the Parisian breakfast of my dreams), c’est au café du coin !

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  1. Rita Fraser:

    Feel quite nostalgic reading piece by Jennie.For me many things sum up Paris,I could walk leisurely along the river Seine for hours and always see something different,! and the sounds too.by the way not everyone in Paris drinks le café,some of my best parisienne friends drink leThé.

  2. heidenkind:

    First, I want to say I love this blog! And secondly, breakfast is what I miss the most about France, too. Panera makes some chocolate pastries that are a pretty good substitute for pain au chocolate, thank heaven.

  3. Petit dej gourmand:

    Hi !
    I love breakfast, I share recipies and good adresses on my blog, so if you come back in Paris or in France, prepare your breakfast tour visiting my blog.

  4. BfromWR:


    Just stumbled across this blog and really enjoying it. Love your description of breakfasts in Paris.

    Being somewhat caffeine addicted myself and with a potential visit to France in near future, how would one go about ordering the equivalent of your standard “North American style” coffee with cream and sugar? Commonly referred to as a “double double” in some places.

    My wife is looking forward to sampling some pastries but doesn’t drink coffee. How does one order English breakfast tea?

    Can these be accomplished without ridicule ?

  5. fricotin:

    “trois fois rien”, c’est “pas grand chose”.

  6. Jennie:

    Rita and heidenkind: Merci beaucoup! Moi aussi ça me manque. (I miss that too.)

    Fricotin: Tout à fait (exactly!) 🙂

    BfromWR: Merci- the response to your question is today’s post!

  7. petit dejeuner gourmand:

    Hi !
    You can go ‘the mariages freres” shops, they propose breakfast and you will have the best choice of tea and pastries perfumed with tea also !
    Another choice is “laduree” but at the opening only = typical pastries, croissants, mini sandwiches…

    Concerning coffee, sorry but I’m not a specialist, I don’t know where it is the best one !

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