“Water is for taking a shower!” my host brother proudly proclaimed, taking a sip of his wine. I had just made the mistake of asking for some during a meal. We were sitting around the dinner table which was set with several different glasses: one for champagne to toast, one for white wine with the appetizer, and another for red wine to accompany the main course. Three glasses for each person, but not one was meant for water. There was no room for that banal liquid at this royal banquet. I drained my champagne glass and tried discreetly to fill it with water while everyone else was focusing on the fois gras.
At a touristy café near the Abbesses metro in Montmartre, my husband and I sat down at a café to have a drink. I ordered a Perrier, he a café. Thirsty after his coffee, he asked for a glass of water. We waited. The waiter did not bring it. I asked for a glass of water. The waiter never came back. I asked a different server, who eventually set down a tiny glass filled a quarter of the way full with dirty liquid. The message seemed to be that either we could buy another bottle of water for four euros, the same price as a beer or a glass of wine, or we could have nothing. Never mind the fact that we had both already purchased drinks.
I admit that in the U.S. I took water for granted. In restaurants in the states, I was used to the waiters coming around to fill your water glass several times during the meal, to the point where you wanted them to go away. If only I had known what a luxury that was. Now I dream about those bountiful pitchers of ice water. When we go out to eat in Paris, I am secretly relieved each time a carafe of water is set down on the table.
When I go to my student’s apartment to tutor her in English, she always asks if I want a coffee. Even when I don’t, she does, and she acts surprised when I ask for water after we have been chatting for an hour and a half.
I understand now that to really integrate into French society, I’ve got to trade my water for wine. They are the same price here, after all, and no one wants to have to use a dirty restaurant bathroom anyway. But after all that beer and wine and coffee and talking and smoking and eating, don’t French people get dehydrated?
© 2011 Pasa’s Paris