French cafe, morning:
Walk straight to the counter, when the bartender looks at you, nod your head, point your pointer finger up, and at the same time mouth whisper, "Espresso please". Grab a croissant off the platter, pinch off a bit (do not bite into the croissant) and pop it into your mouth, when the espresso comes, down it in two gulps, do not wince if it is hot, glance at the paper, leave the amount on the tag. Say Merci, Ciao, and leave.
Doing the French cafes is not an art, but it looks like it when you see the French doing it.
It is such a part of their culture that they do it as easily as they smoke a cigarette without concern or shame.
Having a dog tag along adds to the look.
Sunglasses a must, the bigger the better.
Never put your hands on your lap.
Doing the French cafes is not just about having a drink, whether you are alone or not, doing the cafes is also about people watching. Anytime of the day. Giving the one over, or being looked at up and down, is not uncommon, the French check out everyone as if they are on a runway.
French cafe, afternoon:
After breakfast and the morning espresso/croissant scene, lunch comes into play. If you walk into a cafe after 11:30am and see some tables set up, and a few others bare, that means they are setting up for lunch. If you want a cafe either go to the counter, or sit at one of the table that is not set up.
12:30 is the beginning of lunch. Lunch is served until 2:30, but usually if you walk in after 2:00 they waiter will tell you they are closed for lunch.
At the French cafes choose a ‘plat du jour’ from the chalk board menu, or at the counter you can order a sandwich, a classic baguette sandwich is sliced down the center with butter, cheese, and ham, or butter and cheese.
Soda is not a common drink amongst adults. Though if you want a drink order an Orangina.
If you want water you will need to ask for it- "Une carafe d'eau, si vous plait."
Paris is changing, lunch is served nearly throughout the afternoon... but Paris is not France. Most of France adheres to tradition, lunch 12:30 to 2:30. How dare those Parisians breaking the rules, especially after I left and move to the south!
French cafe, after two:
French people meet after two for a coffee, if they haven't had one after lunch.
It is not uncommon to meet after two for a coffee, and chat.
Alcoholic drinks do not usually appear until after four, though usually after six.
Around four in the afternoon, a little snack from the pastry shop is acceptable.
Yes, in France there is an hour for every single thing you pop into your mouth.
When at the cafes in France, remember this rule of thumb:
Tips are not expected as they are already added into your bill. Though it is a nice gesture to leave fifty cents or two Euros for a larger meal.
When at a French cafe, after your order has been served, the waiter will not approach you again, unless you make a signal that you want something. When you are ready to leave you must make eye contact with your waiter and raise your pointer finger again. Often tourist think the French waiter is ignoring them, but that is not true. In France when you sit at a cafe or at a restaurant your time is private, and the waiter is trained not to invade your private space, unless you need them.
French cafes, after six:
Bring on the cocktail hour(s)
Known as the "Aperitif".
Drinks before dinner, not at dinner. Wine at dinner. Drinks after dinner. Coffee before four or after dinner, but not during dinner.
You see why cafes are so important? Drinking hours really means drinking hours.
French cafe after hours: Linger.
The most important rule of all if you do not want to look like a tourist... talk softly, not because your voice, accent will give you away, but because most French people do speak softly.
Please do the cafe thing regardless if it is 3:15 and you want a hot chocolate with a splash of cognac and tofu burger with french fries on the side.