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tips and tricks for eating in restaurants in france

What I write may or may not be true, in fact, at times. Many will know the rules, and since I am older I know as well the exceptions. I do write in generalities with those exceptions in mind.

I live in France typically 3 to 5 months each year. During that time I eat lunch literally at a restaurant each day. For example, I spend the winter months in Antibes, January through March, which accounts for 90 days, the length of a typical visa. When I return later to the states or leave the Schengen area, I will have eaten 90 times in French restaurants.

Unlike many restaurants in the United States, the French honor the lunch and dinner hours. If you want to eat something outside of those hours, you will be out of luck unless you eat fast food or go to a place which advertises itself as service non stop. Generally the service occurs between 12:00 and 14:00 or 15:00 for lunch and between 19:00 or 20:00 for dinner until the later hours, possibly 22:00.


I suggest arriving at a restaurant when it opens or within the half hour of opening. For lunch I recommend getting a table between 12:00 and 12:30, for example. For dinner you might arrive later, closer to 20:00 or 20:30, if the restaurant opens at 19:00 and closes later.

I mention this because the French love to eat and to eat at restaurants. So many times I have arrived soon after the doors are unlocked, I will be one of the first customers, and within 30 minutes to 45 minutes the restaurant will be full, complet. People are turned away. Or, if there are tables, the waiter may tell you that the plat du jour is finished. But wait, there’s more!

the ideal of calm exists in a sitting cat

There’s something about sitting on one of these chairs on a street where no one has passed for awhile that reminds you how silent the world really is, and how far apart we all are.

Looking both ways the doors and flowers look like they’re so close; you could reach out and touch them. But you can’t.

I took the #10 bus to Valbonne, France the other day, and I found an empty chair, several of them, and sat.

When did you spend a moment quietly doing nothing, just sitting and looking around and down, or up watching the wind blow the clouds, or the birds dart here and over there?

I did see a young woman sitting by herself in the shade outside the village. Someone had planted a tree for her a long time ago. She sat quietly, doing nothing, the season was slowly changing, and the tree continued to grow by itself.


Some chairs had tables for food. I had no food. No food is edible, if you don’t feel like eating. I did not feel like eating, although I was hungry. Standing is incredible, if you tire of sitting. I did not feel like sitting and and stood wandered some more.

“Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner. You must be eating some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.” —Malcolm X

How many days did Martin Luther King sit in the Birmingham jail?  “Our purpose when practicing civil disobedience is to call attention to the injustice or to an unjust law which we seek to change,” he wrote.

Life is too short. (Where have I heard that?) Much can happen when you move. There is no point in sitting around. But wait, there’s more!

kitesurfing in the bays of antibes

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man! —King Lear

The winds are blowing in Antibes, not, of course, with the same gravitas one finds in Shakespeare’s King Lear. They are more of a nuisance–embêtantemmerdant–than a metaphor for any internal angoisse I might feel.

When the wind blows the kitesurfers come out to play. I counted eight of them at the Plage de Salis, one of the beaches in Antibes. They race back and forth across the water, jumping over waves and somehow managing not to cross each others’ paths. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

I planted myself at one end of the beach where they would turn and I waited. They saw my camera. One kitesurfer, the yellow helmeted daredevil, soared into the air, letting his kite take him many meters above the water where he would hang and float before slowly dropping into the water, the wind pulling him further across the bay. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

antibes . . . faisant mon chemin dans la vie quotidienne

Je crois que je reviens à Antibes pour voir, pour revoir, pour me détacher plus facilement. C’est en tout cas ce que je me suis dit jusqu’a aujourd’hui, le 20 janvier 2017 où les États-Unis a un nouveaux président.

Pour le moment j’invente que ce pays, la France, est devenu mon inspiration, que ce n’est pas mon histoire que je décris, que ce n’est pas pour essayer de retrouver le passé que je reviens, non, c’est plutôt pour comprendre comment je peux vivre une vie quotidienne différente à l’étranger.

I believe that I return to Antibes in order to experience, to rediscover, to free myself more easily. In any case, that is what I told myself until today, the 20th of January when the United States has a new president.

At the moment I imagine that France has become my inspiration, that it isn’t my story that I am describing, that it isn’t to try to locate the pass again that I return, but it is above all to understand how I can live a different life abroad.


Le Vieil Antibes is a favorite hangout. Do you want to find me between 10:00 and 12:00? You may chance an encounter here. I go to the tabac Le Balto next door and buy Le Monde, settle at Le Vieil Antibes, and wait for the server so I can order un déca and read the paper. But wait, there’s more!