Thursday, 10 November 2011

Out of the Comfort Zone

As the cold weather sets in and the nights grow darker, I have been buying carpets for my chilly flat, digging out my warm pyjamas, resurrecting a herbal tea habit and thinking a lot about French attitudes to comfort. I'm starting to notice that they're different.

It began with comfort food. The concept doesn't really exist here. Food is for fuel, food is for socialising, food is for pleasure, but it won't cheer you up on a dark night as you snuggle up on your lonely sofa.

And then coffee shops. When I was in my teens, Starbucks and Costa were booming in the UK precisely because you could spend your whole afternoon sprawled over a comfy armchair, chatting to your friends. In a Parisian coffee shop, you are nose to nose with your companions and elbow to elbow with strangers, sitting on a hard chair. It's great for intense intellectual conversation or people watching, but not exactly like the comfort of your living room with better beverages and no washing up. But then in France, the coffee is small, dark and energising and the women seem to have far fewer friends to catch up with.

And that made me think, perhaps the concept of comfort just isn't that valued here. The wordconfort exists, but it isn't often used with a spiritual connotation. I had to look up the translation for "cosy", perhaps because it's not a very common word. (It's douillet, in case you're wondering.)

Today, in search of some good old Anglo-Saxon mollycoddling, I abandoned my consumer and gastronomic principles and went to Starbucks for a caramel latte. But guess what?

Starbucks in Paris doesn't have any sofas.

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