image from easyart.fr
It is an institution of social life for many people in Paris – the corner café, right at the entrance of the metro station.
For this blogger, there are a few unique things that make the corner cafe an enriching component of Parisian sociality:
1. Accessibility and the functionality of the corner metro cafe. They are positioned to ensure that you never have to fake text while waiting for friends who are running late. In London, I have a friend who admits to holding fake mobile phone conversations in his native Chinese as a means of escape from the loneliness induced by the bare, exposed entrances of London tube stations. Now, while the conversations with himself are interesting and maybe warrant some soul searching – the contrast between his experience and the socially engaging space around metro stops in Paris shed some light onto an interesting component of Parisian urban planning: The distribution of spaces of socialisation in Paris around metro stops are an interesting way of stimulating a vibrant social life (and perhaps of also stimulating the economy of the centre of the city) and possibly countering any temptation to feel isolated.
2. Then there is the buzz – the stimulating soundscape of Parisian Café at the metro stop. The cafe is a space for competition to be heard above the chatter of your very proximate neighbours. Seats are packed together for maximum profit.
For pavement seats, the battle to be heard is waged against with sounds of traffic, and those of passers-by. The liveliness is stimulating to the mind – and undoubtedly to the economy of the city centre.
(Here’s a snippet of the soundscape from a metro side cafe recorded earlier today: the backdrop of traffic, the contest of voices, the audibility of the street, clinking of cutlery and china, incessant conversation…an enlivening, altogether stimulating ambience…)
3. The opportunity to people gaze: There is also the phenomenon of seats facing the street. Front row seats to gaze at passers by, and possibly obtain inspiration to reflect and discuss (some people would call that gossip).
The front row seats of the corner cafe are ideal for observation (to use more academic language) of urban life, to reorient oneself and maybe also constantly update one’s perspective of the city.
4. What the corner café says about the priorities and sociology of the city: Apart from the more banal inspirations that come from the corner café experience – it is an interesting exercise to also think about the significance of the corner cafe in the geography of the city. The ubiquity of the cafe maybe speaks to the nature of the city as a sociable place – or at least, as a place that provides several opportunities for distraction. It also suggests that Paris is an interesting city to study given that it is so abundantly open to the curious person’s gaze.
The social function of the corner cafe institution, its vibrant buzz, the opportunity it provides to people gaze, and the ‘academic’ opportunity it provides to develop insight into the sociology of the city provide a 252nd, 253rd, 254th and 255th reason to be grateful for the opportunity to use Paris as a setting to study and a field to expand my understanding of myself and the world.