If you’ve ever wondered why French people are so enamored with bureaucracy, and getting things precisely in order, I’m beginning to think it starts early in the morning at your corner café.
Every morning starts out with a completely blank slate.
Each restaurant, or café, or even the butcher shops and grocery shops face a piece of bare pavement each and every day.
There are tightly furled awnings.
Partitions, lines in the sand, hedges on wheels, trees in huge pots, cases of meat.
All wheeled out to mark territory.
Slowly, they transform into a restaurant. And for the restaurants and cafés, always in the same order.
Then, surprisingly, ash trays.
As we sit at the bakery across the road eating croissants and drinking coffee or hot chocolate, we get to watch the daily dance that is a French café coming to life.
Each one has its own hierarchy, but the one we’re watching, starts out by wheeling out the tables. Lots of tables.
Then, many hand carts piled high with many chairs.
Dropped off and arranged around the tables.
After that, the smaller items, placemats, or tablecloths.
An ashtray to hold down the mats.
Salt and pepper shakers.
Silverware (which will be replaced after every course, with the proper utensils for your next dish).
Glasses for wine and water.
Cards or boards announcing the plat du jour and le menu.
And outside the periphery, marked by the plastic hedges or just the ends of the tables, a black board also with the daily specials.
A podium is sometimes put in place at the entrance to the terrace, or sometimes, they try to keep the guests guessing as to where to go and who to see to get a table.
On breezy days it becomes a constant battle with the wind, and would be almost comical (okay, it is pretty comical sometimes) as staff run around trying to keep placemats blowing away or upending the wine glasses-both just waiting for the opportunity to make a mess, but the staff is used to wind, and has many workarounds.
At the end of the day, it’s all done in reverse. Dirty plates, empty bottles of water, wine, beer, soda, used glasses, piles of silverware soiled placemats, removed and cleaned.
Chairs and tables piled back on their dollies and wheeled back inside, tightly packed into the now empty restaurant and ready to do the dance the next morning and the next, and the next.
Is that so different from your préfécture demanding piles of documents in precise order?