Consider the following scenarios:

  • 55 degrees and sunny, beautiful, but with a distinct chill in the air
  • 50 degrees and overcast, the air heavy with mist
  • 65 degrees and cloudy
  • 70 degrees with clear skies and brilliant sunshine
  • 55 degrees after dark

What do they have in common? Outside dining, of course.

While as an American that may not be self-evident, this was how we rolled in France, and we fit right in. Initially, the pampered American in me felt a frisson of surprise each time I was asked if I wanted to sit outside, regardless of the weather conditions the day had brought, but my natural patiophile self (I made that up) took advantage of every opportunity. Even when we sat down for coffee in the shade of an overhang on a cloudy, 50-degree day, I partook happily.

Even my most gung-ho patiophile friends at home would hesitate at sitting outside to dine when the weather dictates wearing a coat and scarf. But why, I ask? It’s too cold, some would say. Or, look at it outside! Are we only meant to enjoy certain types of weather? Can’t a sweater, a hot cup of coffee, and a warm conversation with a friend have the same effect as electric climate control?

I love this cultural difference between France–and many other parts of Europe–and the US. It reminds me that most of our daily routines are simply the result of custom. They have little to do with “can” or “can’t” and everything to do with “that’s the way we do things here.” Differences like this force us out of our comfort zones and allow us to see even the most mundane things in a new light. So bring on the cafe tables! I’ll sit outside every time.

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