Beki Grinter

A tale about a bar, smoking directives, NATO, and cocktails

In European Union, France on August 26, 2009 at 2:55 pm

A man and woman walk into a bar (thanks Chumbawumba, the people in question are K&I), not a bar in the center of Metz, that would be rather too easy, but one that’s quite close to our house. It’s finally reopened after the long summer holiday, and there are seven customers. The seven customers and the bar staff (of one) all know each other… so the first thing that happens is as soon as we walk in everyone stops talking.


And then we talk, and that’s when they realise it’s completely OK to start talking again because we don’t speak French, well we do, but only enough to ask for a glass of wine and a beer.

Shortly after we get our drinks, the staff and patrons light up. Ah, how I’ve missed smokey French bars. Recently Sarkozy, following an EU directive I believe, banned smoking in pubs, bars, restaurants… but tonight in this bar, quietly hidden away from the centre of town, tonight it is time for a pack of Chesterfields.

The bar is near to one of Metz’s military operations. And this reminds me… France recently rejoined the military command of NATO, after leaving in 1966. I was thinking about this because it reminds me, like the smoking directive, of a France (like the United Kingdom) who is working to find a balance between sovereignty and the new, more integrated Europe.

But back in the bar, a round of gambling has broken out. Most of the patrons are playing some type of lotto game, no idea what kind of game it is, and I’m hoping that we won’t be “invited” to play since the instructions don’t make much sense to me. Interestingly it is a collaborative effort, involving the patrons, staff, and another round of beverages. No one appears to win, but all appear to be happy. And as they order my mind turns to another important question, what is up with French cocktails?

In fact it’s a question on both our minds. French wine and beer is quite excellent, and more generally, they really care about fluids, every beverage comes in an appropriately sized and shaped glass, it’s really a delight to behold. I mean you can find some rough stuff, but in general it’s a net win. French spirits are interesting, some are good. But, as a patron ordered what we think is a blended Scotch whiskey with a shot of orange juice, coca cola, and two cubes of ice, we paused to reflect on the grave and strange world of French cocktails. The Martini would be the classic, not like the American martini, it’s a glass of vermouth. Who drinks vermouth? I guess the same people who drink aniseed in any form.

I guess it’s a question of taste. We wonder, do the French wonder how we cope with so few glasses and wonder why all our cocktails perhaps taste rather too similar, being based largely on one or two spirits? These are the types of questions I’d love to have an answer too, but getting an answer would involve more French than I can currently muster.

As we left the bar, people said goodbye, but endearingly one called out, please visit us again. I think we will. There is more to learn about this small out of the way bar, a slice of Metz life hidden from the tourists. It’s an opportunity to get closer to a real France.


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