Daily Paris: the black coffee gaffe

France might famously not keep race statistics, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t keep the odd casually racist expression.

Take where you buy wine, beers and groceries late at night – yep, at the Arabe.

What’s the accepted way to ask why someone from West Africa is at your well-to-do wedding? “C’est qui le Black?” [Spoiler: it was the DJ].

And what do you call it when someone leaves your night out without saying goodbye?

That’s a file a l’anglaise (“English exit”) – though to be fair, this is just as commonly known as a French exit in anglophone countries, or even an Irish exit by some Americans.

Based on my form on Friday, it’s fair to say my cultural integration is coming along better than expected.

The venue was Coutume Café, a chic Australian-Franco café in the 7th, but worth the schlepp for the great coffee it serves.

Coutume was hosting a launch of a new coffee-flavoured beer collaboration with some local brewers; think Khalua, without the stigma or (as much of a) hangover.

There on invitation of the owner, I soon meet Catherine, a lovely French woman, newly back from holidays in Southeast Asia.

Sparkling in wit, she was also striking in tan.

Thinking back to my own time spent in Cambodia, I spied an opportunity to make conversation.

“Let me guess, it’s the anti-malarial tablets that did it,” I ventured, in what was literally a malarial opening gambit.


I realised she hadn’t understood what was to me an obvious comment, so elaborated: “It’s the doxycycline antibiotics, isn’t it?”

Unsure of the path I was now on, I continued: “When I *ahem* lived, in Cambodia, I also took those pills against malaria.” Then as an addendum I added in French, “paludisme”, to underline the point.

By now I was feeling like someone who’d lived in Italy for 10 years and yet would still struggle to order a gelato.

She nodded uh-huh. “Oh? No, well we didn’t take anti malaria pills.”

Ignoring the warning signs, I forged fearlessly ahead. “Well, you see, the doxy pills make you really sensitive to the sun. So when I took them, like you I tanned really deeply and unnaturally, despite my pale skin, and well, seeing you there, I …”

With a smile she realised what I was talking about! At last!

Or, I thought she had until she replied, “My tan? Oh, it’s always like this,” adding her own addendum, “My dad is black.”

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