Culture

A Spaniard orders milky coffee in France

Article published on Sept. 23, 2010
Article published on Sept. 23, 2010
You don’t have to head for the French capital to have problems at the café counter. In Malaga in southern Spain, you can order a 'cloud', a 'shadow' or a 'half', whereas in France you order a 'nut' ... anecdote

I know, I know, a cloud (una nube) is actually a glass of milk with a tiny dose of café, a shadow (una sombra) is a bit more darkened with café and a half (un mitad) is half of the former and half of the latter. It’s much more original than the gaudy, commercial names used by the likes of Starbucks and co – and much cheaper, believe me!

In Paris, the poor waiter beholds me. My language skills stretch to bonjour and merci - it's my first day here, and I hide behind the café menu to see which word resembles the café cortado (cut) the closest. I order a noisette (nut), which works - it's an expresso with a dash of milk. It’s much simpler in countries like Germany, Poland or England, who don’t really have a specific word to opt for the classic Italian macchiato (stained).

Asking for a café in Spain will bring you an expresso (ristretto if you want a shorter shot of coffee). In Poland, asking for ‘a cafe, please’ (poproszę kawę), you’ll get an Americano. The French call it ‘sock juice’ (jus de chaussette) – the name that the French give to bad café, which tastes like the water that you wring out of a wet sock.

As for me, I’ve loved cafe since I was a little girl. My mum often tells me (what would we do without a little anecdote from back in the day?), that when I was one she’d dip the baby bottle teat into café and that I loved it. In Germany it was apparently not such a good idea a couple of centuries ago. Children were taught the Kaffe-Kanon ('coffee canon') song to avoid them imitating their café-drinking parents. Though by today’s standards, the eighteenth-century rhyme by Carl Gottlieb Hering has become ever-so-slightly politically incorrect...

C-o-f-f-e-e, don’t drink so much coffee!

This Turkish drink is not for kids,

It weakens the nerves and makes you sick,

Don’t be a muslim, who can’t give up coffee!

Illustration: ©Henning Studte/ videos German song by skdberlin and French song by futureshorts/ both via Youtube