Without fail, whenever I find myself strolling La Rochelle's porte vieux - parking my bike, grabbing café, meeting friends at the Grosse Horlodge (roughly translated: big clock) - I will hear the strained yelling of petite french propriatess. Daily this woman stands outside her restaurant, rain or shine, snow or sleet, trying to persuade the passerbys that her bistro serves the best fish soup, mussels, etc. Think Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, singing with her hands outstretched and her voice soaring... only instead of haunting melodies, think hoarse cries.
I was thinking about this the other day, about how odd this all seemed - I have never thought of the French as the kind of people drawn to self-publicizing. In fact, when it comes to cafés and restaurants, I still feel like I'm trying to crack the 'hours of business' code. How is it that in a city with literally hundreds of tiny cafés, more than half can afford to stay closed for the majority of the week? Or how on Saturday nights the local brasserie will be locked up by 8:30? Or how I keep my fingers crossed that the small marché will still be open at 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon?
For the most part, its a bit laissez-faire; you don't see small business owners sweating over costumers, watching hopefully from the window for prospective patrons to come in for a glass of wine. Its a cultural thing. The United States was intially founded on that idea of the small business owner standing outside, beckoning the persecuted, the weary, etc. But France has no "bring us your tired, your weary"plaque at its front door- instead its "France is wonderful, of course. We don't really need to advertise. Its really no question that you would like to live, visit, or spend money here."
But this woman. At first I would roll my eyes, avoid eye-contact and hope she wouldn't single me out. 5 months later, I still have no intention of eating at her restaurant, but she makes me smile. She has such faith in her little bistro, such determination to win customers that sometimes, it makes me feel like home.