One of the most pervasive stereotypes of life in Paris is that Parisians spend their afternoons at cafés discussing the meaning of life – or the meaninglessness of existence – while looking dour under dark berets.
Sartre and Beauvoir may no longer haunt Flore, but the café philosophes in Paris still encourage a revival of this quintessential art. The berets may be an exaggeration, and few working Parisians have whole afternoons to kill but the French tradition of caffeine-fueled debate carries on.
Turn up on a Sunday between 10am and 12:30pm and you’ll see the philosophe tradition in action. I listen as young (and old) Parisians debate everything from the subject of “History – does it make sense?” to the more raucous “In vino veritas?”.
Founded by philosopher Marc Sautet in 1992, the café philosophes are designed on the principle that every resident of Paris should be able to debate Descartes. Meeting regularly at the Café des Phares, near the Bastille, inviting friends and later strangers to discuss pre-arranged topics, Sautet gave birth to a movement that’s only flourished after his death.
Café des Phares remains one of 100 “café-philos” in France and there are hundreds more worldwide. Admission is generally free – just don’t forget to buy a coffee of your own.
If your French isn’t as polished as your knowledge of 18th-century philosophers, head to Café de Flore where they have an English-language café-philo on the 1st Wednesday of every month.