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A Spaniard orders milky coffee in France

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Default profile picture Puri Lucena

Translation by:

Nicolas niclaws

Tower of BabelCulture

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

Translated from ¿El café? Con leche, por favor