Much ado was made last week about the iconic baguette being granted UNESCO World Heritage status. La baguette, c’est la France!

Still, one can live without a daily baguette, in France or abroad. I know this because I survived for more than two decades in the United States.

“Les terrasses” are another story.

They popped up over 150 years ago on the wide sidewalks dreamed by Napoleon III and the “incontournable” (inescapable) Baron Haussmann. They’ve been part of Parisian (and French) life since then for better and for worse.

Lively crowd at a cafe on the terrace

“Les terrasses” remained open during the German Occupation.

Just a few days after the horrific November 2015 terror attacks, they filled up again. Better yet, the hashtag #enterrasse was ubiquitous for weeks on social media as a giant “Allez vous faire voir!” to the cowards who had assaulted the French way of life.

An older couple sitting on their balcony terrace

Through 2020 and 2021, we all lived between lockdowns and realized what a luxury sitting “en terrasse” had become. Even as Covid still lurked and restaurants and cafés stopped welcoming customers indoors, makeshift “terrasses” popped up all over French cities along sidewalks, and even “dans le caniveau” (in the gutter.)

Nobody seemed to mind.

Cafe tables and chairs en terrasse with plants on a sunny day in Paris

If this was indeed a new war like the French president claimed, we would not go down without a fight.

Then all cafés, restaurants, pubs and bars shut down for months, including “les terrasses.” Du jamais vu. Unheard of.

We still fought, the best we could.

By May 2021 (I had just moved to Tours into one of the liveliest streets in the city, la rue Colbert, i.e. “Restaurant Row,”) the interminable wait ended. we all rushed outside and claimed our chair “en terrasse.” Rattan or not: It didn’t matter.

The weather did not always cooperate. Smokers were there too. Pas de problème. “Les terrasses” were back. So.were.we!

Cafe patrons under their umbrellas on a rainy day but on the terrace of their cafe

Of course, France is not the only country where folks enjoy life “en terrasse.” Still, French “terrasses” are unique: We enjoy them year round no matter what the weather is like outside, even in the tiniest space. They are a priority. They can take up entire sidewalks, chairs and tables strategically laid out to see and be seen.

A couple and their dog en terrasse at a cafe

La baguette? Sure, a French icon, like le jambon-beurre or le pain au chocolat…

But les terrasses, ah, les terrasses!

A coffee en terrasse on a sunny day

I am willing to bet that after losing them for a while, we all (no matter where we hail from) realize what they mean to us: a sense of freedom available every day, a place to relax, regroup, read a book, or socialize — in short a place where even the most finicky of “French râleurs” (grumps) will let go for a while and find their “Joie de Vivre” once again.

Véronique - France with Véro
Véronique of France with Véro

Véronique of France with Véro

Vero shares her homeland weekly on social media with virtual tours, photo essays, live events and other publications at France with Vero. Learn more.

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