A physicist loose among the liberal arts

Plucking the Canard

As much as I respect Alan and Shawn at The Prancing Pony Podcast, I have to warn people when we can’t trust them.  Life in France is one of those times.  In their first episode on The Hobbit they repeated the slanderous canard that you can’t get a glass of ice water in a French café.

Your Idiosopher is not one to duck the obligation to give back to the community of scholars, so here’s how you do it.

The cheapest thing on the menu in most any bar is an apéritif called “pastis”.  Maybe it goes under a brand name like Ricard or Pernod or 51. It’s anise flavored, tastes like licorice. Most people don’t like it, but that’s not important right now. What’s important is that you drink it with ice cubes and water. At expensive bars, it comes with a carafe of ice.  Even in the cheapest dives, the waiter will bring you a glass full of ice cubes with a tablespoon of liqueur in it, and a pitcher of water. Pour the pastis into the gutter, pour the water over the ice, and you’re back in America for five minutes.

Pitcher of ice water, also pastis

You see? Told you!

I suppose you could try telling them to “hold the pastis”. I never tried that, because I actually like the stuff. It’s a working-class drink, totally unfashionable. My father-in-law laughed for years at the sight of me drinking like a retired plumber, because he didn’t understand the true objective of the exercise.


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  1. I was introduced to pastis by a French colleague and friend a number of years ago. He regarded it as the proper beginning to the serious business of the evening meal. I took to it straight away. Glad to meet a fellow appreciator.
    I am sure that you are right in saying that it is a working class drink but my friend was an aristocrat, a baron.
    Suddenly I wish I were in a French home or a homely restaurant drinking pastis again. Thank you for prompting a happy memory.

    • Joe

      Never met an actual aristocrat, myself. I have too much of la canaille about me. My mental picture of them, though, is entirely consistent with not worrying about current fashions, and drinking whatever they please.

  2. I feel like a lucky duck just to be named as an inspiration for one of your posts, Joe. And I also enjoy bitter cordials — from anisette to ouzo — so I appreciate the travel tip (which I will follow when I make it to France), and I also appreciate your not wasting the pastis. Cheers!

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