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Abroad Student Appalled That European Cafès Are Not in Black and White


Photo by Daisy.Chain / CC BY-SA 2.0

When I came to Europe, I was craving to experience all that the continent has to offer: easy travel, rich culture, weird ketchup, IKEA, and the true staple of European life, the Cafè. 

The Cafè, in stark, grainy black and white and thick as a stone with the smoke from a hundred French cigarettes. Slow piano jazz and the occasional mourning saxophone fills the air. An old man in a white linen suit smokes a cigar and nurses his gin. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Stein are in the back room chasing absinthe with Veuve. I knew that this exact scenario was awaiting me on every corner of every city, from Milan to Paris. 

When I hopped off the plane from JFK, I breathed in the fresh, Italian air and made a beeline for the center of town. I knew that the quintessential European Cafè was waiting for me, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on an authentic double-mocha frappuccino with 3 Stevia’s and extra whipped cream. I could already taste all those ingredients masking the flavor of my coffee. I was ready.

Near the Duomo, I found exactly what I was looking for. The name of the establishment, Bar. Nothing exudes class and excellence quite like a mononym. I stepped inside and what came next was nothing short of the greatest tragedy of my lifetime.

When I walked into the cafè, to my shock and horror, the pigment did not drain from my skin and the room did not slowly desaturate to a deep film noir tone. There was no visible film grain and there was a glaringly obvious lack of melancholy jazz. I stepped outside, thinking that perhaps I did something wrong, but when I re-entered the cafè was still in color. This threw my whole abroad experience out of whack.

Why did I even come to this country in the first place? If I take a bomb-ass selfie I’ll have to put some sort of black and white filter over it to show everyone that I’m artsy, cool, and have at least heard of the French New Wave. That’s so fake. If the cafè was in black and white the way it was supposed to be, I wouldn’t be in such a dire emotional/social media situation.

I walked out stunned and utterly depressed. In my despair, Italy once again failed to deliver on its promises. When I walked across the street to the tram station, the skies did not open up and start pouring on me like they were supposed to. What's the point of being abroad and having an existential crisis if it's not going to at least rain a bit while I'm doing it? Nope, it was a beautiful, sunny day without a cloud in the sky. Just my luck.

At the end of the day, I've got to be more positive about this whole thing. To the cafè’s credit, there was an old man sitting at the bar dressed in a white linen suit, smoking and enjoying an aperitivo, so the trip wasn't a complete wash.