Paris Eateries Seek UN Recognition as a Cultural Treasure

    17 June, 2018

    Owners of small restaurants in Paris known as bistros or cafes want the United Nations to recognize their importance to the French capital.

    They also are concerned that what they bring to the culture of Paris could disappear.

    The restaurant owners have launched a campaign. They want the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to place them on a list of cultural treasures. As "Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding," the restaurants and eateries would be protected.

    UNESCO recognizes many different traditions, from Mongolian camel rituals to Iranian sailboat building to musical prayers of native Peruvians.

    Members of a bistro owners association gathered recently at Le Mesturet in central Paris. The eatery has been in the community for a long time. It was also one of the places attacked by terrorists on the night of November 13, 2015.

    Places were people come together

    Cooks and business owners said Parisian bistros are places where many different kinds of people come together to share a low-cost coffee or meal.

    But they warn that traditional bistros are threatened by increasing rents and competition. Owners say the number of bistros in Paris has dropped by half in the last 20 years.

    Parisian bistro owners and fans worry that the eateries are disappearing.
    Parisian bistro owners and fans worry that the eateries are disappearing.

    Alain Fontaine is owner of Le Mesturet and president of the association. He said, "Our most beautiful love and friendship stories were born in bistros and on terraces."

    He said tourists who go to the city's bistros "will find a lively place, a place to share with the people of Paris – the people of Paris today, not the people of the past."

    Fontaine said the city is multi-ethnic, inter-faith and socially varied. But he said of those differences: "All of this disappears inside a bistro."

    Fontaine said a real Parisian bistro offers homemade food at reasonable prices. A full meal and a glass of wine should cost about 12 euros, or $14. A small cup of strong coffee goes for a little more than $1.

    Fontaine's association hopes that UNESCO will consider its candidacy next year. City officials are also hopeful; Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo supports the effort.

    Stephanie Mathey owns three bistros in Paris. The 39-year-old said she has always enjoyed the city's bistros, even before they became her life's work. Her husband once was in the United States for a long time, she said.

    "When he came back [to Paris], he said, ‘It's really something that I missed – the bistros.'" The pair later decided to open their own bistro.

    Fontaine still gets emotional when he thinks about the attacks of 2015. Violent extremists targeted a concert hall, a soccer stadium and several cafes. One hundred thirty people were killed.

    He said the attacks hurt because they targeted the Parisian "way of life."

    After the attacks, Parisians supported the cafes and bistros by going to them in large numbers in a show of defiance.

    I'm Mario Ritter.

    Mario Ritter adapted this story for VOA Learning English from an AP report. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    rituals –n. acts done in a special way and in the same way each time

    intangible –adj. not made of physical substance: not able to be touched

    heritage –n. the traditions and beliefs that are part of the history of a group of people

    rent –n. money paid in order to live in or use a property

    tourists –n. people who travel for pleasure, not business

    varied –adj. involving many different kinds

    defiance –n. refusal to obey someone or something

    We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.