Monday, April 26, 2004

Pink, Blue, or Yellow?

Yeah, you Americans know what I'm talking about.

One of the things I cannot wait to get back to the USA for (in addition to the free refills) is the delightful assortment of artificial sweetners located on every restaurant and cafe table in the country.

I was never a really huge coffee drinker until I came to France. There's something about this country, especially in nice weather, that makes you want to sit outside with a book or journal for hours while sucking up super strong espresso.

My "usual" is the grand cafe creme: 2 shots of espresso with a dairy product to cut the strength (ha). I say dairy product because you can never actually be sure HOW they are going to make your cafe creme. Sometimes they give you a side of real cream to pour in (mmmm...listen to my arteries clog). Sometimes they give you a side of milk (HELLO--if I wanted milk I would have asked for cafe AU LAIT). Sometimes they give you a packet of crappy half and half (turning your coffee color from dark black to light black), and sometimes (my favorite) they make the coffee with steamed milk already inside so it's nice and warm and foamy (I will make a cream exception for coffee prepared like that).

Coffee is always served with sugar in long colorful tubes or in adorable little cube form. Somtimes (a lot of times) they even give you a little square of dark chocolate.

The problem is that if you are a freak like me, and don't eat real sugar, you are screwed. First, because most places do not carry aspartame. Second, because even if they do have it, you must ask for it, and are forced to try to pronounce the word "edulcorant." And I just can't ever seem to get anything from the servers but funny looks when I try to say that word.

So I gave up on the asking bit really early in the game, and decided that the easiest solution to my coffee dilemma would be to carry around little dispensers of "edulcorant/comprimes" in my purse...tiny little tablets of cancer-causing memory-loss aspartame. MMMmmmmmm...

I am proud to say that during my time here, I've mastered the art of discreetly adding the little comprimes to my coffee. The secret is to place them in a convenient location on the side of my purse where I can casually slip the box out, palm it, then wrap my hands around my coffee cup so as to look like I'm trying to feel the steam on my cold little hands. Then I just flip my thumb down on the dispenser and out pop my artificial goodies. Three to be exact. Then I try not to feel like too big of a freak when people notice me do it anyway.

It seems that even the French producers of edulcorant understand the problem of sweetner not being provided and the embarrassment that carrying around your own aspartame can cause. Thus, they have created fashionable comprimes carrying cases in leapord print, stripes, and polka dots, available at your local Monoprix (Yeah, I'm for real).

I was all for buying one so I would look cool when I went for my next warm beverage, but unfortunately, along with these stylish containers come stylish prices. I am thus forced to buy the generic Monoprix brand and suffer further stigma for my aspartame habit.

So I've been looking forward to my return home, where I can sweeten my coffee in peace. The big irony, however, is that while the good ol US of A will happily provide my heart's desire of artificial sweetners, and even though I can pronounce the words Equal, Sweet and Low and Splenda with no problem, the coffee in my country cannot hope to be as good as the cafe here. Not even Starbucks.

To make up for my loss, I'm toying with the idea of bringing one of these fancy aspartame carrying cases home...as an end of the year splurge.

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