Among the many surprises awaiting Americans dining in France is the near-universal acceptability of dogs in restaurants.
A restaurant I used to frequent on rue de Trevise was staffed by a smiley black-and-white Labrador. He made the rounds amid the tables during service – never begging, merely enjoying the occasional caress from a regular. Having worked in numerous restaurants in the USA, where dogs were banned, I was mildly scandalized on my first visit. The Labrador wasn’t bothering anyone, of course. My sympathy was rather for the dog, who seemed forever at risk of getting tripped-over. I can’t help but feel that restaurant service is complicated enough without the addition of panting canine landmines.
Then a few months ago my girlfriend adopted her own dog, a whiskery puppy named Spoon. Since then we have been leading our pup in and out of public establishments around Paris, like one of those couples who insist on maintaining a full social calendar with a newborn in tow.
Contrary to my expectations, Spoon is usually greeted warmly. Servers kneel and scratch her chin, as if pleased by the distraction. (The former restaurant manager in me cannot help observing that almost no one washes their hands after petting Spoon, who has invariably spent her morning nuzzling other dogs’ rear-ends and examining stains in the street.)
At a recent meal at Right Bank oyster bar
At East Paris Italian restaurant Osteria Ferrara, the chef de salle gave us a choice corner table where Spoon could enjoy some leash leeway. Unasked, he brought her a small dish of water. This gesture has since occurred on numerous occasions, at numerous restaurants, prompting the unavoidable reflection that in Paris it is easier to get a waiter to bring you water if you are a dog. (If the water is for human consumption, one must typically ask thrice.)
Possibly it helps that Spoon is small and not especially loud. She only barks to attract the attention of other dogs; otherwise she’s silent. She’s baby-size, scrappy and attentive, with the sandy coloration of a young Robert Redford. I can’t be certain we’d receive the same welcome if she were a Great Dane.
Yet one soon comes to realize it is less the size of the dog that counts, than the type of establishment. On my walks home from the dog park, I recently began frequenting a ramshackle Tunisian sandwich joint, and couldn’t figure out why everyone, clients and staff, seemed so spooked by Spoon – until I recalled that dogs are viewed as impure in many Islamic traditions. (Incidentally, a Google search for “dogs Islam” yields, as the first result, a page bearing a picture of a dog who eerily resembles Spoon.) I happen to live on a street famous for its Salafist mosque and its Islamic bookshops, and have many Muslim neighbors who greet Spoon warmly. But with the awareness that dogs offends some Muslims, it might be best to try to avoid bringing dogs to restaurants catering to predominantly Muslim clientele.
Supermarkets and shops unlike restaurants, in Paris, tend to be,more intolerant of dogs. Franprix, Monoprix, and Naturalia all insist dogs be left tied up outside. For smaller épiceries, boulangeries, and boutiques in Paris, there is no discernible rule. Celebrity chef Cyril Lignac’s bakery doesn’t allow dogs, but his hot-chocolate shop across the street does. Rodolphe Landemaine bakeries are fine with dogs. Some establishments insist one carry the dog in one’s arms. Others insist one not carry the dog in one’s arms. The majority don’t seem to care either way.
Therein lies the most dog-friendly aspect of Paris: the human scale of its service establishments. Paris apartments might be tiny and its dog-parks scarce, but in most of the city’s neighborhoods there persist a plethora of small shops and restaurants that have no recourse to any sort of official dog policy. In Paris’ small-scale businesses, the operators are the proprietors, who, as often as not, appreciate the company of happy dogs and allow their access.