In a double pack: A race in Paris celebrates the waiters and waitresses who nourish the life and soul of the city

Paris, France –

Usain Bolt’s sprint world records were never in danger. On the other hand, even the fastest person in the world probably wouldn’t have been that fast balancing a tray with a croissant, a coffee cup and a glass of water through the streets of Paris without spilling it everywhere.

The French capital revived a 110-year-old race for its waiters and waitresses on Sunday. The run through central Paris celebrated the skilled and, by their own admission, sometimes famously humorous men and women without whom France would not be France.

Why? Because they make France’s cafes and restaurants run. Without them, where would the French gather to give the world the right to drink and eat? Where would they fight and fall in (and out of) love? And where else could they just sit and unwind? They have written songs and poems about their “bistrot” and are so attached to their unpretentious pubs that have nourished their bodies and souls for generations.

“There you will find the beautiful flowers of the population,” sang the songwriter and poet Georges Brassens, but also “all the miserable people who have lost their happiness.”

So drumroll, please, for Pauline Van Wymeersch and Samy Lamrous – Paris’s newly crowned fastest waitress and waitress, and therefore ambassadors for an important French profession.

And a big task ahead: taking food orders and quenching the thirst of millions of visitors who will flock to the Paris Olympics this July.

The revival of the waiter’s race after a 13-year hiatus is part of Paris’ effort to stay in the Olympic spotlight and give its best at its first Summer Games in 100 years.

The first waiter’s race took place in 1914. This time a few hundred waiters and waitresses wore their uniforms – with the finest sports bow ties – and loaded their trays with the required pastries, small (but empty) coffee cups and a full glass of water for the two-kilometer loop with start and finish at the town hall.

Van Wymeersch, the clear winner in the women’s category in 14 minutes and 12 seconds, started as a waitress at the age of 16, is now 34 and said she couldn’t imagine any other life.

“I love it as much as I hate it. It’s in my skin. “I can’t help it,” she said of the job. “Its hard. It is exhausting. It’s demanding. It’s 12 hours a day. There are no weekends. There is no Christmas.”

But “it’s part of my DNA.” “I grew up with a tray in my hand, so to speak,” she added. “I was influenced in life and in my job by the bosses who trained me and by the customers, by all the people I met.”

Van Wymeersch works at the Le Petit Pont café and restaurant opposite Notre Dame Cathedral. Lamrous, who won the men’s race in a time of 13:30, waits in La Contrescarpe in the 5th district of Paris. Their prizes were medals, two tickets each to the opening ceremony of the Olympics on July 26 on the Seine and an evening in a Paris hotel.

Although everyone is smiling on this occasion, the competitors admitted that this is not always the case when they are in a hurry at work. In other countries the customer may always be right, but in France the waiter or waitress has the final say, reinforcing the restaurant’s reputation for being brusque, moody and sometimes even rude.

“French pride means you don’t want to be trampled on in small jobs like this,” said Thierry Petit, 60, who is retiring in April after 40 years as a waiter.

“It’s not a lack of respect, but more of a state of mind,” he said. Switching to English, he added: “It’s very French.”

The capital’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said cafes and restaurants were “truly the soul of Paris.”

“The bistro is where we go to meet people, where we have our little coffee, our little drink, where we also go to argue, to love and hug each other,” she said.

“The café and the bistro are life.”

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