The International Writers Magazine: Travel: France
Nice: A Cultural Divide
Any tourist visiting Nice on the French Cote D’Azur will admire the great views along the Promenade des Anglais and the rich variety of shopping offered in the quaint alleyways of the old town. In the old town area there is usually a wide mix of cultures strolling around, but when it comes to eating and drinking, the cultures do not seem to merge.
Although the main tourist parts of Nice do not cover a large area, they can be home to visitors from all continents during the summer. Besides the main coastal promenade and old town, the main square Place Massena is often thronging with camera clad wanderers. During the time of the Nice Jazz Festival in early July, there are impromptu performances in Place Massena, in addition to the main acts in the nearby temporary arena.
Tourists also use Nice as a base of exploring the rest of the Cote D’Azur and its hinterland. For one euro single with the Lignes D’Azur bus company, journeys can be taken to Cannes, Monaco and some of the more remote villages. Buses are nearly always busy and passengers represent all nationalities.
However, for the bars and restaurants of Nice, it would appear that, with a few exceptions, the cultures stay within their own comfort zones. Macdonalds next to the promenade will always attract a multi-national customer base with its fast food burger reputation. It is the cuisine available in the old town which offers a greater choice, catering for most tastes and more importantly most nationalities, in such a small area.
Take Rene Socca, for example, and to an extent Lou Pilha Neva. Both are French fast food outlets with the old town, where the customers seem to be exclusively French. At both places the local delicacy Socca is served. A socca resembles a pancake, but is made with chickpea flour. Besides the soccas, pizzas, sardines in batter and other dishes are available. You buy the food at the counter and take your tray to the outside benches and tables, and in the case of Rene Socca, the barman approaches from across the alleyway and drinks are ordered. These establishments ooze character and the food is great quality. Passionate French conversations often ensue.
||Another restaurant seemed to have a mix of French and Italian customers, serving mainly Italian food. Pasta Basta in Rue de la Prefecture is a gem of a place, offering a variety of dishes including a fixed evening menu for 14 euros. Within the choices of the 14 euros menu is the gnocchi challenge, portions of which are guaranteed to fill an empty stomach. Service is friendly and efficient.
|Cours Saleya is the main street for restaurants in the old town, although on some days a street market takes prominence before being converted into tables and chairs for evening dining. There seems to a greater mix of people here, but the large quota of pizza restaurants may account for this.
When it comes to drinking establishments, one peculiarity exists in Rue de la Prefecture. Here we have Wayne’s Bar and Bar de la Degustation within 50 metres of each other. Bar de la Degustation is predominantly French, often crowded with inside and outside, and with views of the street entertainment in the adjoining square. Wayne’s bar is a typical English pub with bar staff from Great Britain and with television’s showing sky sport. English customers frequent the bar and live bands appear most nights.
Wayne’s bar seems to typify most of the English and Irish theme pubs which occupy the tourist area of Nice. Ma Nolan’s and Akathor Pub are similarly inhabited by an English speaking majority. Walking around the old town, many of the all-night pubs have English names, the Blue Whale and Oxford being examples. These bars also serve food, chips with whatever meat or fish, dominating the menus.
Rarely are Frenchmen found in these establishments, as though they are deliberately avoided. Perhaps they are viewed as an incursion on the French lifestyle and have been opened primarily to serve a culture which has yet to accept the ways of the indigenous population.
From previous visits to France I have noticed that if you try to speak the language and engage in their customs, the locals will be very welcoming and the mutual respect will engender a very favourable atmosphere. Holidays should be an opportunity to share in foreign novelties and homeland theme bars should be regarded as a bonus only when required.
||Wayne’s also own the adjacent internet café, where ‘What’s on in Nice tonight’ is on the main computer menu.
This suggests an English/American way of life in Nice, independent from the locals.
Indeed for a true French pub, a PMU bar is a great experience. These are drinking establishments combined with horse race betting and sometimes acting as the local sweet shop. Many of these can be found in Nice, one in particular was advertising Cheval Burgers on the menu during the racing. But there were few signs of any other nationalities in attendance.
Perhaps there is a glimmer of light with the introduction of the ‘Happy Hour’ in the English speaking theme bars. These are time slots where half price drinks are served for up to three hours anytime between 5.00pm and 10pm. One or two of the French Bar/Cafes in the many squares of Nice had copied this gimmick, probably to attract custom given the price of French alcohol. Place Garibaldi At least these are attempts at a coming together.
Also, La Sansas on Avenue des Phoceens, overlooking Jardin Albert advertises Salsa dancing most nights and besides being one of the cheaper establishments, it is open to all-comers.
It is not just within the food and drink area where the cultures do not mix. The main squares and old town may be a haven of tourist activity, but for a one euro ride on a tram on a Sunday a hidden jewel can be found.
Alighting at Liberation, the adjacent park resembles a car boot sale without the cars. There are book stalls, clothing and swathes of bric-a-brac and a sizeable local crowd can gather. A browse around these stalls reveals many fascinating objects.
Overall, Nice gives the impression of a city where tourism is viewed as central to the local economy and is widely encouraged. However, it is the main squares, the old town and promenade which attract the tourists. With the city’s close proximity to the local airport, Nice is very accessible as a holiday destination. Maybe this is the reason why the restaurant and bar owners are a mixture of various nationalities.
There are dishes to suit all tastes, which may account for the popularity of the city. Perhaps this is the norm for a busy Mediterranean resort, and more remote destinations may offer a greater chance of mixing with the locals and learning about different cultures.
© John Welsh September 2011