Misinformation and a phantom coffee shop menu…

Working with my film crew here in Vienna, I’m trying to get the straight story on so much history. I keep remembering Napoleon’s quote: “What is history but a legend agreed upon.”

This afternoon, I dropped into a famous cafe with my cameraman. My hope: to find its rare surviving example of the Vienna coffee menu with a dozen or so shades of brown for customers to order exactly the milkiness of the coffee they desired. The waiter laughed in a snide way, saying some stupid travel writer cooked up that legend decades ago and journalists like you keep coming here looking for a color-coded menu that never existed.

To make my point, I too often accept false history and flat out wrong “factoids.” And, my worst fear is adding to the mess.

For centuries, French was Europe’s common language. I just assumed the term for common language, linguafranca, was literally “French Language.” For a decade that’s what I’ve been “teaching,” and suddenly someone emails me the truth: ‘franca’ is Latin for free or common. The French were named for a gang of barbarians who called themselves “free people” or Franks.

For twenty years I called Paolo, the big never-smiling grumpy man who ran my favorite guest house in the Cinque Terra, Sr. Sorriso. His place was, after all, “Pension Sorriso.” I must have introduced a hundred tour groups to Paolo Sorriso at check-in time. Then Paolo died, and I read his death notice: Paolo Favetta. I ask his brother, “what’s the deal? Favetta? You never told me. All these years I called your brother Sr. Sorriso. He never corrected me!” What’s with Sorriso? His brother, just as grim as Paolo, explained Sorriso means smile. All that time I was sleeping at Pension Smile.


11 Replies to “Misinformation and a phantom coffee shop menu…”

  1. I am one of 30 American teachers studying Mozart in Vienna for the last five weeks. Most of us have been using your guidebook(s) to explore the cities of Vienna, Prague, and others central Europe. One of our group members is from your hometown of Edmonds, Washington, and two other teachers are here from the Seatle area! We just happened today upon your blog, and as this is the end of our Vienna adventure, we would like to invite you to join us in a farewell celebration at the Schubel-Auer Heurigan in Nusdorf (on the D tram line) at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, July 12! We think you are GREAT, and feel that you have been our Guru on this trip. We would be thrilled if you would join us. Please feel free to email me if you would like more information.

  2. Thanks for modeling humility and a wonderful sense of humor about yourself. We should all take major notes!

  3. Once staying with a French family while a student, after dinner, they asked me if I would like more beef. I responded, “No thank you, I am full”, not knowing that it is slang for saying “I am with child (expecting a baby)”. Their eyes bugged out of their sockets at the little student who was staying in their home…and I was just trying to tell them I had enough to eat….

  4. It is allways such a pleasure to laugh. I would like to request you to make the “inconsistancies” you find a regular feature, they are so delightful!

  5. wow… so pension sorriso means pension smile thats awesome i thought the Favetta family was very nice my family and I told them we would definitely be back as we were having breakfast which was very good .

  6. Dear Sir,

    according to Friedrich Torberg, Traktat über das Wiener Kaffeehaus, a perfectionist amongst the former waiters of Cafe Herrenhof used to have with him a lacquer´s color scale card containing twenty numbered shades of brown as ha had the ambition, to serve his regulars their coffee exact in the same shade as ordered. And Torberg continues “Aber das waren Mätzchen” but this were trifles.

    If it was, as you told, you entered the Coffehouse and started questioning the Oberkellner, bad style. Viennese prefer an indirect approach.

    Maybe you ask, well, Kommerzialrat Mag. Dr. Kurt Tiroch, Cafe Ministerium, Klubobmann des Klub der Wiener Kaffeehausbesitzer (President of the Association of Viennese Coffeshop Owners) about this.
    Here you go: http://www.wiener-kaffeehaus.at/09_Club/9_0_Club.asp?SID=235416004155525

  7. I read your recent blog about Paolo Favetta. I am sorry to hea rof the loss of your friend and host. As an Americal looking for deeper roots and heritage I would appreciate any contact information you have regarding Paolo’s family or his brother in Cinque Terra, Italy.
    My son and I both speak fluent Italian and travel to Italy about once a year.
    I’d be interested in their place in Cinque Terra.

    Dino Favetta

  8. Thanks for the correction on Lingua Franca, I knew it was Latin but assumed it refered to the French Language (since the upper class of Germany e.g. Frederick the Great, and all the Russian aristocracy, as well as that of other nations, spoke it.)

  9. To Lisette.
    Sorry,but “I’m full” doesn’t translate to “I’m pregnant” even in French slang.
    NO WAY!
    May be were they uptight,or didn’t understand,as usually one says only:

    Or if you are polite enough:

  10. Addendum to Lisette
    (it short changed my post)
    “Merci,Je n’ai plus faim” or
    “C’etait delicieux,mais je n’ai plus faim”

  11. Hello,
    To Lisette & Michel
    As a French reader let me add a correction: In french language we make the difference between the male and female kind. The expression “I’ m full” would thus be said literally “je suis plein” for men and “je suis pleine” for women. If this expression sounds not beautiful to use as a Frenchman, it is correct for a man but very insulting for a woman : For woman one says “pregnant” instead of “it is full” (Used for female animal). Therefore, in French, the expression “I’ m full” translated with the masculine sounds just awful. On the other hand, for a woman it is very insulting.

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