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'They are squatters': Are Paris cafés right to clamp down on laptop users?

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
'They are squatters': Are Paris cafés right to clamp down on laptop users?
A customer in 2007 smokes a cigarette while drinking an espresso at a Paris café (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP)

Taking a laptop out in a Parisian café can be a risky move these days, as cafe owners move to stamp out computer use in an apparent effort to preserve the essence of "café culture." But are they right to?


For over 150 years, Parisian cafés have offered a space for artists, authors, and every-day people to meet and share ideas.

From the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Jean-Paul Sartre to normal working people looking to grab a coffee before work, cafés have been an integral part of the city's landscape for generations.

These days they are used by a generation of remote and mobile workers - perhaps fed up of working from home in tiny apartments or in need of a coffee, a warm place and power source in between appointments.


Freelance journalist and editor Caroline Harrap found herself in a Paris café - a "modern" and "buzzy" spot in the Marais. Finishing up a meeting, Caroline resolved to spend a bit more time enjoying the café.

With a freshly ordered coffee in hand, she pulled out her laptop, hoping to answer a few emails.

"I was then immediately told, in no uncertain terms, that laptops weren’t allowed there. So, I quickly closed it and apologised." A bit taken aback, Caroline had not experienced this in a Parisian café before, and she had not noticed any signage prohibiting computers when she walked in.

"I was surprised to be in trouble simply for opening my laptop," she said.

Caroline took to social media to lament about her experience, concluding with "lesson learned."

But the freelance journalist and editor is not the only person to have questioned Parisian cafés' computer rules on Twitter - other users have found themselves bewildered at the anti-laptop policies as well.

For café managers asking customers to leave the tech at home or in their bags, their reasons vary - from hoping to build a more community-oriented space to avoiding the laptop-users that camp out for hours with a simple espresso. But not every Parisian café is telling people to ditch their Macbooks - others see laptop-usage as proof the city's café culture is modernising.

The difference in perspective tends to come down to what "café culture" is all about.

Laptop-free zones

"When I opened this space, I wanted it to be about community and sharing," said Jeff Hargrove, the owner of Fringe Coffee in the Marais.


A small, artisanal coffee shop, Fringe is situated near the popular Marché des Enfants Rouge in Paris' Marais district. By Jeff's estimation, it can fit a maximum of about 20 people. The tables are close together, and the area behind the coffee bar is well-equipped with state-of-the-art coffee-making equipment. The menu offers treats like "bio" (organic) granola, vegan banana cakes, and a wide variety of coffee options from espresso to pour over. Artistic photographs decorate the walls.

To Jeff, Parisian café culture is about being able to sit down and talk to your friends. "It's a place to meet," he says.

"That's why I have photography here. I have regulars that have met here and now they're friends. If everyone is behind their laptop that cannot happen," Jeff.

'We call them squatters'

When entering the shop, a sign on the front door informs customers that laptops are not allowed. It's hard to miss.

"I'm not against laptops, but I am against the minority of users who will sit down for four or five hours, with the cheapest drink. That's not respectful to the space, so the decision came about because of those few who do that. We call them squatters," he says.

"We make less revenue at the end of the month, because the business costs are higher," Jeff says, adding that Fringe is "not a co-working space."

The fear of being perceived as a co-working space is not specific to Fringe, Le Café Foufou, just a short walk away, has the same concern.

When compared to Fringe, Le Café Foufou is larger, and aesthetically bears more similarity to the traditional French café - with a large terrace and hallmark round tables. While Le Café Foufou has not banned laptops outright, they are trying to avoid seeing their coffeeshop "transform into a co-working space," according to Aurel, a server at the café. 


"Laptops change the ambiance," he said. "We are trying to temper the use of them." Aurel also subscribes to the vision of French café culture which involves people spending time chatting with one another, the "slow life" as he puts it. Becoming a "co-working space" would take away from that, in his view. 

Similar to Le Café Foufou, other Parisian cafés, like The Dancing Goat, located in Paris' 20th arrondissement, are trying to balance laptop-usage with preserving a community-oriented environment.

The Dancing Goat's policy is to allow laptops during the week, but not on the weekends. Aaricia, a barista and the head of The Dancing Goat's social media presence, said that this comes down to the "energy of the place."

"On the weekends, we want to be able to welcome families, children and grandparents" she said. 

Aaricia sees the no-laptops-on-the-weekends rule to be a fair middle ground - allowing the many people who work remotely a place to come on the weekdays, while offering a more "energetic" and inclusive space on the weekends.

At first, Aaricia was worried how people would respond to the new rules. She apprehensively made the announcement on the café's Instagram page, and put a sign on the shop's door.

"I was surprised by the number of positive responses we got on our Instagram post," she says.

Photo credit: The Local

Café evolution

But some Parisian cafés do not worry about becoming "co-working spaces." To them, laptops show that café culture is progressing.

"It's a sign of modernity," said Nix Audon, a server at Café de la Poste, over the sound of the espresso machine. "We evolve with the times." Pointing to the sign with the wifi password, he added "we even offer wifi for free. People can come, relax, and do what they need to."

Before Nix worked at Café de la Poste, he was a customer. "I would come here every day after work just to relax. For me, café culture is about being able to chill, and sit for however long you want. Cafés are a huge part of social life for Parisians."


For Nix Parisian café culture is intended to be inclusive of everyone, including those who want to sit and work on their laptops.

"On weekdays, we have a decent amount of high schoolers come and do their homework. They hang out here together, and drink a soda or a coffee," he says.

For him this shows the persistence of community within the café, even from behind the screens. 

Opinions are clearly split but for café goers and remote workers in Paris these days, they might just need to check before they get their computers out. Or just check emails on their phones.

"In the future, I will definitely check beforehand that the café is happy for customers to use their laptops," says journalist Caroline Harrap. "It's absolutely fair enough as long as the laptop ban is made clear."



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Anonymous 2022/12/12 18:41
I agree with everything you say Rob.
Anonymous 2022/12/12 08:41
I support the cafe owners fully in this. If you are not the one using the laptop you probably have no idea just how annoying the clackity clack of the keyboard gets, nor how intrusive it is in a non-work space, especially if you are firing off emails or writing a novel that never seems to end. It also creates a buffer zone where those sitting nearby feel they may be intrusive if they speak too loudly/too much and generally creates a pretty off putting vibe that sitting with a note book and pen or reading something does not. Also, some people will hog a table for hours with very little return to the cafe in terms of beverages consumed so overall, yes I fully support this move.

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