Amsterdam

Café confusion

07 Dec 2016

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a café as ‘a small restaurant selling light meals and drinks’ but also adds that in North America it’s a ‘bar or nightclub’, while in South Africa a café is ‘a shop selling sweets, cigarettes, newspapers, etc.’ To add to this confusion it also mentions that the word is derived from the French meaning ‘coffee’ or ‘coffee house.’ Obviously in Amsterdam ‘coffeeshops’ are something entirely different. So perhaps the Anglo-Saxons are to blame and simply can’t properly define this most popular of establishments. But surely the Dutch can, right? Well, not really. In fact, locals often refer to bars as cafés and, to add even more confusion to this complicated linguistic problem, they call what the English consider a café a lunchroom. Americans would probably call these lunchrooms cafeterias. Confused yet? In this guide we’ve tried to simplify things by listing places where you put your own food on a tray as a cafeteria and a café as a laid back venue that’s good for a coffee and a light meal or breakfast. We’ve also made a category for classic cafés that includes historic institutions with lots of local colour. Naturally, you can find many of these café qualities at a diner or a greasy spoon, too, but we’ll refrain from opening up that can of worms.

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