Paris Revives Century-Old Waiters’ Race Ahead of Olympics


In the City of Lights, cobblestone streets echoed with the patter of fast-falling footsteps as Paris revived a celebrated tradition – the Waiters’ Race. With the speed of Olympic athletes, yet, a far cry from the world-renowned sprinter Usain Bolt, men and women clothed in their work attire, their arms loaded with fragility, balanced trays bearing a croissant, an empty coffee cup, and a filled water glass. The task was to swiftly navigate the serpentine labyrinth of Parisian streets without losing balance or grace – not so easy a task, even for the fleetest of foot.

The race, originally a 110-year old custom, was meant to celebrate the coterie of industrious waiters and waitresses, who many suggest, breathe life into the Parisian café culture. These men and women, often celebrated as artists in their own right, are the beating heart of France’s vibrant gastronomy scene. Without them, the bustling cafés and soulful eateries of Paris would be silent, the quintessential French spirit of camaraderie, reflected in the lively discussions, spirited disagreements, and tender moments of love – all seemingly woven over food and drink, might vanish into thin air. Such is the love for these establishments, often referred to as “bistrots,” that they find mention in songs and poems. Unfortunately, they also bear the weight of sorrow, serving refuge to the despondent.

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This year, amongst the sea of participants, Pauline Van Wymeersch and Samy Lamrous emerged victoriously, each earning the honor of being Paris’ fastest waitress and waiter respectively. With the Paris Olympics slated for July, the duo shall become ambassadors of this career – which in itself is a Herculean task that involves serving and satisfying the culinary desires of millions of visitors.

The revival of the race, after a gap of thirteen years, juxtaposes nicely with Paris’s upcoming moment in the sun – hosting its first Summer Olympics in ten decades. The maiden race was held in 1914 and maintained the tradition of participants donning their uniforms and armoring themselves with the regulated pastry and beverages racing a 2-kilometer loop that initiates and terminates at the City Hall.

Van Wymeersch, a veteran waitress who stormed through the finish line in just 14 minutes and 12 seconds, spoke candidly about a profession that has become her life’s work. Having picked up the tray at just 16 and now standing at 34, Wymeersch articulates a love-hate relationship with her profession, yet, remaining unwavering in her passion for it. “It’s part of my DNA. I grew up in a way with a tray in my hand,” she said.

However, as any patron of a Parisian café will tell you, the waters are not always calm, and the smiles are not always genuine. The job is demanding, often pushing the waitstaff to their limits and fueling a reputation for the servers of being gruff or curt.

Thierry Petit, a seasoned veteran of the profession on the brink of retirement, clarified the seemingly stern facade. He explained, “French pride means that in little professions like this, they don’t want to be trampled on.” For him, it’s an adopted state of mind and a mark of identity, casually remarking, “It’s very Frenchie.”

Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, concurred, acknowledging that these chosen establishments are indeed the pulsating veins of Parisian life. “The bistrot is where we go to meet people, where we go for our little coffee, our little drink, where we also go to argue, to love and embrace each other. The café and the bistrot are life,” she eloquently stated.

Thus, as Paris gears up for the Olympics, the city, with the help of its dedicated waitstaff, vows to offer the world a taste of their famed joie de vivre. With the revival of the Waiters’ Race, Paris pays a heartfelt tribute to the unsung heroes who fire up the kitchens, light up the cafes, and keep the spirit of Paris afloat.