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What’s Up with Ice Cubes in France?

Updated: Nov 2, 2023


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Wandering down a French street in the late afternoon, my husband, Mark, suggests we stop for an apéro (aperitif). As we’re seated at our table, Mark orders, “Deux Aperol Spritz, s’il vous plaît.” (Two Aperol Spritz, please.)

We are clinking our glasses full of that beautiful bright orange drink when I see Mark motion to the waiter. “Can I have more ice, please?” he asks, pointing to his drink. The waiter looks into Mark’s glass and seems to count the ice cubes, one, two, and then stares at him with a quizzical look. Mark repeats, “Yes, more ice please.” The waiter leaves, comes back, and places a small bucket in front of Mark and walks off without saying anything. Mark looks at me: did I do something wrong?

I know so many Americans who experience this frustration. “We like ice in our drinks,” they exclaim. “Why is it is so difficult to get ice in France?”

That is a good question. I will attempt to translate French thinking on the matter:

Perhaps ice dilutes the flavor of the drink. Or is it that drinks are served cold and therefore don’t need ice? I think the reason has more to do with a habit that stems from when tap water was non potable, meaning not safe to drink.

As youngsters in France, it was made very clear to us that the tap water wasn’t safe. Deliveries of sparkling and flat waters were not optional; they were the only water we could drink.

The only time we could use tap water was to brush our teeth as long as, and this was emphasized, we didn’t swallow the water.

Now back to ice cubes:

Sitting at a café with my parents, I ordered une menthe à l’eau avec de l’eau mineral (mint syrup with bottled water). It was served with a small bucket of ice. I reached for the tongs to put a few cubes in my glass. “Adeline, don’t use the ice!” My father barked. I’d forgotten ice cubes were made from tap water—we didn’t use them.

Is this a habit that is still ingrained in the French culture? I think so.

Since ice isn’t a big commodity In France, cafés and restaurants do not have the large commercial ice making machines that are part of our culture in the USA.

So it may be entirely possible that when the waiter counted Mark’s ice cubes and looked at him with that perplexed expression, he was actually thinking, “You already have two ice cubes and if I give you more, we may run out.”

Different cultures with diverse histories have varied reasons for doing things the way they do.

That’s why when you want something outside the norm, like extra ice cubes, and are given some pushback, the best thing you can do is to not always assume you are doing something improper. On the contrary, it just may be that you don’t have all the facts.


I love your cookbook; I use it all the time.

You did a great job. Not only the recipes, but the design and layout too. It’s a beautiful book.

—Maddie Weinberg

Le Kitchen Cookbook

A Workbook

Everything you need to know to be a good cook.

by Adeline M. Olmer

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Bon Appétit

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