‘Bistro’: a French legacy of humiliation?!

| Linda Brown | Word & Idioms

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As the story goes, the word ‘Bistro’ entered the French language after the Battle of Paris (1814), when hungry Russian officers – who had just conquered Paris – would shout at waiters ‘bystro’, which means quickly, or hurry up, in Russian.

In time, it came to stand for small french restaurants serving, quickly, slow-cooked foods that were made in advance. 

Typically, bistros offer a moderate-priced menu in a modestly designed setting. 

ps.

When in Paris be sure to check out the sign at 6 Place du Tertre in old Montmartre (see picture below). It marks the spot where ‘Bistro’ was first coined.     

Sign about the origin of the word ‘Bistro’ in Paris (source: wiki commons)

 

pps.

Some new etymologists suggest that ‘Bistro’s origin is the word ‘bistrouille’ which describes brandy mixed in coffee, but I definitely stick with the old school version. 

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And for those of you who want to Napoleonic wars enthusiasts, here are some more facts:   

The Battle of Paris was the last battle of the Napoleonic wars after which Napoleon was exiled to Elba Island. The Napoleonic wars total death toll is estimated to amount to 3,500,000 souls. According to some researchers, it is even as high as 7,000,000, including civilians. This means that roughly 5% of Europe’s population was killed during the Napoleonic wars and almost 8% of France’s population.  

The word Bistro might not enter the French language if not for one crucial mistake by Napoleon. Most researchers agree that Napoleon’s biggest mistake was to march on Moscow instead of saint Petersburg. Saint Petersburg was the capital and where most of the empire’s government institutions were concentrated. Its fall would undoubtedly cause Russia serious damage and make it very difficult for the Tsar to run the war. 

So why did Napoleon choose to take Moscow? One possible explanation lies in the fact that many of the Moscow nobles did not find their place in the renewed Russian empire. However, they remained politically influential on the one hand and resentful towards Peter and his innovations, on the other hand. Napoleon may have believed that he would find allies in the Moscow nobility whose glamorous days and greatness had not yet been forgotten and hoped to establish a French-sponsored puppet government in Moscow as he did in other countries he conquered.

An alternative explanation is that Napoleon simply did not understand Russia, which in those years was still perceived by the West as the ׳Kingdom of Moscow׳. 

This could be supported by the fact that before the invasion Napoleon said that if he conquered Kiev he would take Russia by her feet, if he conquered Saint Petersburg he would capture Russia at the head and if he conquered Moscow would capture Russia at its heart. 

This phrase certainly expresses the ignorance that characterized the concept of the essence and identity of the Russian empire by the average Western man during Napoleonic times, who saw in Russia an exotic barbarian kingdom inhabited by half-bear people when Moscow is a holy city to them, with a similar role to Mecca in Islam.

Had he taken Saint Petersbourg it is possible that the battle of Paris would never happen and indeed, and there were no bistros.

And for those of you who want to Napoleonic wars enthusiasts, here are some more facts:   

The Battle of Paris was the last battle of the Napoleonic wars after which Napoleon was exiled to Elba Island. The Napoleonic wars total death toll is estimated to amount to 3,500,000 souls. According to some researchers, it is even as high as 7,000,000, including civilians. This means that roughly 5% of Europe’s population was killed during the Napoleonic wars and almost 8% of France’s population.  

The word Bistro might not enter the French language if not for one crucial mistake by Napoleon. Most researchers agree that Napoleon’s biggest mistake was to march on Moscow instead of saint Petersburg. Saint Petersburg was the capital and where most of the empire’s government institutions were concentrated. Its fall would undoubtedly cause Russia serious damage and make it very difficult for the Tsar to run the war. 

So why did Napoleon choose to take Moscow? One possible explanation lies in the fact that many of the Moscow nobles did not find their place in the renewed Russian empire. However, they remained politically influential on the one hand and resentful towards Peter and his innovations, on the other hand. Napoleon may have believed that he would find allies in the Moscow nobility whose glamorous days and greatness had not yet been forgotten and hoped to establish a French-sponsored puppet government in Moscow as he did in other countries he conquered.

An alternative explanation is that Napoleon simply did not understand Russia, which in those years was still perceived by the West as the ׳Kingdom of Moscow׳. 

This could be supported by the fact that before the invasion Napoleon said that if he conquered Kiev he would take Russia by her feet, if he conquered Saint Petersburg he would capture Russia at the head and if he conquered Moscow would capture Russia at its heart. 

This phrase certainly expresses the ignorance that characterized the concept of the essence and identity of the Russian empire by the average Western man during Napoleonic times, who saw in Russia an exotic barbarian kingdom inhabited by half-bear people when Moscow is a holy city to them, with a similar role to Mecca in Islam.

Had he taken Saint Petersbourg it is possible that the battle of Paris would never happen and indeed, and there were no bistros.