ice cubes splash into water

Photo by Patrick Brosset cc

When seventy-year-old Grandma Lynn visited Paris for the first time, she chose to learn only one word in French: glaçon.

Each day, my mother and I were electric with excitement to see the sights of Paris, but instead, my fluffy-haired grandmother dragged us through every cafe along the Seine. Worse, none were able to provide glaçons for her Diet Cokes and Oranginas.

“And can I have ice in it?” she would always ask the waiter after ordering.

“Oui, oui,” he would reply, bowing out of our presence.

But when he would come back a few minutes later, three soda bottles and three glasses balanced on his tray, there would be no ice in sight.

“But wait, where is the ice?” Grandma Lynn would plead, clasping her hands.

The waiter would think, then respond, “We do not have ice.”

“It’s just a cultural difference,” I explained once. “It’s not tradition for them; think about all the centuries French people spent enjoying wine and other drinks before they had ice. It’s more natural without it.”

“That’s goofy. Don’t they have freezers?” Grandma Lynn insisted. “It’s not hard to make ice! Glaçon!”

Somehow the lack of glaçons even spoiled Grandma Lynn’s desire for the paragon of French pastries, the macaron. A few days later, my mom and I left a disgruntled Grandma Lynn at a cafe while we made a mad dash to Pierre Hermé’s macaron shop in the minutes before it closed. Grandma had had enough of stairs that day, so she was less than enthused about the idea of sprinting in and out of metro stations. She stayed behind to drink lukewarm soda with mint syrup.

When my mom and I returned triumphantly with the cookies in hand, a sweaty Grandma Lynn greeted us with feeble congratulations. Unabated, I insisted we take the metro back to the hotel; taxis cost at least fourteen macarons, or twelve crepes, or twenty-three baguettes, and that was valuable money. Besides, I was a metro master. But as my mom and I dragged Grandma Lynn to the nearest stop, it began to rain, flattening her delicate fluff.

That was the last straw. Desperate and angry, Grandma Lynn flagged down the first taxi she saw and hurled enough euros at the man’s dashboard for our ride back to the hotel. We rode the whole way in silence.

As we entered the hotel room, puff askew and mouth agape, Grandma Lynn lay down to die, steaming despite the rain.

I gingerly crept down to the front desk and asked in my best French for des glaçons. The clerk cocked her head, hesitated, then transferred me to another clerk, who called someone else in via walkie-talkie. The third clerk took me down the hall to the kitchen and told me to wait outside. Feeling like I was completing a drug deal, I glanced around nervously until she emerged with the biggest bucket of glaçons I’ve ever seen. Clearly, the only use Parisians have for glaçons is keeping wine cool.

I delivered the bucket to Grandma Lynn in our hotel room. She hadn’t been so thrilled since she saw the Eiffel Tower. “Ice!” she cried, and stuck her whole face in it.

My mom, grandma, and I sat on the bed and had a small feast: macarons of every flavor and color, Diet Coke, and glaçons—lots of glaçons.

—Lauren McCombs