Paris, like most cities, had a large assortment of internet cafés for about ten to fifteen years, around the turn of the millennium. The newspaper Le Monde, in an article published in 2015, spoke of “the golden age of the cybercafés” as lasting from 1995 to 2005. Since then, “customers have become increasingly rare” in an age when “the vast majority of homes are now connected to the Internet, when free Wi-Fi has invaded bars, libraries, parks and fast food restaurants.”
My lead photo (above) is from May 2013 and shows the ‘Milk’ cybercafé at 5 rue d’Odessa in Montparnasse, which at that time was still in operation with sixty computers available 24/7. A Vélib’ bicycle station, number 14127, was conveniently located directly in front of this webcafé. Now (as of 2022) the webcafé has long since disappeared, replaced by a clothing store, but the Vélib’ station is still there.
The last Paris webcafé that I can recall using was this one on rue Soufflot, the street leading up to the Panthéon in the Latin Quarter. This was one of the larger ‘Milk’ webcafés, with one hundred computers. Ninety-seven of them had French keyboards, but the other three (the ones that are visible in the front window) had English keyboards, which are much more convenient for us non-French people.
Actually, I’m accustomed to using a German keyboard, but the differences between the German and English ones are minimal: the x and y are reversed and the punctuation marks are in different places, and some symbols like @ are on different keys. But that’s nothing compared to the muddle I get into when I try to use a French keyboard.
Blogger Juliet Young, in her highly readable memoir An Accidental Parisian, has a funny chapter (funny only in retrospect) about how she once had to take a typing test when applying for a job in Paris and messed it up completely because of the French keyboard.
Although the ‘Milk’ cybercafé on rue Soufflot still seemed to be thriving in 2011, a year later it was already boarded up. As of 2022, there is at least one ‘Milk’ cybercafé still in operation in Paris, but its ambience is entirely different as it is devoted almost entirely to gaming.
For those who still need a place to go online, most of the many hole-in-the-wall telephone shops in Paris still have a computer or two hooked up which can be used by customers for a small fee. But they make their money through other services, such as selling and repairing mobile phones and accessories, as well as printing (most people now carry smartphones but not printers) and arranging cheap phone calls to Africa. These small phone shops are typically one-man operations with (in my experience) extraordinarily competent and friendly service, where every square centimeter of space in the tiny shop is put to optimal use.
The last time I used one of these hole-in-the-wall telephone shops was in 2018, when I managed to lock myself out of my smartphone (don’t ask) and needed a new SIM card to get back in. (SIM = subscriber identity module.) So for a few days I had a French phone number, and I still have a French SIM card which I sometimes remember to take with me as a backup when I travel.
My photos in this post are from 2011, 2012 and 2013. I revised the text in 2022.