The Lost Art Of Coffee House Etiquette

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As a writer, I spend a lot of time in coffee houses. Tall Café Mochas serve as my muse juice, free internet keeps me connected, and the cozy atmosphere is free of irritating distractions. Although, I’m starting to question the integrity of that last part. My usual writing spot has increasingly become more a like a zoo than a civilized place for people to read, drink coffee, or engage in conversation.

Of late, I’m starting to think there is a shortage of people who truly know how to behave in a coffee house. I’ve been an avid coffee house dweller for many years and I’ve covered a lot of ground both in the States and abroad. Either I’m getting old and less tolerant or there has been a steady degradation in acceptable behavior for what used to be a relaxing public space.

Ranting usually isn’t my style, but sometimes I hit my limit and can no longer remain silent. At the same time, I’m an organized and civilized ranter that decided to create a list of rules that I believe are essential to coffee house etiquette.

Five Simple Rules of Coffee House Etiquette

The Globe (bookshop and coffee house), Prague Czech Republic
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

1) Wait in line patiently.

A coffee house is not the place to go if you are in a hurry. Hit the Starbucks drive-thru or a fast food joint if you want your coffee in one minute flat. Standing a millimeter away from the person in front of you and guffawing about how long it’s taking for the lone barista to make a latte does not create a comfortable atmosphere, nor does it make your coffee appear any faster. Good coffee is worth the wait, anyway.

2) Keep conversations personal.

A quiet coffee shop is always nice, but the energy of socializing is acceptable as well. However, there is a difference between intimate conversations that stay within the confines of personal space and those that spread out to everyone within earshot and beyond. Obnoxious drabble and attention-seeking hollers have no place in a coffee house. It’s about showing a little respect for yourself and those around you who did not ask for a shot of your personal life with their espresso.

3) Keep electronic devices silent.

In the age of technology, we are increasingly dependent on cell phones, laptops, tablets, and music players. I fully admit that I am a gadget junkie, but I’m also aware of the fact that it’s polite to make sure they don’t disrupt others. In a coffee house, there is no reason to listen to music or watch a movie with the speakers blaring for everyone to hear. Earbuds were created so you and only you can listen to whatever you want anywhere you want without disrupting other people. Use them.

The same goes for cell phones. Take the time to put your phone on silent or vibrate. Most coffee house goers are not amused that your ringtone sounds like the latest dance club mix. Furthermore, if you have to answer the call, do so following Rule #2 or take the call outside. For some reason, people talk on the phone with a voice that is considerably louder than when speaking face to face to another person.  Nobody wants to hear half of a conversation that breaks the sound barrier while trying to enjoy a cup of coffee.

4) Don’t leave children unattended.

I tread lightly with this rule because I know kids have a right to be out in public. All I’m saying is a little on-site training in proper behavior wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps I’m a prude who is way out of line, but I personally don’t go to a coffee house to listen to children scream or teenagers test how many times they can use the F-word before their Venti Chai Tea is gone. Too many times I’ve watched a gaggle of twelve-year-olds commandeer a table with their “grown up” drinks without having the slightest idea on how to conduct themselves.  So, instead of a coffee house they decide they’re on the playground. Maybe it would help to have someone show them some etiquette instead of dumping them off at a café like it’s a sort of babysitting service.

(Sorry, I might be ranting a little too much here. Parents can’t totally be blamed for this as children are going to do things beyond Mom and Dad’s control. However, Society as a whole can help by refusing to accept inappropriate behavior.)

 5) Clean up after yourself.

Coffee houses are not the same as restaurants. They don’t have waiters assigned to certain tables to come and take your order and clean up your dirty dishes. Granted in some coffee houses, there is someone who swoops by to clear the table, but more often than not the dishes sit there until the barista has a second to step away from the coffee bar. Is it part of their job? Yes. But consider the fact that someone who has just walked in needs a place to sit. Would you ask them to sit with your dirty dishes? I hope not. It only takes a few seconds to throw away your paper cup or set a plate on the counter.

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I may be perched on a soapbox at the moment, but I’m not above apologizing for having broken at least three of these rules at one time or another in my early years.  After more than a few cups of coffee, I’ve learned how important it is to respect the space of others and be mindful of the reality that I am not the center of the universe and neither is anyone else. Especially, in a coffee house.

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c.b.w. 2013

Wreck This Journal: Traveling Light

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I’ve never truly understood why women carry huge purses or mass quantities of baggage wherever they go.  There seems to be an obsession with the idea that we should always have everything we (might) need with us at all times.  I know multiple people that carry a purse, a work bag, a gym bag, and a food bag (lunch and snacks) every single day to and from home.  What do they need the gym bag for when they’re hauling around all this stuff?

I am seriously befuddled by this concept of packing purses with everything from make-up to flashlights.  Have you ever lifted a large purse pack to the brim with all that crap? It’s so heavy, I’m surprised more women aren’t walking around lopsided with one shoulder lower than the other.

Perhaps, I’m confused because I don’t go out as often as other people nor do I have grave concerns about being able to reapply my lipstick later in the day.  Incidentally, I don’t worry about being trapped in a dark tunnel, either. Am I weird because I’ve never felt the need to carry loads of stuff with me all the time? Probably.

I have three modes of “packing” for when I leave the house, all of which are pretty minimalist compared to what I observe on a daily basis.

Mode #1: Work

  • 1 tote bag that carries Lesson plan calendar, keys, wristlet (that holds iPod and cell phone), water, apple

Mode #2: Writing shift at the bookstore

  • 1 tote bag or messenger bag that carries laptop, reading book or journal, (depending on writing goals for that day), wristlet, pencil pouch, keys

Mode #3: Anywhere else

  • 1 wristlet or small purse  that carries wallet (unless carrying wristlet), cell phone, iPod, keys

Now, I’m sure most men would consider these modes with the same confusion as I regard women with large purses.  Everything a man needs or want fits nicely into his pants pockets, but I must argue that the pockets in women’s clothing are about four times smaller than those in men’s clothing.

Blame Wreck This Journal for my little rant on this subject. One of the pages gave instructions to trace the contents of my bag or pockets.  I did this page a while ago, but everything I “need” to have with me on an outing has essentially stayed the same.

Keeping it simple.

For the record, I have a waaaay better cell phone these days, (no more flip-phone for this girl)!

If anything, carrying less makes me a little more careful and creative when I venture outside of the house. Whatever situation befalls me, I’m confident I’ve got the right equipment with me.  And should I feel the need to run from danger, I won’t be weighed down by thirty pounds of clutter in my bag.

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c.b.w. 2012

What’s Sunday Without a Little Debate?

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It’s Sunday, so get on your soapbox or gather around to listen.  There are opinions for everything, counterpoints to every argument, and a positive for every negative.  These pillars of debate all come together in a glowing monument to freedom of speech at Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner.  The idea behind this weekly event revolves around the act of speaking, regardless of what is said or whether there is agreement between all groups.  New ideas mingle with radical points of view, while neutral parties watch words exchange back and forth like tennis balls at Wimbeldon.  The process is the absolute epitome of humanity at its finest.  We aren’t meant to agree on everything, but we owe it to ourselves and everyone around us to respect the ability to harbor and express an opinion.

As I listen, I sometimes feel my temper burning and my intellect challenged, but I always learn something.  There’s always something to consider and stoke my curiosity to investigate further.   For some it’s about being right or wrong, but for me its about making the effort to think with a more open mind.

c.b. 2011

Ivan Klima: The Best Writer You’ve Never Read

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A few years ago I discovered a remarkable writer while visiting Prague and have yet to find his equal.  Ivan Klima is a renowned writer in the Czech Republic, but relatively unknown in the U.S. as he is often overshadowed by another Czech writer, Milan Kundera.  While Kundera is brilliant in his own right, I find him a bit too cynical.  Klima tends to be a little more optimistic in his exploration of humanity and his prose flows with an unparalleled elegance.  He manages to transform the lives of ordinary people into powerful emotional experiences that often challenge readers to consider a different perspective.  To this day, I cannot fathom why Ivan Klima is not more widely read.

Here is a partial list of Klima’s works along with summaries and some of my favorite quotes:

 No Saints or Angels

A jaded older woman falls for a younger man who renews her faith in love and herself.  At the same time, her teenage daughter lost in the vast fields of growing up learns that love must extend beyond herself.  These two stories intertwine amidst the communist regime of Czechoslovakia wherein Klima creates the bold metaphor that a mundane existence can be just stifling as an oppressive government.

Favorite Quote:

  • What happens to people who spend their lives afraid to voice their opinions?  They stop thinking, most likely.

My Golden Trades

A collection of short stories where each story centers around a different job.  Everyday life is explored through various characters including a book smuggler, an archeologist and a land surveyor.  Each trade offers a not only a unique perspective on the human condition, but also explores city and country life in Czechoslovakia.  While wholly fiction, Klima infuses his own experiences into each story as he worked most of the featured jobs himself at one time or another.  This creates a unique social record of Czech life that is often forgotten or ignored in the Western world.  Furthermore, Klima again brings to light the danger of oppression and the damage it does to the human spirit.  Each trade represents the important of freedom and self-expression no matter the outlet.

Favorite Quotes:

  • People miss opportunities every day.  One can only try not to miss them through laziness or fear.
  • When compassion and the commandment that life should be lived in dignity have been lost, there are no stories, only cries of horror.

My Merry Mornings

Another collection of stories, but they are a slight departure in that they are more cynical and rough around the edges.  Usually, Klima exudes undying hope for humanity to break free no matter the trap, but in this collection it seems as though pessimism is nipping at his heels.  The darker, more poverty stricken aspect of society is explored through a narrator that is never clearly defined.  There is much debate over whether it is one character or several.  There is a story for each morning of the week that showcases life as it exists on the docks, the marketplace, and in other dark corners Prague.  The grittier approach gives Klima the perfect avenue to offer a poignant reminder that life is a short journey that ends much too quickly. 

The Ultimate Intimacy

Often considered one of Klima’s best works, The Ultimate Intimacy follows the story of a pastor who preaches about the importance of love, yet can’t truthfully say he knows the fullest extent of love.  Daniel Vedra’s marriage is one of convenience held together by the need for comfort and the shared responsibility of children.  Part of him does love his wife, but its out of respect more than anything else. While he would never admit it, he craves something deeper.

Daniel is a master of commitment when it comes to faith, the church, and his family.  His world is firmly entrenched in a predictable routine until a new woman begins attending his services.  She is married as well, but is lonely and frightened of her husband. Yet, she will not leave because she is bound to him by her commitment. She is drawn to the pastor because of his genuine belief in love and he to her because she stirs something in him he didn’t know existed: the ability to be intimate with someone on an emotional level. When the two meet, fate pulls them into a realm neither expected. Thus begins an affair that tears at the fabric of faith, loyalty, and truth.

Both characters evolve in surprising and heartbreaking ways. A woman discovers she capable of more love than she ever thought. She finds she has the strength to hold on, even when the rope is very short. She starts to believe in something bigger than herself, and even starts to have faith that her life is worth living. The pastor, so ardent in his faith, finds he has been hiding something from himself for far too long. His doubtless faith in God in which he built his entire life around is really just a security blanket he clung to as a means to experience unconditional love. In fact, he has always doubted the questions that couldn’t be answered by anything but faith. While he gains the exhilarating and intimate feeling of true love, he loses an entire life of faith.

Klima brilliantly leaves it up to the reader to decide if the trade-off was worth it.   He challenges readers to define what love means in every context even when rules are broken or norms defied.

Favorite Quotes:

  • Money, like power, deflects one from the essence of life.  People who think about money tend to forget about the soul.
  • . . . the moment you stop making up your own mind you risk being taken advantage of.
  • The only thing we have to bind another to us is love and understanding.  All other bonds can be broken or feel like shackles.
  • Most people gaze neither into the past nor the future, they explore neither truth nor lies, they gaze at the television.
  • Something is happening to people: they are turning outwards instead of inwards.
  • Whenever the conscious mind is absent, anything can gain a foothold, and mostly it is something bad, not something good.


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While Klima is not easily found in most mainstream bookstores,  his work sometimes shows up in used bookstores and is often readily available on amazon.com. If you can find him, Ivan Klima’s work is well worth the read.

c.b. 2011