Saturday, 28 January 2012

A Space for "Us"

As I looked up from my work I could see an old group of friends gathered on the comfortable chairs, meeting to discuss their past, present and future. You can see who they are now and who they once were, all frozen here over a cup of coffee. Just to the right of them at a small table sits a beautiful couple, coffee in one hand, their free hands clasped tightly. He looked deeply into her eyes they way they had for more than 40 years now and as they left, he held out his hand for her and she, so naturally, slid her hand in his. A small moment, a snapshot in the history of their love. Behind me two friends, it’s been a while since they’ve seen each other, both starting their careers, both dating other people, but somehow drawn to the social elements of their connection. In such a public space they’ve discussed their political views, personal trials and perspectives on various institutions. Her voice much louder than his, demanding the lead and holding it until her breath runs out.  Across from me, sharing this table, sits a young man exhausted from a long week of work. He’s been working for a while, stopped. Reading for a while, paused, and is now enjoying a short nap. All this happing here; private moments shared in this open, public space for us. The beauty of what can be shared over a cup of coffee. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Confessions of a Coffee Shop Junkie

 Ok so it’s official, I am a “coffee shop junkie”, or so I’ve been told. I got off work early today and was so excited by the fact that I could take my “work” outside of the school and complete the tasks in my favourite coffee shop. While I would not consider myself a “workaholic,” I would say that I absolutely love to take my work outside of the work place and complete it where I want.
            Why is it that I would rather bring my work to a coffee shop rather than working in the comfort of my own home? Why would anyone go to a coffee shop? For good coffee, right?  Well my case the reasons might seem somewhat strange. I come here, and I say here, because I also do most of my writing in the coffee shop, for everything but the coffee, in fact I don’t even drink coffee (in the traditional sense).  I am more of a tea lover and occasionally I enjoy a tea latte (London Fog being one of my favourites).  Rarely I will try a new mocha or a holiday treat, but for the most part I am a tea drinker. I love the feeling of a warm, sweet drink between my hands as I pause between marking papers, or try to come up the with the perfect word to express a thought.
            Enough about me and my drink preferences, why is it that someone who doesn’t even love coffee, would love coming to (and sitting for hours in)  a coffee shop? I am going to suggest a couple of reasons. For one I am a very social person and love the sound of “coffee shop chatter”.

Coffee Shop Chatter: the sound of various conversations that can sometimes blend to create white noise when tuned out, or inspire ideas when listening.

            Coffee shop chatter is one of the more interesting elements of being in a coffee shop. Most of the time I don’t hear everything because I am working and can tune a lot of the words out, but what I do hear are tidbits of people’s lives, which can be very intriguing and sometimes make for good writing. While the coffee shop is a public space, people tend to share very private thoughts without whispering. Some things are better left unheard, while others are often amusing. Some examples include the traditional “Woman to woman coffee shop date.”

Woman to Woman Coffee Shop Date: when two female friends meet to catch-up, discuss the titillating details of their social and love lives, and rag on their significant others.

            Woman to woman coffee shop dates are something that I myself have done many times and are one of the more popular types of coffee shop meetings that I have witnessed during my experiences as a coffee shop junkie.

            While, creepily listening in on coffee shop chatter can be interesting at times, one of the main reasons I come to coffee shops for work is the atmosphere. Yes, this might sound cheesy and somewhat cliché, but I have to admit that the atmosphere in the coffee shops I visit really keeps me focused while working, or helps me to feel welcome. From the lighting to the music, you can see that a lot of thought has been put into the development of these spaces. Coffee shops are designed with workers, readers and different types of meeting in mind. There are some large tables, often called “community tables” where a large group could sit or various workers could spread out their lap tops and papers. There are comfortable reading or meeting chairs that are designed for short dates or long reads. There are also traditional small tables, generally for two. These tables are often small and round, designed for two people to rest their coffee, scone or small sandwich while meeting to “chat.”

            Finally, I love the people who work in, and frequently visit coffee shops. I guess I should say most of the people. There is a certain culture that comes with the coffee shop experience and those of us who come often tend to share in the small joys of friendly faces and courteous gestures.  I guess the real reason why I like coffee shops is the people, they are the ones who help to create the atmosphere and share in the same small joys of the space.

If you consider yourself a coffee shop junkie please share. What is it that makes your coffee shop experience a good one?

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Coffee Shop Etiquette

Ok so at around noon, this place (the local coffee shop that I have become a regular at) becomes overcrowded, giving me lots to write about and little physical space to do any work. I know the schedule well, so I try my best to get here at an appropriate time (sometime between breakfast and lunch) in order to get a good seat. Yes, I think about my seat before coming here. Sad, yes, obsessive, just a little. With these kinds of expectations, I have to think about the environment and my choices sometimes. Do I want to be surrounded by interesting people, who might provide me with mild entertainment and good writing material, while I slowly dig through this pile of work that seems to consume my mental and physical space, or do I want to be completely alone with nothing to occupy my mind except for the work?
             So why would this be an issue at all? Well for starters coffee shop etiquette has been something that I’ve been thinking about for a few days now. I’ve spent the past three out of five workdays sitting in the same coffee shop only changing locations, not chains, to get a different perspective and give the staff a break from me. I’ve been trying to get through these infinite piles of work and I have to admit that I take up more physical space in the coffee shop than most people would consider appropriate.  The new coffee shop near my house has a huge table that can accommodate my work and at least two other people who need just as much space, and we all seem ok with sharing that space. It appears to be inviting and communal, however, when I made the change today I needed to sit at one of those “four seaters” where the tables could be separated and of course I had a couple of ladies ask me (while looking at that piles of work surrounding my space) if I needed both tables. Well, after looking up in confusion as a result of having been entrenched in work for over two hours straight, I thought to myself, is this situation not self-explanatory? I felt like a jerk for thinking this and hummed and hahhed while slowly starting to move my things. Luckily, they spotted another table and rudely left, grunting as they walked away. I’m not sure how to handle this situation. Was I being greedy by occupying too much public space? Is there even a measurement of public space that we are all allowed to occupy, like parking spots or something? Or was it rude of them to assume that I should accommodate them?
            In keeping with the integrity of this blog, I want to try my best to be as kind as possible, however, this was a difficult situation and even when I do move my stuff to accommodate others I feel as if they are already upset at the fact that I have taken up that much space to begin with. I’ve been asked, “is this your office away from home?” and in all honesty, yes it is and I know this the same for many people. So what do we do? Try to cram ourselves into the smallest seats possible in an effort to accommodate others, or do we go about our business using as much space as we might need to complete our own work? What is the appropriate coffee shop etiquette in this situation?