Café Culture1:00 PM
Let's go for a coffee...one simple sentence, and many cultural interpretations and variant. While the drink is universal, how people have it and where is not.
In Switzerland, the right to a morning coffee break is a labour union right. Every employee is entitled to a 20-30 minutes break in their morning if they work at least 8 hours a day. As a result, most workplace have a coffee machine in a corner, or a mini-kitchen where employees can get their fix. However, many still do go to the nearby café. Most of these establishments are family owned, brand less and will serve you a basic espresso with coffee cream on the side. They are no frill places that then double as a lunch place and an after work pub. Don't expect a fancy signature coffee or something more elaborate than a croissant to eat at coffee break time, that is not what most of these café will be into.
The café culture is big in most of Europe, and in Switzerland it is not just limited to office goers. Come 10am and you are likely to see housewives and senior citizen flock to the nearby place to have their morning cup as well. In highschools, students will head to their establishment canteen around the same time for theirown caffeine fix, as there is a 20 minutes break specially provided for that purpose in the morning. I kid you not, we take the morning break very seriously, it borders on sacred!
I grew up being used to head to the café with my mom or grand mothers (when I wasn't in school). They would wrap up their household chores and grocery shopping early in the day and then meet their friends over a cup of something (it can be tea...no discrimination) while I would be given a glass of pomegranate syrup. Syrup, which in my youth still came free in many places. They would chit chat, gossip, catch up with each other for about half an hour and then proceed with the rest of their day worth of household duties knowing they would likely meet again the next day. Most coffee places have their regulars, and the owners know them well.
It is said that cafés were the social network sites of that time before Facebook. They in fact still are and still serve that exact same purpose. People don't go to a café because the coffee is good, at the exception of Starbucks (which has little appeal to older people in my homeland), no café will serve you anything but a generic brew, served black with the cream and sugar on the side. People go to such places to reconnect with people, forget work for 20 minutes and focus on human interaction. Coffee time is that bracket in the day where everything else important can wait. You won't find a lot of people dragging their work to the café or even discussing it with colleagues there. Because the moment you step on that "sacred ground", status and labels cease to exist, there is no boss and subordinates, no apprentice...nothing, just human being on a break.
Working in the outskirts of Geneva, I didn't have a café to go to. But, my boss installed an espresso machine in a tiny corner or our workshop. During that time of the day, he was no longer my boss, and I was no longer the apprentice and we would rarely, very rarely talk about anything work related. That too despite setting our cups down on the corner of our workbench with whatever sofa we were reupholstering pretty much inches away from us.
It could wait, anything can wait during that breather.
In India, going for coffee seems to fall into two categories, with very few exceptions. The first being the hasty filter coffee or chai being drank at a road side stall in a hurry. Which still remain a widely male dominated activity. The second being the Status symbol coffee. The one that is fancy and drank in plush franchise establishements. People visiting these joints usually linger much longer and it is now common to see informal business meeting taking place over coffee, as most of these places offer free wifi. Coffee shops around here, do not really serve the purpose of disconnecting from work unless you are college going student or a housewife it seems.
There are a few exceptions though, South Mumbai has many small cafés held by Iranians and Parsi where people will go for an unpretentious cup of something and a quick bite. And I've hear there is some of that culture in Kolkata as well, where the evening tea or coffee is a social event during which people just catch up and value human contact.
How is the café culture in your corner of the world?