Small World Coffee (A Pre-Departure Post)

On Sundays, I like to wake up early to go for a bike ride with my mom and her friends. My mom and I leave our house a little before seven and ride the quarter of a mile to our town’s only stoplight where we meet the other riders (five or so) and bike to Small World Coffee, a coffee shop ten miles away. It’s a nice way to start my morning.

Even though we get there before eight – a time I would, on any other day, be asleep – the shop is packed. The line stretches out the front door, and inside the tables are full. At the tables, some people are sitting with others, talking. Others are there alone. Some of these people have brought their computers, so they sit at their small tables, staring at their small screens while it seems they are unplugged from the crowded, noisy, world around them filled with chatter and grinding coffee and indiscernible background music. These people seem busy. There are other people there, too — alone. They don’t seem so busy. There are some who sit with just their drinks. They don’t have computers or newspapers or the company of others.  They just survey the rest of the shop, taking in the noise and the smell, occasionally sipping their drinks. Alone.

It’s these solo people who interest me to most.

Why did they come to the shop this morning? Maybe they’re waiting for someone. Maybe they just like coffee, or maybe they go to be less alone – unplugging from their lives for a time. I think about this as I sit outside, quietly listening to my mom and her friends.

***

This is my pre-departure post before I head abroad to study in Edinburgh, Scotland for the semester. While there, I’ll travel to different countries and sit in a coffee shop there for an hour or so. Maybe I’ll be by myself, or maybe I’ll be with others. Whichever the case may be, I want to observe different coffee cultures in different countries.

I was inspired to pursue this idea by a short story by Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” The story, simply put, is about a man in a café. What matters in the story is not that he is in a café, but rather the café serves as a space for the man to feel less lonely. It’s a comfortable space for him to come to. While abroad, I want to explore these different clean, well-lighted spaces. I want to see what they say about different countries and cultures – what the differences are between them and what the similarities are, too.

I understand that my experience of a country and their coffee culture will vary wildly depending on which shop I visit. It would be unfair for me to generalize a whole country based on one experience I had in one coffee shop. Instead, I want each shop I visit to impact the way I experience the next shop I visit, and in the end, maybe there will be an underlying similarity between all of the different places I visit. Through all of the entries, I hope to reflect back on all of the different places that I have visited so as not to point out the differences between the places, but to find the ways that I have grown through experiencing these different clean, well-lighted places.