Thursday Thoughts: Cafe Culture and Social Distancing.

[Thursday Thoughts: Occasional meanderings of a contrarian and gently subversive nature; of the same genus as Monday Musings, but posted four days earlier.]

This post is prompted by complaints on social media about the potential demise of coffee shops, pubs and restaurants as a consequence of the current health emergency. Some people appear to believe they have a duty to keep patronising these places in order to protect the owners of the businesses and their employees. This despite the potential risk of contracting, and passing on to loved ones, a virus that has the potential to kill tens of thousands of their fellow citizens.

Before I go any further I ought to qualify what follows by admitting to being someone who is generally uncomfortable in social situations. Tending towards shyness and introversion, I find making conversation difficult. I need time to think through what I am going to say, by which time the conversation has usually moved on. So I generally confine myself to listening.

Some people will describe this as anti-social. I would respond by saying that I do socialise, but for a purpose rather than for pleasure. By which I mean that my various volunteering and political activities over the years have involved me in socialising, but usually with the aim of helping people and the community in some way.

Because of this aversion to socialising, as well as a need, throughout most of my life, to be careful how I spend my money, going out for a drink or a meal has always been something reserved for special occasions.

I know, too, that psychiatrists say that regularly socialising at pubs and cafes is good for our mental health. I’m not so sure. My son, with his various mental health degrees and diplomas, would probably disagree with me, but I wonder if it might not be the case that if we spent less time looking at other people and wishing we could be like them we might be less prone to depression and suicidal thoughts.

That said, the burden of my complaint today is the enormous increase in recent times in the practice of attending coffee shops on an almost daily basis. Coffee, it would seem, has become so much of an addiction for some people that they even find it necessary to walk around carrying cups of coffee in much the same way as they once might have held a cigarette between their fingers.

Putting this trend alongside the regular consumption of take-away food, I struggle with the concept of paying someone else to perform simple tasks like making a cup of tea or coffee or cooking a meal, tasks that most people can easily perform for themselves. Especially so at a time when we are desperately short of staff for health and social care. Should we not be paying the people we now pay to perform these tasks for us, to perform them instead for those who are unable to perform them for themselves?

Of course, social care involves much more than providing drinks and meals. Often there is an element of personal care – washing and dressing, for example. But I can’t believe that the average barista or waitress could not be trained to perform such tasks. If a small portion of the money currently spent in coffee shops could be transferred to social care, the hours allocated to each client could be increased beyond the inadequate time presently available. And, if social contact is a psychologically important part of the service, then increasing the contact hours would be beneficial in that way too.

Consider, too, the environmental impact of all this unnecessary coffee drinking. Coffee is a cash crop, a monoculture that reduces biodiversity in the regions where it is grown. Not withstanding the claims of the major coffee house chains, that they treat their suppliers fairly and take steps to protect the environment, the fact is that it is impossible to support any monoculture without inputs of fertiliser and insecticides with consequences for the wider environment, not to mention single use plastic cups. On top of which transporting the coffee, roasting the beans, operating the in-shop machinery, all use energy when we should be conserving it

Ending this addiction is an important element of the systemic changes that are needed to avoid the coming climate emergency. This health emergency offers an opportunity to rethink so many of our environmentally disastrous habits.

9 thoughts on “Thursday Thoughts: Cafe Culture and Social Distancing.

  1. On television, whether it is a modern drama or historic, supposedly very poor people can always afford to go to the pub; it used to make us laugh because we couldn’t afford one drink. Coffee when the children were young meant round each other’s houses. But having said that, I like seeing young mums in our local bar/cafes – pubs are for everyone now! We can afford the coffee these days and I love the various coffee shops etc that have sprung up where we now live. Without them a lot of high streets would just be charity shops and empty premises. Whether it’s a noisy quiz evening or a person by themselves in a corner with their lap top plugged in, life is going on.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Maybe it’s an age thing Frank.. i struggle with buying coffee at extravagant mark up when I can drink nicer coffee in a more pleasant environment.. or maybe I’m just an old fogey 😂☘️❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ahhhh … so you’re four days earlier? I thought it was three days later. 😊 I don’t go to coffee shops just to drink coffee and socialize, and I am, by nature, somewhat of a hermit. But admittedly, one of the great joys of my week is a Saturday afternoon trip to Barnes & Noble, a cup of their (yes, overpriced) Starbucks coffee, and an hour or two to browse the books. A week or two without that … fine. But, I cannot imagine months on end without that relatively inexpensive thing that brings so much joy. Selfish? Yes, perhaps I am.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. When I go to Chester once a week so I can see my grandchildren on their way to school and supply their tuck shop treat, I’m up to half an hour early in the cold and damp. So, it’s a seat in Nero’s for a coffee or tea to keep me going. The kid like coming in and finding me asleep in my chair so they can wake me. It’s better than wandering the street and disturbing all the homeless.
    Sorry Frank.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Yes to all of that. I do appreciate that for the majority of people coffee shops and pubs are a refuge. A friend of mine does a lot of his writing in one. I did say, at the top, that my opinion was ‘contrarian and subversive’. And I qualified it by saying that my thoughts on this subject are ditorted by my own personality traits. Nevertheless, the political point, that there is something wrong with the priorities of a people who are happy to spend a considerable part of their income paying other people to carry out basic tasks for them – a luxury once only available to the very rich – yet seemingly unwilling to pay a little extra tax in order to ensure that the real care needs of those who are unable to perform those tasks for themselves are properly met is, I believe, valid.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That post of yours made me stop and wonder… what would happen if we followed through and eliminated absolutely everything done as a society that doesn’t need doing? We could eliminate civilization because it is all based on anti-life useless performance! Back to nature, back to simple/simply living. At this juncture our “civilization” is our number one problem, as a species.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Some people seem to take it for granted that everyone should be and/or act like them. I think this is especially true of extroverts, who (from my experience) don’t “get” that some people aren’t “social animals,” and such people (aka introverts) would rather spend most of their free time either alone (reading, writing, etc.) or with their family or perhaps a close friend. Why should introverts have to justify who they are? Extroverts don’t, and neither should introverts.

    I realize that “social distancing” and avoiding large gatherings may be a problem for extroverts, but you can survive it for a while, and by doing so, help others survive by not risking spreading the coronavirus.

    Liked by 3 people

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