Saturday, July 26, 2008

Coffee Culture Comparison

Working in a cafe in the Netherlands has led me to several observations about the differences between cafes and coffee culture in Europe and the U.S. - specifically differences between the Pacific Northwest's dedicated coffee diehards and the Netherlands more simple (it seems) maintenance of tradition.

One of the most notable differences between coffee consumption in the Netherlands and Stumptown is the way it's taken.

In Portland, there are few codes of conduct. People drink coffee in groups, alone, with friends, with children, with whoever. They drink at counters or at tables, on couches or on the go. Each cafe or coffeehouse has a different approach to coffee drinking.

These different approaches can be annoying, for example when you don't know if you should claim a seat first and THEN order your drink, or if you should wait to sit until you have ordered - is one polite and the other pushy? Are you waited on or do you order at the bar? (Usually it is the latter, but not always.)

In the Netherlands - or at least in Middelburg - coffee is traditionally a social activity. You don't see many people sitting by themselves. The exception to this is old men and women taking their morning coffee and reading the paper, but even this usually turns into a social event when they see friends and talk with the waiters, other customers, etc. Also, they only drink alone in the morning - you never see them in the afternoon.

I have never seen a couch in a cafe in the Netherlands, and very few people get coffee to go. This would defeat the social aspect of a cup of coffee!

Luckily, I have been able to find a few cafes where I do not feel impolite or asocial when I sit alone with my journal or a book for an hour or so. Globalization at work, I guess. It's another one of those tricky things, where you like things the way you like them... but should you continue to like them that way at the expense of other cultures?

One Dutch coffee tradition that I am very happy to adopt: the cookie. Every time you order a cup of coffee - a gewoon koffie (also known as a lungo), a koffie verkeerd (a "wrong coffee", similar to our caffe latte), a cappucino, or some froofy drink with whipped cream, flavored syrup and decorative sprinkles - it comes with a little tea cookie on the saucer, at no extra cost. As my mother says, how civilized!

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