Next time you walk into a cafe, perhaps it would interest you to glance around, take in your surroundings, and consider your motivations for walking into that establishment.
Durham, North Carolina – When I was studying in Fez last year, my class had a couple days off in the third week, leaving me with a four-day weekend. To anyone who knows me, it will be absolutely no surprise that I did not want to take those four days to “relax” or “unwind” or even just stay in the Fez area.
So I decided to take a somewhat spontaneous road trip. I booked a rental car and began scouring travel websites and blogs, trying to figure out where I wanted to go.
After contemplating some suggestions I had heard from my classmates and the various interesting-looking attractions highlighted on websites, I pinned the locations on Google Maps and came up with a route that began with Chefchaouen.
I left my Fez apartment at 5 a.m. and proceeded to attempt to navigate the narrow, winding roads that span the hilly countryside north of Fez, which, before sunrise, is a little nerve-racking.
But after a couple of hours of continuous driving sequences that would make Americans panic (but which, to Fez taxi drivers, I am inclined to believe, would just be another day in the life), I arrived at the province of Ouazzane. There, I paused on a hill to admire the sunrise. As I drove through, I got to see the sleepy town begin to come alive, with shopkeepers opening their doors and delivery carts making their morning rounds.
I stopped in a cafe that was just opening up to get a cup of coffee. It was when I asked for it “a emporter” that I discovered that coffee “to-go” does not seem to be as customary in Morocco as it is in the US. This gave me pause (it sometimes amazes me what a deluge of thoughts a simple detail can release).
I see those familiar and incredibly environmentally-unfriendly cardboard to-go coffee cups every day at home. When I order a beverage in a coffee shop, more often than not the barista assumes that I would like it to-go. Presumably, this happens with other customers as well.
So why is this coffee-drinking atmosphere so different in these two countries?
To me, it seems that Americans are, generally speaking, a more rushed bunch of people than many Moroccans. It made me think about what I have observed in both Fez and my own city in North Carolina in the local coffee shops and cafes. In Durham, NC, I would venture that at least half (potentially more) of the coffee shop customers are stopping in to get a drink to take with them.
We are always moving. As a society, we are virtually expected to be heading somewhere specific and productive when we leave the house. A coffee shop is simply a quick stop along the route.
Of course, there are some people who sit and stay in the shop after ordering their beverage. But even they are different.
First of all, most of them are students who are either reading or working on laptops, since free wi-fi is basically a staple of coffee shops across the country. And many of them are alone.
Even the students who are not alone are acting as though they are. I have even done this! In college I would often study “with my friends.” But thinking about that now, I realize that all I had was another body across from me. I did not usually interact with them more than I had to since I was working on whatever academic task I had gone there to accomplish, group projects and collaborative efforts aside.
After the “to-go-ers” and the solo students, lastly come the people who are actively engaging with the person or people whom they had come there to meet. But that is often the minority.
This American pseudo-independent culture is in stark contrast with what I frequently observed in Morocco. In the cafes lining many of the main streets in Fez, as well as other cities I visited, both the indoor and outdoor seating areas are filled with people drinking coffee or tea.
Many of these people are deep in conversation with others at their table, or are casually chatting while people-watching, or are even playing games together like chess or a different dice-throwing game that I never did figure out. This social, loud, and vibrant atmosphere can definitely be witnessed in the evenings at bars in the US, but I see it less often during the day at coffee shops.
Daytime is “go-time” for Americans. But in Morocco, perhaps daytime is just as much a time to relax as it is a time to get things done.
I do not call myself any sort of expert on American or Moroccan social cultures; all I can analyze are the situations I have viewed and details I have noticed in my personal experiences. I also do not think that one of these cultures is necessarily “better” than the other. Rather I am simply pointing out the differences.
I find these types of reflections quite fascinating, and while I cannot confidently say that I know why these differences exist as they do, I enjoy watching simply for observation’s sake. However, I would think it could definitely be an interesting aspect of life to ponder.
So next time you—as an American, a Moroccan, a European, an Asian, or simply as a fellow human—walk into a coffee shop or cafe, perhaps it would interest you to glance around, take in your surroundings and the people within them, and consider your motivations for walking into that establishment. What is your purpose?