Environment, eavesdropping and quiet: Observation Notes 65-67

Observation note 65: Environmental Coffee. In October of 2019, I saw a short news snippet on how Italy’s coffee culture differs from Australia in that it doesn’t create as much rubbish. This is because people sit down for their coffee rather than have take-aways. So I have made a concerted effort ever since to make time to sit down for my coffee. Since then, I have only bought three take-away coffees. If I can’t make time to sit down, I just don’t bother. I know that keep cups are an option but I can taste the plastic in them. I also like the sit down. 10-15 minutes a day forcing me to think about my next step, my next action, my next read or my next piece of writing. Of course, considering that the majority of 2020 was spent in lockdown, I really missed having cafe coffee. It does differ from home coffee even if you have invested in a $400 coffee machine to make excellent coffees at home. My lockdown, homemade coffees were wonderful, of course. I was grateful for all of them especially as they were all made for me by my husband. We got into the habit of taking our coffees onto our front verandah even if it was mostly quiet with sparse foot traffic going past. Occasionally, we’d chat with friends or neighbours, or my sister would walk past and we would have a very loud, socially distanced conversation.

Observation note 66: Eavesdropping. One of the benefits of only sitting down in a coffee shop is being able to listen in to other people’s conversations. The other day, as I was quietly sipping my coffee, pretending to be writing on my laptop, I could hear two young men having a catch up. One of them was talking about his break up with his girlfriend and he said that he was “a conscious narcissist” and that he didn’t want to spend any time pandering to a woman’s needs when he just wanted someone to take care of his needs. Suffice to say, he was a total bore, even if he did effusively appreciate the delicate blue-flowered teapot his chai was served up in. At another table, a group of women were busy planning archive acquisitions for their workplace. Only one was taking notes as the other two discussed dates and possible collaborators for projects. The day before, while I tucked into my bulgar wheat crepe with rose water poached pears, the woman next to me was discussing the merits of the picture books she was reading with the barista who was taking a break from his work. Ahead of me, a couple were working out their child’s pick up schedule. All this was done in hushed tones. No-one was particularly talking loudly (dammit!). I had to strain to listen in. It was a task to overhear their conversations over the buzz of the coffee grinder and the staff seeing to other people’s needs.

Observation note 67: What is quiet. The other day, while I sheltering from the cold at the library (see Observation Note 63), I found the “Quiet” room to read my book. There were a few other people in the room and everyone was totally quiet. However, just like the coffee shop, there was ambient noise. Primarily from staff who were answering their users questions. When I was working as a librarian, I was always keenly aware of how contradictory librarians were to their library “brand” (I really hate that word). The quiet room’s door was propped open, so the staff discussion could be heard, the children’s storytime cheers were carrying from the other end of the room, and the sitar player sitting outside of the library was clearly audible. What was lacking though, were conversations between people that I could listen in on, trying to get a glimpse into their life. The elderly gentlemen in search of the Choice magazine so he could read up on washing machine reviews was disappointingly boring. So I left. I went back to the coffee shop. I needed to overhear more stories.

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