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Mere observations in the UK and UAE.
The culture of coffee has gone in and out of fashion over the past 100 years, the Lyons tea room where small tables , highish prices , and short snacks ie cake and tea. Determined the cliental, middle class women, during the day when husbands were at work ( different time and work culture). Chatting and snobbish judgmental-ism which was encouraged by the strong class system of the Edwardian period. A place to be seen for the up and coming, to aspire to as lower middle class (trades men’s wives).
Then in the fifties the coffee bars for the young hipsters , drinking expresso or milky coffee in shallow glass cups, a place to be seen, meet, chat , play the duke box, not about individual separation, butq the group/clan. Coffee was secondary it was the place, also milkshakes not unlike an American drugs store of the same period, they lasted till the seventies. Nobody wanted to go to the pub as that was perceived as being not cool/square and frequented by old men and the working class. The identity of a generation trying to separate itself from the post war rationing and austerity burdened parents. An aspirational class, but as a group.
Replaced by the wimpy bar, not exactly American burgers, but a bizarre combination of china plates, burgers with onions and chips, more like a cross between the transport cafe and the real American drive in. Very much a family affair as a meal was generally beyond the wages of the young.
They started to go back to pubs, the drop out student scene, but again about the group, it was cool to associate with the working class, a kind of reverse rebellion to their aspirational middle class parents who’s materialism they were rebelling against. Us and them.
Now, the coffee culture in the UK is the same as you described. Thinking about your observations, people give each other more personal space so as not to interact. I think it’s a case of the cult of the individual that is marketed as lifestyle. This type of narcissism is played upon by the extensive ‘ when Harry met Sally ‘ type of individuality. You shout your order to let people know you are somebody. High prices give it a higher get perceived value and thus reinforce the elite view of ‘if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it’ Hatton Gardens gold shop district concept. Unfortunately the coffee shops have put all the shop rents up due to their high profit margins. Small individual shops get pushed out and the big names move in, this model in poorer areas has collapsed with local authority’s stepping in as the large chains move out. So in working class high streets you get a mix of transport style cafés which are cheap and serve familiar all day breakfasts, noisy, no wifi, tabloid newspapers, quick turn around, function over form.
Association with product can make people feel ( for a few minutes at least) better about themselves, getting away from reality as the movies were during WWII. This does not always lead to gentrification if the underlying economy is weak, the infrastructure poor, and there are no other aspirational attractions ie a scene, new well paid employment, higher education, all of these feed a
perception of a place that is cool. Ie high line NY, Hoxton Square, London. But as yet there seems to be too many hurdles for many areas to pull themselves out the poverty trap, so no quick fix. Investment in education, skilled work and identity of place that often comes about through its local industry. So the coffee shop is a sign, but not root of an areas prosperity.
The sense of entitlement is very strong due to the social structure of the emirate have to pretty much be licensed to be classed as an emirate. If you are born in the UAE this does not make you a local. So the class structure is based on skin colour and nationality as immigrant workers. So the coffee shop has exactly the same effect as in the uk only more so, plus the whole wifi silo makes it worse. Coffee shops are not social places, they are silos of bloggers, tweeters etc. if you want to meet friends then you eat, meet at a corner, by water, sport, brunch.
Thanks for your article I will people watch with even more attention paid to the nuances of how humans interact, the focus on acting, performing as an agreed social construct with in a space.