Coffee and Conversations

Coffee holds a special place in my heart. It reminds me of Sunday mornings before my grandfather passed away when my family would congregate around the small-four-seater-circular table inside our kitchen. My brothers and I would bring our computer chairs or desk chairs from our room to have a seat in the kitchen table. We would eat the delicious breakfast my mother and grandmother would make: homemade flour tortillas, beans, eggs “a la mexicana,” bacon, enchiladas with sour cream and goat cheese, nopales, and fresh orange juice. We ended our big meal with a cup of coffee and a conversation. These conversation could be small-talk or at times my grandfather would share stories of his childhood. This was family time. My family is a very busy bunch. My parents own a small business and leave the house early and come home late, I am in college so I only get weekends, my older brother works in Austin and my younger brother is an over-achieving and utterly-involved high schooler (thank God). This only makes me cherish the moments much more.

My friends call me a coffee addict but in reality I am a girl with a personal connection to the feelings coffee brings me. It reminds me of home, my grandpa and all our laughs around the kitchen table. This semester, for my cross-cultural class I had to conduct an ethnographic research and I decided to do it on families at a coffee shop in Spain. Enjoy!

Coffee and Conversations: A Brief Ethnography

The following is an excerpt from my field notes: I am sitting at a coffee shop studying for my midterm but I keep getting distracted by the mother yelling after her daughter, about age 2, wearing a blue Cinderella dress (the girl was dressed up for Carnival), “Ana, do not run off too far. Come here!” Ana giggles and continues running around the coffee shop. Her mom then gives her “the finger” but it does not work. The mom then rushes over to where Ana was running and picks her up and gives her a chocolate croissant. As she picks her up I notice the boy Ana was running to. He also had a chocolate croissant in one hand. I am officially distracted. I then notice many other families with kids at the coffee shop. All the kids are either running around like Ana or were eating excessive amounts of sweet drinks or pastries. Oh my! This might be why they are so hyper.

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General observations made while conducting field notes were that the act of getting coffee was a ritual outing for families, families engaging in physical attention or love expressions when they go out to get coffee, and getting coffee was the time for parents to gossip as they disconnected from other responsibilities. To begin my descriptive approach, couples with babies had their child typically in the middle and everyone would talk around the baby or to the baby. It was evident the baby was the center of attention. The baby demanded both parents to be very engaged. One partner would talk but the conversation would quickly be interrupted or put on hold to look at the baby or satisfy the baby’s needs. When conversation did occur within the couple there would be moments of what I categorized as “baby voice”, where the couple would break out of their normal voice and participate in higher pitched voice with lots of smiling. The “baby voice” was not seen as abnormal and the couple was aware whom it was directed towards the baby. In contrast, couples with older kids took more the role of monitoring their kids from a distance. Their kids were more independent and not needing as much attention. For example, their kids would run all around the coffee shop and the parents would keep an eye on them or called them back if they ran off to far (like the case with Ana described above). One common interaction that I observed between parents and child was the constant feeding of chocolate milk and pastries. Another interaction was if the kid got out of hand or misbehaved the parents would discipline them by giving them the finger or commands of attention. Couples with older kids seemed more engaged in their own conversation and were just sometimes interrupted by their child. These interactions can reveal a great deal of insight into the meanings about acts of love, acts of discipline, and relationships of those who make up this speech community, and accordingly this will be my main focus in my interpretive examination.

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As a typical outing might seem like the time to get out of the house and have more couple time, for couples with kids there was no denying that it solely focused on the baby or child. When a couple has a baby, conversation and physical space is shaped around the baby and he/she becomes the most important part of the outing. The couple I observed placed the baby in the middle, which facilitated both parents’ taking care of the child. The baby was on the lap of the mother and I noticed throughout the conversation the constant eye contact that would be given to the baby instead to one another. It was evident that this was a commonality between the couple and neither one of them seemed bothered by the lack of attention towards each other. The baby brought happiness and a sense of novelty to the mix of the couple. Both newly-excited parents developed  an original form of speech language, which I defined as “baby talk.” Baby talk along with expressions of love such as, kisses, guarding and rocking the baby were ordinary acts in this speech community and defined a couple with a baby. In contrast, for couples with older kids using discipline was the main source of communication. The most interesting interpretations were about the acts of discipline: indirect and direct which couples would use to have more time for each other. The direct acts of discipline parents would engage in were warnings and use of the finger. The communication between the child and parent was very clear when these were used and both knew that this meant to stop misbehaving. When direct acts did not work, the parent would use an indirect act. Parents would feed their children chocolate drinks and pastries. A treat like this is often seen as a reward, but in this speech community I came to an understanding that it was not a reward but a way to distract the children and stop misbehavior. When a parent uses this older version of a “pacifier” it is meant to keep the kid entertained. Parents then avoid the act of yelling at the child to stop running, signaling the finger or giving warnings. This indirect act of discipline which I interpreted as very common within this speech community is meant to keep the child entertained and to allocate more time for the parents to hold their own conversations.

It was a very interesting exercise to interpret several of my observations and examine the underlying meanings of communication present within the speech community of families at a coffee shop. It was quite different to the speech community I belong to back at home but it brought me a sense of appreciation. Although my family does not attend coffee shops together we create a our own living space where we show our love for each other. And our love is like a best cup of coffee… comforting to my spirit, soothing to my soul, stimulating to my heart, while warming me all over. 

-Alejandra Martinez