Solitude in third places
During this trip to San Francisco, I have visited many coffee shops. One of the coffee shops at the top of my mental list of places to go was Blue Bottle Coffee. On my most recent trip there -- during which time I had a delicious coffee -- I felt down. People were talking in the background, but the environment felt cold. Some people came in and picked up a pre-made coffee and left the store. It was relatively quiet. There were no opportunities to chat with new people.
Let me contrast this experience with my times in a diner that I have been going to a few times here in SF. In the diner, I have had two serendipitious conversations with people. Both of these conversations left me feeling energised. I had the opportunity to hear about the lives of two other people; what they do, what they have done, what is coming up in their day, whether or not they stay in the city. Accompanied with great food, this experience is terrific. I may never run into patrons of the diner again, but our conversations will be in my memories.
In a discussion with a friend, I started to notice that a lot of coffee shops I have been in are not necessarily conducive to meeting new people. It feels like a place to meet people you know, or a place to be in public while doing another task. Both of these are great, but if you are in the mood to start a new conversation the opportunities are limited.
Environmental factors are at play in some coffee shops. For instance, some shops have bright and white decors; the place feels like it lacks character and makes me feel less confident. Most shops have tables only for a party rather than communal tables. It's rare to see someone chat between tables unless the same party is spread across two tables. I may be wrong on this, but there doesn't appear to be a social ettiquete around striking up new conversations in coffee shops. I feel this is a loss; coffee shops bring people together physically, but that doesn't mean they connect.
When travelling with only a few people you know nearby, the lack of daytime social spaces to meet new people is dissapointing. The solution? Perhaps more communal areas in coffee shops would be conducive to creating more conversation. Perhaps coffee shops being less "minimalist" and embracing more character would help. I'm not exactly sure, but something is missing. I hope we all figure out what it is and help patch the gap.
My favourite coffee shop near where I live is one where the baristas are inviting and in quiet times I can chat with them. My most memorable experiences of eating food in the US are in places where I have met someone new.
Tagged in San Francisco.
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