The Era of the Café

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While on a holiday with my father many years ago, we were debating where to go out for the evening. He suggested that we go down to a shopping centre, and I asked indignantly “what’s there to do?” And he answered nonchalantly “watch people”. As a young impressionable teenager that seemed an ignoble motive. What’s so interesting in strangers that we should spend a good part of the evening watching them? Now as I am older and mellower, I find myself falling into the mode of going to my favorite café to do just that, watch people.


Of course that’s not the only thing I do. I usually drag along my favorite (and only) daughter, and my favorite (and only) mother, too. I order a cappuccino sip it slowly with relish, and check out the surroundings.


First the waiters. There is a new trend in waiters which is the flirty waiter, especially towards encroaching on middle-age women like myself. Why? Because they know that I have the money and the means to come back again and again, that is if I fall to their buttering me up with words like, ya set el kol, and men 3enaya. Most of them are not unpleasant to look at either with their long black aprons and tight black jeans. Their charms are lost on the younger sexier generation as they usually come as couples anyway.


That’s where my eyes wander next ‘the young ones’. In my courting days, couples would have each other’s full attention, stirring their coffees dreamily while pouring themselves into each others eyes and hands. But now it seems that the romance is dead, both seem more occupied with their lap-tops – probably chatting with someone who isn’t there- than the other person happening to be sitting at the same table with them. I firmly believe that the extinction of mankind will be through the computer and mobile phones. We are forever pre-occupied with the ‘other’, the one who isn’t in our presence and we try to reach him or her through modern technology. On the other hand, the one who is right by our side hold minimal importance until the time comes when they leave our physical vicinity, only then do they become suddenly important and we begin to seek them through the latest gizmos and gadgets.      


Determined to hold on to family values I strike a conversation with my mother who is busy with her Sudoku. More than obliged she responds. My daughter on the other hand is busy with her mobile and she responds only if I attract her attention to one of our fellow cafeteerers. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not one for staring, quite the contrary, I just make a quick scan of my surroundings with a rapid sweep of the eye, and anyone interesting I check out at well-spaced bouts in between my coffee-drinking or my brownie eating. Sometimes I bring along a book to read, but at the risk of looking too nerdy I switch to reading from the book of life, and I don’t want to waste too much time reading and ignoring my favorite pastime.


Psychologically, there is a very good reason for people being drawn to cafes other than thirst and hunger. It’s the grouping phenomenon. Humans like most other creatures tend to group and flock with their own species. Obviously, at this day and age, humans can’t gather at a water well or on top of a tree – although I’m sure that’s what they did in the past – and the café is a wonderful opportunity for grouping. So even though we accompany our own family, friends or P.Cs, it’s fun to do it where there are other people who are busy with their own. It’s a way of being connected to your surrounding if just by physical presence. 


The recent springing up of cafeterias all over Cairo with their Italian names is -although frowned upon by a few- after all a very healthy phenomenon. And it’s not just in Cairo but worldwide. We are entering the age of the public place, which mirrors the youthfulness and openness of the world. If only different governments would hang out at the same cafes, it would give them a perspective of how humans    should behave, coming together, instead of shooting missiles from their ivory towers.  The café is also an excellent place to monitor human relations; the attentive husband, the controlling father, the fussy mother and disgruntled children, or a couple of old friends sitting together for stolen moments of camaraderie in the never ending hustle of life. All a wonderful source of artistic creativity for a writer, which was probably what my father meant by ‘going to watch the people’, as he himself was one.


This writer on the other hand has forgotten her cappuccino and it has turned cold. Now where did that handsome waiter go!




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