Cafe culture or fast food nation?


The summer of 1967 was a time of personal upheaval and new perspectives. I, a backward homebody, toured Europe with high school friends and finished with two weeks of liberating hitch hiking in Ireland. I was quite taken with the age and character of those countries. What impressed most was the comfortable lifetstyles––the French with their leisurely meals in the cafes, the club-like feeling in the pubs of Ireland and England (one went back to the 1600’s!).

Returning to the United States, my eye was critical. This fast food society. I saw little grace. I came to qualify this. I came to realize how much more open and less set in our ways we are. Those European societies had much appeal but could be restricting. A German woman long here told me just yesterday that on a visit home she longed
to get back here for those very reasons. Forty years later, we are still certainly a fast food society, but there have been counter developments. On our Downtown Mall, we
see cafe dining.

It reminded someone of "Paris on the Rivanna"! And coffee places. At first, this coffee phenomenon seemed a bit silly. A dollar for a cup that used to be a quarter and, at many restaurants, free? And all those embellishments!; those will always be a bit
affected to me.

However, I have come to see these places as very positive developments in the European style. Our bars have limited range and are not very friendly places. These counter gathering places are comfortable, not threatening. People talking, laptoping, reading together. A leap for civilization. I wonder where people used to go… The owner of the first coffee place here was asked if it would make it. Sure, people may not be drinking and smoking, but they can still drink coffee. Yes, and, now, coffee has taken on this elevated, worldly appeal. For me it is not the beverage that matters, it is the setting.