I’m in a good place right now, both physically and mentally. Physically, 1) there are only two more weeks until Centennial Conference Champs, so I better be in shape after two seasons of training, and 2) Bryn Mawr College is an awesome place with awesome people and awesome professors (hardcore evidence) who inspire me. Mentally, I have been waking up excited to learn and have been engaged by the assigned readings. I know, barf. But my professors this semester are so passionate about what they teach, I can’t help but be interested in all the knowledge they’re passing down to me.
One such class I’m taking is Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. Our latest assignment was to write a “thick description” paper, which requires us to do basic ethnographic research by observing social interaction in a public space and taking detailed notes based on our observations. Doesn’t that sound like fun? No, that was not sarcasm. To me, that assignment translates into: people watching.
I love people watching and I do it a lot. When I’m in a large social setting, you’ll probably find me sitting quietly in the corner and maybe mistake it for discomfort. It’s quite possible that you’re right and I am uncomfortable, but you shouldn’t feel the need to pull me out of my corner to “do something” and be involved (although I must admit, that is sometimes the push I need to break out of my introversion). Because I am doing something already. I’m people watching.
So I thought this assignment would be easy. I thought it’d be like what I already do for blogging. As a personal lifestyle blogger, going about my daily life I’m always trying to be more aware of my surroundings by looking at things critically. Is this photo worthy? Is that photo worthy? Could I somehow make it photo worthy by looking at it from a different perspective? Could I make the scene more dramatic with some editing? What can I say about this? Or that? How does this make me feel? Can I learn something from this? How can I share this so that it might be relevant for other people as well?
What I love about personal lifestyle blogging is that it’s personal, so every personal lifestyle blog I follow is different. I write about how things make me feel. But with anthropology, although there is an element of participation via ethnographic fieldwork, it is also crucial to take a step back in an effort to be objective, to write down everything and train yourself to observe things you otherwise wouldn’t.
This Sunday morning I decided to conduct my fieldwork at Hothouse Coffee. No, I did not procrastinate my essay that is due Tuesday morning. I was simply saving the outing for a Sunday morning, a time that I have been spending more consciously, thanks to this 52 project.
I chose this location not just because of the student discount or the fact that I have a loyalty card that gives me an additional discount, but because coffee shops have always intrigued me. Coffee shops are public spaces filled with social interaction, but I personally go to public spaces like this to find privacy. It seems counterintuitive, but if you think about it a little longer, I think it’ll begin to make more sense.
I’m someone who is very conscious of myself, and that doesn’t seem like too bad a thing, but if I flip it around and say that I am often self-conscious, it suddenly doesn’t seem like too good a thing either. Coffee shops are nice, because it’s okay to be there, alone. Nobody would think anything of it. I was actually here at Hothouse Coffee exactly two weeks ago with Kathleen, Kevin, and Jonathan, so the pictures you see now are a mix of today’s and two-weeks-ago’s, but today I decided to go by myself.
I don’t like saying that I like Starbucks coffee out of fear of being called basic, but I do. I love Starbucks “coffee.” I put coffee in quotation marks, because I can’t really drink coffee; I can only drink coffee masked by the taste of milk, cream, sugar, and chocolate. In other words, Starbucks coffee. But I don’t like Starbucks itself. During my senior year of high school I went to Starbucks every day after school only because it was my only convenient option to escape the distractions of my house. Starbucks is basically a coffee shop version of a fast food restaurant, which is not the kind of environment I like being or working in. Avoid at all costs! (Proud to say I haven’t gone to Starbucks this 2015 yet.)
Anyways, back to Hothouse. Walking in, the guy behind the counter calls out and asks how I’m doing today even though he has no idea who I am. He seems like a really cool guy. I was working at a table across the counter and caught him dancing with another barista to the music playing in the background overhead. A man walks in with his baby in the stroller and the guy behind the counter offers the baby ten espressos after asking them both how their day is going. I’m tellin’ ya, he’s a cool guy.
Hothouse offers beverages, a breakfast menu, and a lunch menu. Items on the breakfast menu are served all day, at least until the breakfast bagels run out. You can get a loyalty card for free, charge money on it, and also get discounts on purchases. You can get an additional 10% discount with your student ID, and a review on Yelp says that you can also get a discount if you are going to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute’s theater, which is adjacent to the coffee shop. Discounts are my favorite. The ambiance is great with lighting that isn’t too bright or too muted, thanks to the large windows that allow natural light to flow in. The one critique I have is that drinks seem to be randomly served in ceramic, plastic, or paper cups, which bugs me when I’m trying to take pictures. The two times I went, my drinks were served in plastic and paper cups, which doesn’t look too classy. The ceramic cups you see in my pictures are left over from other customers who neglected to bus their own tables. I’m a creep.
chai latte small $3.50 large $3.95 | iced chai small $3.75 large $4.25
ultimate oatmeal $4.75 (brown sugar, dried cranberries, walnuts, apples, banana)
egg and cheese sandwich $5.25 add bacon or ham $1.50
smoked salmon on bagel $7.25
caprese with tomato, basil, and mozzarella $7.95
Looking in through the big glass windows, you see people lining up at the counter. When they get to the front of the line, they make an exchange. Words are said, money is spent, and food is received. Some people leave while some people stay to claim a table and consume their food. Some people continue staying even after their food has been finished.
Breaking the barrier, you open the door and join in the activity, walking straight into the line of people. When you reach the counter, words are said, money is spent, and food is received. An empty table by the window waits for you to claim it. You settle down and it becomes your private space. There are three unused chairs, but those are yours too, because they’re at your table. If people want them, they ask you whether or not you’re using them, even though you clearly aren’t. Politely, you allow them to shift the unused chairs from your domain into theirs. The group starts talking loud enough for each other to hear, but not loud enough for other people to distinguish over the soft music playing overhead.
You turn away and carry on with your own business, and it’s okay. Glancing around, a few others are seen sitting alone at their own tables as well, some reading books, some typing furiously, some gazing thoughtfully into the distance. In this public space, everyone claims their own private part.
So if we’re looking to be by ourselves, why come out here? A buzz of life fills the air. It threads its way through our veins and floats above our heads. We come to a coffee shop and feed on the atmosphere.
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010