As a part time-barista at a major tourist attraction, it’s easy to connect with so many people from all over the world on a daily basis. I find myself asking customers where they're from, what they do and how they go about doing it. Occasionally, I hear a story that wakes me up inside and tells me to keep grinding. More importantly, these stories always end up teaching me a little bit more about myself.
[Updated: Summer 2017]
I was working a long shift yesterday, it was day four of seven. As usual I was in the midst of slinging shots of espresso, all the while greasing up the cracks formed in my hands from constant wetness of cleaning cups, and a French man approached the counter and wanted a coffee, a single espresso… unsurprisingly.
We got talking and it turns out he’s a wine producer in western France, a cool job if you ask me. He told me briefly about the process of producing wine and how a good rosé is made. He even offered me a place to stay should I ever be in western France with no roof over my head.
A nice offer, but I’m far too committed to take it up anytime soon and as much as my gut wants me to get up and disappear, the reality is much different; year three of university is fast approaching.
The best part of this story is that I made a friend. A friend with knowledge of wine that he was able to share with me, first hand knowledge I wouldn’t have accessed anywhere else. For this, I am grateful.
Another example was of a man who asked for a latte in a British/American accent. I asked if he was in fact British, and he replied he was but that he has been living in Thailand for the past decade working for a fair trade organisation.
This is a guy with a story completely unknown to me, and it was something I wanted to understand more. Whist making his coffee I politely quizzed him on what Thailand is like, what areas are good to visit, what working in fair trade is like and how he ended up in his field.
I found out all sorts, like the fact that he had lived away from his family for ten years and was back visiting, and that his job was very demanding and took him travelling all over the Thai islands. He said that although he wouldn’t trade what he had, it was difficult to leave his two children for weeks on end, especially in a country so diverse as Thailand.
My eyes opened suddenly, aware of the potential negatives of travelling. Although the conversation only lasted five minutes, it allowed for my mind to ponder questions it wouldn’t have otherwise considered, and considering travel is all I’ve wanted to do for three years now, it was extremely useful.
On another note, I asked him what sort of fair trade work he did, and he explained that he works in both fair trade clothing and coffee, which is the basis of my final year dissertation. I couldn’t believe I had struck up a conversation that was so perfectly tailored to my current situation.
I needed his knowledge.
He briefly spoke about the effects of fair trade coffee and how it is rarely focused upon in consumer countries, yet is such a major part of producing countries. He even gave me a business card with a useful website I can use for my final year piece.
But, the best story yet is in fact from an employee and not a customer.
I worked in a museum coffee shop, and one of the security guards that works there is a 60-something South African man, a deserter of the South African police force, and a father to three.
Every time I engage in conversation with him, it blew me away. I asked him yesterday what he did at the weekend and he replied, “It was a perfectly wasted weekend. I drank loads'a port and smoked too much dope”.
You don’t get answers like that with British elders.
The relationship I’ve built with John (lets call him John) has been incredible. In fact, he's a writer himself, having published a book called ‘Wasted’ that took him almost 20 years to complete and that is centred around his childhood living in South Africa during the apartheid.
Johns stories have led me to discover that we have a very common interest (besides writing). We both share the same hero: Jack Kerouac.
It turns out John has all Kerouac’s writings sitting on his bookshelf at home. Having only read ‘On The Road’ and ‘The Dharma Bums’ previously, I couldn’t refuse when he offered up his entire collection to me to read over summer.
As summer fades, so did my time at the coffee shop, but I know the stories will never fail to enrich.