KATY WARD – Opinion Columnist
Urban Standard is the hub of Second Avenue. Octane pumps the Homewood neighborhood, and a new location just opened downtown. Locally owned coffee shops turned into bars and music venues decorate Birmingham, and the phenomenon is not unique to the Magic City. In a country grasping at work goals and for uncharted time, coffee is becoming the Ritz of accessible leisure.
But coffee only occupies the margins of American time, as there is no workday break stateside. In London around 4 p.m., everything stops for tea. The Spaniards close their businesses each afternoon for a two-hour siesta, and many Latin American countries follow similar siesta breaks. French men and women observe two-hour lunches over multi-course meals, and even the schoolchildren eat well and play for hours come noon. Indians in Bangladesh and Bengal observe a break from work called “bhat-ghum,” or rice sleep. Tea culture in Australia involves a little more alcohol than the European version, but going out for “cuppa” makes an easy space for connectivity and leisure.
The United States are about the only place in the world where lateness is a character flaw, and a Spartan work ethic marches over communal breaks. Slowly, a version of teatime, siesta and “cuppa” has popularized stateside, since unwalkable cities require meeting places and adulthood requires caffeine. Coffee shops have grown from a convenience to a cultural phenomenon, and coffee culture continues to charm the nation. Many American cities are developing coffee shop tours similar to those in Amsterdam and New Zealand. Frequenter punch cards fill wallets and cyber cafes make extra work time feel like chill time.
Coffee shops make neighborhoods out of city streets and offer G-rated leisure spots, and the reasons to love coffee itself are endless. But how interesting is it that the American version of the naptime or leisurely meal time in other countries is actually a stimulant? An Arabic saying dubs coffee “the milk of thinkers and chess players.” Americans can excuse a break by drinking focus juice. What an overwhelming work ethic.
The European Union, Mexico, Colombia and Australia have government-mandated caps on work hours per week and requirements for minimum paid vacation time. Australia’s government even requires certain meal breaks per so many work hours. During siesta or teatime, business phones are acceptably unreachable.
Although there is no universal break time solution to be forced on the 50 states, adopting a jealousy for leisure time may be the only way to combat American haste. Ignoring relational and leisure priorities is as much a crime as creaming coffee to a white syrup. And drinking in the coffee culture can combat the work culture three dollars at a time.