Perils of English Coffee

“The number of seconds each of us has in this life is, after all, finite, and every one that ticks past brings us closer to the point where we shall have only a few moments left.  Some dwell on such thoughts with the equanimity that comes from acceptance–from dust we come and to dust we return; others would prefer not to be reminded of mortality.  There is no point, they feel, in thinking about the inevitable–precisely because it is inevitable.  On the other hand, Isabel thought that carpe diem–seize the day–was probably one of the more helpful mottoes by which to lead one’s life, and if a glance at the time served to remind us of it, then that was no bad thing.”
Alexander McCall Smith, The Perils of Morning Coffee

I heard this song for the first time on the radio recently.  It doesn’t really have anything to do with Finland or traveling per se, but it seemed appropriate to how I’ve been feeling.  I’m posting it because listening to this song feels like wandering around a foreign city alone, not really knowing or caring where exactly you are, not really wanting to interact with anyone, just walking and watching the world go by oblivious to your existence.  It sounds depressing to write out, but I find it freeing and empowering.  That’s my goal for social assimilation in a new place–to be able to go out and just be in the environment without anyone looking at me funny.  My accent will always give me away, but as long as I can walk down the street and pass people who don’t give me a second glance, I don’t feel like a stranger.

That’s kind of the key to finding your way home, isn’t it?  The first step is to stop feeling like a stranger in a strange land.  And it requires a good deal of je ne sais quoi, as it tends to come across to people.  It feels like being aloof, being hard, being haughty.  Putting your badass face on.  Forget that you have faults and humility.  Now, don’t be stupid–follow the rules of the locals.  If you make a mistake, fix it and brush it off.  Don’t be rude.  But don’t panic about making a faux pas, either.  Your pas may not be as faux as you think.

filter coffee





















I frequented a student cafe in London where I often asked for “filter coffee” (brewed coffee).  I think I was the only one who ever drank filter coffee there and they would often put on the pot just for me.  The first time I asked for a coffee the barista asked me which kind I wanted, and I thought he was going to give me a list of flavored blends.  Many cafes don’t even serve brewed coffee, and after a while I made it a game of intentionally asking for “coffee” and taking it as a surprise to figure out what I was given.  Usually it was a cappuccino. Sometimes it was espresso with frothy milk and sugar.  In Holland I got what we would call an Americano–espresso mixed with water.  The point is, at my student cafe they eventually grew to expect me ordering filter coffee (and I learned to order it that way), and I realized it wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought.  It didn’t necessarily mean I was a stupid and uncultured American.  It just meant I liked simple, usually bitter coffee.  Instead of making me a bad exemplar of a type in their minds, it made me an individual with unique tastes and experiences.

In London it took me a long time to stop feeling like a stranger.  I hope when I get to Helsinki I can put on my badass face right away and get to feeling like less of a stranger.  I believe it’s not so much about where you’re from but it’s your attitude about who and where you are in the present.  If you feel like a stranger, you will act like a stranger and be treated like one.  Even if you have no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going, even if it’s a new place, you don’t have to feel like a stranger.  It’s all about having a broader worldview.  I consider myself a citizen of the world, and if you belong everywhere and anywhere, you can’t be a stranger.

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