Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Watching the Cafe Workers: A Case Study. Part 1

April 18th, 2010 · No Comments

I’ve been volunteering at the Greenhouse Trust in Norwich now for about two months. The question that most immediately comes to mind is “Well, why haven’t you been blogging about your experiences there?”. Fair question. Like most of my classmates, I’ve found it a difficult to task. We’ve been in Norwich for a good portion of the year. Our senses that were once so peaked are now dulled to cultural differences as those differences are now normal for us. So for a few weeks, I was racking my brain with things to talk about. The accents? They are all pretty similar to one another. What goes on at the Greenhouse Trust? It’s a great organization that promotes green living by offering the Norwich community an environmentally friendly café in which to eat. Still, I’ve worked in cafes before. There isn’t a major difference in how the Greenhouse Trust operates and the way in which the other cafes carry out business. Sure, the Greenhouse Trust is more aware of their energy use and the items they have on their menu, but vegetables are still chopped the same way, orders are still taken in a similar fashion, and tables don’t vary in how they’re being cleaned. Finding a new angle seemed almost impossible.

Then I realized that I was working with the cast that Kate Fox must have been observing for her book Watching the English. The gossip, the quiet one who keeps to himself, the overly polite person, and many more. Kate Fox’s observations inspired a class discussion of whether or not the English people were really as she found them to be in her book (a society filled with nervous, socially dis-eased people). While I still don’t believe that her book by its very nature is fair to all English people, I will say that those that work at the Greenhouse Trust support her findings. I won’t use names or any physical descriptions that can pinpoint any one person in particular. My aim is not to blast anyone; rather, I want to use this café as a case study in observing the English person’s behavior tendencies, not unlike Kate Fox’s style.

One of the opening segment’s of Watching the English details how the English are a people who gossip often and in a very specific manner. She states that the women raise their eyebrows and the octave of their voices while huddling together and looking around to make sure that no one hears what they’re chatting about. The image that can best portray what she is trying to describe is that of pigeons sitting next to one another on a park bench very closely, cooing in succession for a few seconds, bobbing their heads up and down as they make said noise. I didn’t like this description at first, nor did I find it to be true in any setting. That was before I started volunteering at the café. One person at the café will always have a piece of gossip to share with the group. This person won’t announce it loudly or to just anyone. The person will wait until he or she is one-on-one with another person and make his or her way over, very quietly, to the other person. His or her neighbor’s gardening methods, the cats that meow until the late hours of the night, the loud neighborhood children, the neighbor that might be gaining a little too much weight or is certainly pregnant, other co-workers that have been sneaking from the dried apricot stash in the back, other co-workers that are sitting down when they shouldn’t be (a debatable subject but one that you can’t really debate. You just smile and nod and continue doing the washing up)- these are all topics that this worker will chat about in this very specific manner: very close to you, head popping up and down in constant look out for someone else who might be in ear shot, a high pitched voice yet a quiet one, and raised eyebrows.

Kate Fox understood the way in which the English people gossip. At first, I thought she was exaggerating. After observing this co-worker, I realized that I was actually the one observing the wrong people in the wrong way. Uni students are a separate people than their culture in every country. Of course the English university students do not gossip the same way that an older or even younger generation does. If Kate Fox and history and this co-worker show me anything though, I have a feeling they will. Just give them a few years.

Tags: Audrey