Friday, April 20, 2012

Coffee, Computers and Cafe Culture

If I had a kuna for every double take I receive in the cafe I frequent, I'd have enough to finance the opening of the first Starbucks in Croatia. I've been in this country for five years now, so I know that sitting by oneself at a table with only a computer is rare. Unheard of. At least in small town Croatia.

Since I started working towards a master's degree in the fall, I've been coming to this cafe at least 3 times a week while our son is in preschool. Despite the music, and the conversations around me, I find it a pleasant place to study for a couple hours. But, there is no doubt I am a fish out of water.

To my right, five elderly ladies order čaj and compare medical conditions and prescriptions. On the other side, two suits discuss local politics. And here am I, reading about Pannenberg's doctrine of Christ, frequently stopping to type notes on my laptop - with no one to talk to.

I've had some sympathetic coffee drinkers try to help. One elderly gentleman attempted to start a conversation this way: "Oh, my daughter lives in America and wants to buy a new laptop". I responded by asking where she lived. My accent seemed to confuse him so he turned around...then turned again to ask where I was from. We still talk from time to time, but laptops and relatives in America don't get us very far.

Another acquaintance recently predicted that within the next 10 years, people will read from computers like they used to read books. He's a professor of mathematics at a college in Osijek. When I showed him that his journal articles were on the internet, and told him that anyone, anywhere could access them, he literally jumped out of his seat.

Whenever he comes to the cafe and I'm here, he asks me what else this machine can do. We talk about teaching, learning, and even religion and politics from time to time. I'm grateful for his company whenever he sits with me. I'm able to practice a completely different set of Croatian vocabulary with him than I am with anyone else.

Slatina is a town of 10,000 in the region of Croatia known for farming. There are bankers, teachers, business owners and even students here. But working on a laptop is still 10 years away from coming to this cafe. In Croatia, computers are more associated with games and facebook than email and Word. In fact, even in the workplace, computers are not seen as the necessity they are in America. Typewriters and file cabinets are much more familiar to the workers, and thus are used with much more frequency. And no one brings a computer to the cafe.

But I'm content here. Without having to take my order anymore, the waitresses happily bring my kava s mlijekom when I walk in. Most of the people around me have already done their double-take. They're used to me. And I'm glad to have company if anyone offers.

Still, it's shocking for anyone who has never seen me here. But for once, it's nice to be on the other side.


Elaine Ritchel said...

Jeremy, I have been thoroughly enjoying your anecdotes recently. And I love, love, love this post. The bit about the professor cracked me up. Although occasionally I do miss marathon cafe study/work sessions, I must say that I really appreciate (and maybe even have come to prefer) the "coffee time is sacred–no work allowed" mentality here. It sounds like you've found a nice balance between the two.

Jared Watson said...

I really like this post. It's good to learn more about how things are outside of the US ... and frankly it's more and more of a welcome thing.

Jeremy Bohall said...

Thanks for reading, Jared! Yeah, it's interesting; while I'm still very American in that I sit at cafes with my laptop I appreciate that there aren't many like me and that the cafe is a place for conversation. I hope my practice doesn't become influential.