Having lived in Spain for the last three years, and having had time to reflect upon the cultural differences between Britain and here, I have to place the emphasis on the aspect of culture and community spirit. This is one dynamic that seems to be dying in Britain and thriving in Spain. I could list many reasons and give examples of where this is most apparent, but I think (and probably because I particularly enjoy) the vibrant world of the Cafe culture, shows the tradition of meeting, chatting and philosophising in a cosy and relaxed setting better than anywhere. I have my particular favourites as many do here, and have spent many a pleasant morning/afternoon observing the behaviour of the human species.
The demise of the Cafe in Britain began, although tentatively, with the introduction of Wimpys in the 1950s. Although it had a very British feel to Wimpy, with its toasted tea cakes and Knickerbocker glorys, it was the beginning of the fast food, less talk, breakfast on the go so to speak. Its eventual sale to the Grand Metropolitan food group and the repackaging into the shape of Burger King in 1989 killed off the intimacy of the cosy Cafe for good. Of course we don’t need to mention the other fast food (or not food) culprits. And in the land of coffee we are left with the sterile and ubiquitous Starbucks and Costa coffee.
Why is the Cafe so important? Well for one we are running out of places to converse, discuss the frowned upon politics and religion, criticise governments and educate each other on the devious behaviour of politicians, complain about our spouses or just ramble insignificantly. These are essential actions in the fabric of a healthy society. Whether we are discussing, observing, thinking or just emptying the contents of an over worked mind, the Cafe is the perfect place to do this.
Fortunately I am still able to enjoy this simple pleasure as the fast food brigade has not been accepted by the Spanish. There is an abundance of unique and individual Cafes in every village, town and city here. And there is no rushing, pushing or stressing to be witnessed. Newspapers are unfolded, crosswords attempted, conversations struck up, dominoes and playing cards are out, and a new day begins. The sun is shining; the coffee is good, and the world . . . . well it really does seem a better place. These activities are not only confined to mornings. The cycle begins again in the afternoon when the work has been done and the urge to rest, recuperate and discuss the day’s findings begins once more. And I for one would be very reluctant to relinquish this simple but essential pleasure. Long live the Cafe culture!