Coffee Spills

What I hear and see and think about at the coffee shops I patronize.
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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Talking about politics at the coffee shop

I didn't need formal research to discover that regular groups who gather in coffee shops aren't there to discuss politics, even if that is what they do every Saturday. The groups are social clubs and quite exclusionary, and no matter what the volume, no one changes his mind. I regularly sit at another table and overhear a group of white middle-age, middle-class men, Protestants and Catholics, who are Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians. Frank the Irish-Catholic-Republican-stockbroker and Pat the Italian-Catholic-Democrat-pharmacist will good naturedly rib each other each week, but neither will ever move the other. Or really listen to each other. And after a dose of politics, it is on to a safer topic, like the Buckeyes (Ohio State) or the Golden Bears (high school team).

Since I started serving coffee at the town drug store when I was 16, I have listened to men in groups talk. The faces change slightly, the names of the teams they support change, the companies or farms they work in vary, but the social needs seem to stay the same.

Katherine Cramer Walsh actually picked up a coffee pot and poured seconds in order to be invited into the "conversations" at a coffee shop. She wrote up her research findings in the book, "Talking about politics" (University of Chicago Press, 2004).


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