Stop and Savour the Coffee – Britain and the Glorification of ‘Busy’
Those of you who follow our ULU blogs will know that Mondays are usually reserved for our PR writer, Anthony Peacock. But this week ULU content manager, Vicky is taking the reins. This week, Vicky writes about how us Brits seem to glorify being busy and how if we just slow down and cut through the distractions we might find a much more appealing way of life.
Stop and savour the coffee
A few months back before lockdown I met up with a close friend of mine, Will. He’s been away doing church charity work with a children’s centre in Albania for a few years now, providing a safe space, food and clothing for street kids – but he was back for a fleeting visit. So, we both agreed to meet in our favourite coffee shop in Cheltenham for a desperately needed catch-up.
I arrived late after rushing over from a client meeting – as per usual – blustering in the door and hurling out an apology. I gave him a quick hug, blurted out how happy I was to see him again after so long and then turned my attention to the coffee I felt was desperately needed after such a hectic morning.
Of course, I wanted to know all about Will’s time in Albania. So, after ordering my coffee, he told me all about his work which he described as ‘the most rewarding and challenging time in his entire life.’
Yet as he talked, he seemed different to the last time I saw him. There was a calmness to the way he spoke. I also noticed that whilst telling me about the stresses of daily life living away from home away from his friends and family and taking on a role of complete self-sacrifice in an unfamiliar country, he seemed almost serene.
So, of course I wanted to know his secret! As a highly-strung person who deals with stress and anxiety on a daily basis, I wanted to know how I could perhaps get a little bit of this serenity for myself. ‘What have you been taking and where can I get some?’ I think was the exact question I asked.
And what he told me was really fascinating.
Will told me that a week after arriving in Albania, himself and a few of the other church charity workers went to a local café for a cup of coffee. They all ordered their drinks and took their seats. After ten minutes or so when Will had finished his coffee, he asked if anyone was ordering another one – only to be met with some playful jokes at his expense.
‘You finished your coffee already?’
‘What’s the hurry? Have you got somewhere else to be?’
‘You drank that coffee like a true Brit! You need to learn to drink like an Albanian.’
Will was understandably quite confused. ‘What do you mean I’m drinking like a Brit?’ he laughed.
Then, Will’s Albanian friends gave him what I believe to be a very insightful and accurate summary of British life and mentality.
They said that us Brits approach everything like we’re in a rush. We order our coffee and throw it down as soon as it arrives. Then, before we’ve even had time to work out whether we enjoyed it or not, we’ve ordered another with a piece of cake. So, as a result, we never truly enjoy anything we’re doing – because we’re constantly rushing through everything as quickly as possible, always thinking about what comes next.
‘Us Albanians will sit for an hour with one coffee, drinking slowly and savouring every sip, taking in our surroundings, enjoying the company of our loved ones’ Will’s friend replied. ‘Us Albanians know how to just be.’
And I noticed they were right – I had chugged my entire americano barely 5 minutes after it had arrived, yet Will was still enjoying his espresso half an hour later.
It’s true. As a society, we’re constantly in a hurry – constantly distracting ourselves with something to keep busy. We walk briskly, throwing annoyed glances at the slower walkers that block our path. We’re checking our phones mid-conversation, fiddling with the tablecloth while we wait for our food to arrive, and checking our watch every 5 minutes when timings don’t quite go to plan.
When people ask us what we’ve been up to, it’s a cultural norm to reply ‘Oh, I’ve just been so busy!’ Or, if we’ve taken a rare bit of time for ourselves, we have to almost prequalify it or justify it with ‘I was so busy last week, I just needed some time off.’
William said that spending time in Albania had taught him the value of just ‘being’ rather than ‘doing.’ Due in part to the stifling Albanian heat which makes it physically impossible to move quickly, he’s started to stop, take a break and take in his surroundings. Furthermore, in a society that doesn’t spend as much time thinking about timetables, diaries and schedules, there’s no need to strive to fill his day with plans, to make every second of his day ‘count.’ He can simply enjoy each moment as it comes.
When I think about my own life, this is something I really struggle with. I’m always busy, always running late, always thinking about what’s next on my to-do list. Then when I do take some down time to watch a movie, read a book or catch up with friends, I’m plagued with feelings of guilt. Guilt that I should be doing more, guilt that I should be productive in some way.
I know during lockdown this is particularly relevant – especially as I’ve heard a lot of people (myself included) lament over having ‘nothing to do’ or not making their time count. But during such an unprecedented and difficult period, should productivity really be our main focus? Would it be such a tragedy if we just took some time for ourselves, to switch off our phones and laptops and just be?
So, perhaps we need to be distinctly un-British for a change. Perhaps we need to take the time to notice the beauty in life, to enjoy each moment for what it is, instead of struggling to fill each moment with an activity or a purpose.
And really, isn’t this all just as simple as savouring that sip of coffee?
If you’ve enjoyed this blog and would like to read more of Vicky’s content, here’s some further reading:
Or, if you’d like to read more from our ULU community, ULU Nation, here are some more recent articles: