If you know me or have been reading my blog for very long, you know I tend to shy away from controversy both here and in person. I have opinions, about which I am passionate, but I mostly keep them to myself, because I know it is extremely unlikely I will change anyone else’s opinion by airing my own. That said, I fear this essay might spark some thought or discussion—and if it does, it might be a good thing.
My kids and all their friends (and many of my friends too) love to go to coffee shops. It’s a habit, a hobby, a fixture in their lives. They think nothing of spending $4 or more every day for a drink of fancy coffee. The price, all by itself, would keep me from adopting this particular hobby—but this is not about the cost of fancy coffee drinks. I am willing to pay for the expensive coffee in order to spend time with my kids in the venue of their choice, even though I rarely order anything myself.
What I’ve been noticing more and more is that coffee shops are where many people choose to do most of their socializing—including my own generation. When friends talk about getting together, they often agree to meet at one of the trendy coffee shops in town. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this, except . . .
Except I am beginning to suspect these coffee shop excursions are more and more replacing actual hospitality instead of just augmenting it. A coffee shop is a neutral location, which sometimes, of course, is exactly what one needs. But I can’t help wondering, what kind of friendship blooms when all the interaction takes place in a neutral location? What happened to hanging out at each other’s houses and being present in each other’s lives?
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, sure, you don’t like going to public locations because you’re an introvert, and you don’t like going to coffee shops because you don’t drink coffee! Both of those things are true, but they are not the whole truth.
Others of you might want to point out that coffee shops virtually always serve tea as a way of throwing a bone to tea drinkers like me. It’s a good thing you can’t see the face I just made after typing that statement. I have yet to have a single cup of tea in a coffee shop anywhere in the USA that even comes close to being as good as the tea I can make for myself with minimal fuss or expense at home. And drinking lukewarm tea out of a paper cup is just . . . not okay. For me, anyway.
When I want to visit with one of my friends, I invite her over for tea—at my house. Although I always make an effort to tidy up, she will walk in my door and see clutter. She may see a sock lying in a corner somewhere. She will see dirty dishes in the kitchen and possibly baskets of clean laundry lying around. She will see my current knitting project piled up beside my chair and maybe a sewing project and some junk mail too.
She will also see my smiling face and maybe get to say hello to a couple of my kids as they cruise past. She’ll get real tea served in porcelain or china cups, and it will be hot enough to be enjoyable. It won’t cost her a single cent, and she can have as many refills as she wants! We can have a private conversation, and we won’t have to shout over anyone’s loud music or listen to someone else’s phone conversation or worry about being overheard.
On rare occasions, one of my friends will also invite me over to her house. I always love to visit a friend in her own home, almost as much as I love having friends in my home. To me, it’s a vital component of participating in each other’s lives.
Not so long ago, visiting each other for coffee or tea was a common thing. People did it all the time. They did it in their own homes. Sometimes it was fancy. Sometimes it was just a mug in front of the fireplace or at a kitchen table that was piled high with stuff, with a little spot cleared so you could put your cup down. It wasn’t about showing off your pristine house. It was about sharing life together.
I’m not saying you can’t share life together in a swanky coffee house—of course you can. But I don’t think it is as personal or as likely to lead to a long-lasting deep friendship, which is why the trend is beginning to concern me. Over the last decade or so, people have often expressed surprise when they hear I still invite people over to my house, especially for meals. Apparently this is not “done” very much anymore. If true, I believe we have lost something we should have held on to—the joy of hospitality, of sharing our homes and our lives with others.
The past month has been greatly enhanced for me because we had dinner guests on five occasions (not counting family). On none of those occasions was my house “company ready” even by my very lax standards. I got over that hurdle decades ago. I do what I can, but I also assume that when people come for tea or for dinner, they are coming to see me, not critique my house. If I waited for my house to be perfect before inviting someone over, I’d never have guests at all, and my soul would be the poorer for it.
I’d like to timidly suggest that if you are someone who has a deeply-ingrained coffee shop habit, maybe you could try inviting a friend over to your own place for coffee once a month. Make the coffee yourself. Choose the mugs. Light a candle. If you really want to step it up, make cookies! But try it. Once a month, save the cost of a designer caffeinated beverage and share your homemade version with a friend. Maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you’ll want to do it more often. I hope so.
Disclaimer: After reading through this again, it occurred to me that some might think this essay is a thinly-veiled criticism of my grown kids and an attempt to spur them to be more hospitable. Actually, I am very proud of how open-hearted and hospitable they all are. They all regularly invite friends over to their homes and I can only hope they inspire others to do the same!