Loud Coffee?

I posted it on Facebook, but I’m wondering enough to ask it here. I’m in a Starbucks by a bookshop that Miss Jiwaku decided we should go to, because she knows how I am with bookshops, and because we needed coffee, and the cinemas nearby are showing crap.

(Incidentally, as with a number of places in Asia, the movie cinema industry is not quite a monopoly, butit’s heavily dominated by a few big companies, meaning your selection is often quite limited. Given a choice between the new Travolta film and the new Mel Gibson, we decided to give moviegoing a pass.)

So we’re sitting here, both happily online and sipping our coffees, and there’s a Korean couple not far away. They’re having a conversation so loud I can almost follow it, even with the music and the distance. That’s because they’re practically shouting at one another, though with smiles on their faces.

When I go to coffeeshops in other countries, I’m always struck by how most of them — not all, but most — are really quiet, comfortable places. Going there with company means a conversation can be held without shouting.

This is not how it is in Korea, or in any coffeeshop anywhere that Koreans happen to be. People reading my blog regularly might have noticed my recent rant about the topic, but now I’m going to ask the question a little more gently: why are conversations often held at such a high volume among Koreans?

Background: for some reason, a large proportion of (younger and middle-aged) Koreans who go to coffee shops seem to think that all conversations in such places should be conducted very loudly. One gets the sense that they go home needing a drink of lemon water to soothe the strain on their voices.

It doesn’t help that seating in cafes in Korea is almost invairably crammed, to maximize space but also, I suspect, because of the common attitude in Korea that places that look empty are unpopular and are “bad” while places that looked crammed full of people are popular and “good.”

In contrast, I remember the Second Cup I used to hang out in back on Rue St. Laurent, in Montreal. There were these big, open spaces between a lot of the different seating areas, and the music wasn’t cranked up. I remember reading there, a lot, without headphones. The space inside was, of course, much bigger than almost any coffee shop I’ve been in here in Asia, but it was also more comfortable than any I’ve visited in Asia.

Going to a coffeeshop in Korea is a headphones-non-optional outing, unless you’re with company. How and why did this happen? After all, the coffee shop boom happened among young women, and even today, it’s rare for men to go to such places with only men.

(I note this because Korean women, like women everywhere, tend to be just a little quieter than Korean men, even — or especially? — in big groups.)

I don’t know if it’s the aesthetics of behaviour for bars and pubs being mapped onto coffee shops, or whether it’s just part of thhe general desire to be “active” in their interactions that leads people to behave this way. I’d be really curious to see what others think about this.

Speaking of which, I’ve had a few interesting discussions about etiquette, manners, and so on with Miss Jiwaku and others. One of the interesting things that came up was a comparison of how Westerners developed the etiquette of politeness and gentility that we (at least some of us) hold so dear.

The answer is, etiquette manuals. But that’s the subject for another post… one into which I will be able to work in Robo Taekwon V, too!

Now I know you’re just dying to see it. Well, the loud couple has long gone, and Miss Jiwaku is awake again from the nap she took, so I think I’ll end this here…

2 thoughts on “Loud Coffee?

  1. “…why are conversations often held at such a high volume among Koreans?”

    The same question is often asked about those loud, rowdy Americans. I don’t know whether it’s asked about Canucks.


    1. Ha, you mean by Koreans? My experience traveling abroad is that I often seem to end up in coffee shops (Starbucks, sadly, because they’re just everywhere) and it seems like whenever I see Americans and Canadians, they’re talking quietly among themselves, but when I see Koreans — who are often in Starbucks too, for some reason — they’re always the loudest people in the place. Not Japanese, who I find surprisingly quiet, not Indonesians in general (though I have seen some exceptions), but the Korean groups — unless they’re families, in which case they’re never loud — are almost always the loudest group in the cafe. Koreans seem to agree with me when I point this out, too.

      (I check with the Koreans I’m with because I want to make sure I’m not just hearing them as louder because I can pick out words or because I’m all ready to be annoyed by loud Koreans.)

      It’s weirdly like something else I’ve been thinking about how to blog about — the fact that whenever Miss Jiwaku and I go to some place at night — whether it’s a small inn in the country, or a bar, or whatever, we see to always see a group of Korean men out with a group of what are obviously young Indonesian prostitutes. We never seem to run into American guys in a large group wining and dining hookers, or Japanese guys, or Chinese… it’s always Korean guys. Not sure why that is, though probably part of it is the fact those places were recommended as “good places” by Koreans and word of mouth spread within the Korean community. Even so — the pub we went to had men of many backgrounds, but just one group feeling up barely legal hookers at their booth and on the dance floor. Hmmm.

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