A homogenised, Californian cheeriness is replacing the old Dublin shop greeting
Sean Moncrieff: “I generally sit at the back of the train. The only time I deviate from this daily habit is if I happen upon a swarm of screaming Italian students.” Photograph: Alan Betson
To kidnap me would be financially unrewarding. But it would be easy. I am welded into my habits. Every weekday morning I get the 11.18 DART from Sutton Station. I generally sit at the back of the train as this leaves me closest to the exit when I get to Tara Street.
The only time I deviate from this habit is if I happen upon a swarm of screaming Italian students. (Conversational Italian sounds like arguing to my ears). Then I move to the next carriage along. I need to concentrate, as I usually write when I’m on the DART. I’m writing this on the DART.
Once I de-train, I walk to work, but on the way I get a coffee. I always get a coffee. Even if there isn’t time. Especially if there isn’t time.
The coffee shop I favour, like me, has deeply ingrained habits. Upon arrival, the greeting from the server is always the same: a slightly interrogative Hi.
I give my order – a takeaway cappuccino – to which the server will always reply: anything else? This exchange has been happening for the best part of a decade, in exactly these words, but with different servers; as if they are in fact nothing but fleshy robots who take turns to be inhabited by the spirit of the same, slightly OCD barista.
I’ve been tempted many times to mess with this procedure. I’ve toyed with the idea of pointing out that if I had wanted anything else, I would have already mentioned it; that I am not so crippled by shyness that I needed them to coax me into asking for that croissant or piece of lemon drizzle cake. Or that my mental facilities are not so degraded that I entered the establishment and instantly forgot what I came in for. Yes, there is something else I want, but what is it? Starts with a B? That any help? I am tempted to say these things. But I never do.
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So once we’ve established that, yes, I do want a coffee, and no, I don’t want anything else, I am then required to wait so they can ask me if I have a loyalty card. I hand this over, along with the money, and then the server spends several minutes typing on a computer screen. I have no idea what they are doing during this part of the ritual. They could be sending an email, or ordering cowboy boots on Amazon or making a diary entry. That cranky bald guy is in again.
The card is presented back to me, and I am asked my third question.
Complimentary chocolate for you? (“Who else would the chocolate be for?” is something else I’ve never said to them.)
I usually refuse; much to the faux-amazement of the server who then orders me, with as much muscular sunniness as they can muster, to Have A Nice Day.
Then, as my drink is being prepared, I wait.
While I’m waiting I usually look at my phone, just to let the people around me know that I’m really busy and have loads of unanswered emails that it’s simply impossible to keep up with. I usually have a look at Twitter.
Finally, the coffee is plonked in front of me, but not before one final and climactic word, a word delivered in such a hushed and evocative way that it is freighted with syrupy meaning. It always reminds me of those ads they show late at night on TV3 with women lying about in their underwear hoping you’ll give them a call because they are looking for friendship or maybe more.
That word is: Enjoy.
Over the years I have made attempts to speed this process up. I have snapped out the loyalty card and the money and said: ‘takeaway cappuccino. Don’t want anything else. No chocolate.’
But this seemed to send their brains into spasm. It actually slowed the process as they coped with this massive dump of information. And they still asked me if I wanted anything else, or a chocolate. They asked for my loyalty card while they were holding it.
Of course I could try a coffee shop with a less regimented serving template, but I fear change. I also doubt if I’d find one. Not just in Ireland, but anywhere in the western world. It’s become the same in shops too. The traditional Dublin shop greeting – the slightly surly y’alright? – is starting to die out, and has been replaced by a homogenised, Californian cheeriness, which, even if well intentioned, always feels fake; like, no matter where you go, you are always talking to the same person.
And it’s creeping into every interaction. Even if I was kidnapped, and someone was foolish enough to pay a ransom, they would probably be asked: anything else?