I was sat in Starbucks today being a pretentious author type with my praline mocha coffee. Like always I made sure that I was sat by the window so that I could people-watch, it provides fantastic inspiration for writing even if I’m not directly referencing it, and this area has a very specific layout of seats. Near the window there are two tables with two seats each, the one that I was sat at and one occupied by a couple of women. Between our tables were two pouffe seats that were floating, not really belonging to either. We had our bags on one of these pouffe seats so that they didn’t get dirty by being put on the floor.
A woman came in to the building pushing a pram and sent her partner off to get the drinks. She hovered by the two tables for a while before asking the occupant of the other table (her friend had gone to get drinks or something so only one of them was there) if she could sit down. The woman very politely informed her that nobody was sitting on the one pouffe that was free and the mother then turned to us. She asked us if we minded moving the bags but we declined.
I will point out at this point that she was directly sitting at somebody else’s table, she had asked and the woman had allowed her to but the mother was not sat at a table of her own, she had just claimed one of the pouffes.
The man found a table further down the shop and the mother went away so we forgot about her; I carried on writing and Blip carried on reading his book. Twenty minutes later the mother came back over and declared that in the future I should move my bags when people ask. These were her exact words, that I should do so. I’m not known for liking being told what to do at the best of times and I was being harassed while drinking my coffee but I remained polite and informed her that no I did not have to move my bags just because I was asked and that considering she wasn’t actually sat at a table she didn’t really have rights over the seats. The mother told me that the pouffes were in fact a separate seating area and social politeness means I have to move my bags for people. I repeated that my bags were happily sat at my table and I didn’t have to move them just because she demanded it. She told me I wasn’t very bright.
I took a moment here to consider my options. My natural reaction was to argue back but I was in my pretentious mood and decided instead to simply repeat the statement back at her in the form of a question. I am fully aware that I’m intelligent but even if I wasn’t, it seemed strange that some random woman who didn’t know me would tell me that I was dim so I required some clarification. She told me that ‘You’re not socially bright,’ but in slightly more fragmented English and then trailed off mumbling something. I thanked her for this delightful insight and spent the next ten minutes or so laughing my ass off. I was polite about it though, I waited until she’d gone.
A new group of people appeared at the table and they made the same request. Could we please move our bags. Blip handled this one because I was still finding it hard to breathe from laughing so hard but he was just as polite as I had been with the mother, he told them that there wasn’t any space and they suddenly got aggressive with us. Their claim was more valid because there were four of them but territory rights in coffee shops depend on two things. One, the person who’s there first and two, maths. There were two tables and six seats, we had one pouffe each. Ours was already in use so there were only three available seats. You don’t wander into a restaurant and find a two seater table if there’s three of you then yell at the nearest family until they give up a seat. You find a table with enough seats in the first place, it’s simple maths. Or if you take it back to its more basic level, square peg round hole.
The group complained between themselves for a while, mainly revolving around sarcastic comments like ‘apparently their bag needs a seat’ and ‘I guess we’ll all have to sit on these two seats because they won’t move.’ They calmed down after a while though and again we forgot about the whole situation.
But then the mother on her way out of the building took one last attack. Like some sort of dying general she’d spotted an ally and went on the offensive, she walked over to the table of people and asked them if they had experienced the same problem with us and our bags. They then spent a while discussing how rude we are and how at least it was good that they weren’t alone in their struggle of forcing us to move. I was incredulous by this point, she actually enlisted support! We were still laughing our heads off and we had a fantastic time, they’re all probably still stewing about it as I write this. We made sure that we didn’t leave until after they’d all gone out of pure stubbornness and we’re marking it down as a story to tell the grandkids, so to speak.
This whole situation came about because of a multitude of factors. I accept our part in it, as I said before I don’t like being told what to do particularly by people with pushchairs in coffee shops. But consider this, both of the groups asked us a question. We were asked to move our bags and we declined, we were called rude only because we refused. So why did they ask? If they were expecting one answer why bother sticking the question mark on the end in the first place. And why is it impolite to do something that other people didn’t like? They only didn’t like it because it impacted on them, it was a purely selfish thing, but we were verbally abused because of it. The pouffe was part of our table; we were using it and had been for longer than they were in the building, why are we expected to give it up for them? In the first case this was because the woman expected special treatment because she had a baby. She looked down on me because she had a baby in tow; I was less intelligent because of this. And why the hell did she have a baby in a coffee shop in the first place? It can’t be good for the child; she was being completely selfish in every way it seems. The second group were being just as selfish, they didn’t want to go to one of the more free areas because the seats were more comfortable where we were. They saw a pouffe being used by bags and decided that their happiness was more important than ours.
This is indicative of the state of our society; everybody demands that their own needs are more important than those of everyone else. We weren’t harming anyone, all we were doing was using some space that belonged to our table to store our bags but other people wanted to impinge on that and demand that we concede space to them. Perhaps not being ‘socially bright’ just makes me incapable of understanding.
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