One of my daily rituals this year has been a small plastic cup of coffee (kava s mliekom to be exact) Monday through Friday between 10:00am and 10:20am.
The special thing about this coffee is that it comes from a machine.
It does not taste special. It doesn't really taste like real coffee. I'm not sure it is real coffee.
The routine of buying coffee during the break is special, however.
In the first few weeks of our Slovak language course we spent our breaks sipping terrible coffee and trying to communicate with each other in our very limited vocabulary.
And somehow it turned into an integral part of our rhythm together. I found that I was looking forward to my little plastic cup of coffee. Not at all because of how it tasted, but because it was part of a routine, of my new community, of how I could connect with people and friends.
We started our routine by trying to figure out what each different option was. We figured out that you have to tip the 2 euro coins at a slightly different angle so that the machine will accept them. We realized that the + and - buttons served to increase or decrease the amount of sweetener but you have to push them before you choose your drink. We occasionally ran into the man who services the machine and even though the front was wide open as he worked, he'd beckon us to come, ask us what we wanted, put our money in the appropriate slot on the inside of the door and magically our plastic cup would appear with our drink of choice.
Sometimes we'd be standing in line and the classmate in front of us would offer to buy our coffee that day. As time went on, I found that the conversations by the automat deepened and we began to share about things in our lives.
Sometimes it's hard to be patient in new friendships and communities. We have a hard time opening up. We have a hard time trusting. We don't feel like we fit in. In a way, being a part of a new community that didn't initially share a common language provided the time and space to grow into friendship. Maybe if we thought of new friendships as not sharing a common language (of shared experiences) we could be a little more patient during the time it takes to create that shared language.
So the next time you see a strange machine that offers to serve you coffee [I must say that I'm not entirely sure that these even exist in the US] and you turn up your nose or think how disgusting it is, try to switch that reaction to a softer one. One that recognizes that very lowly things can be tools for creating community and connection.