Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Coffee and Tea

Tiffany Jansen at Clogs and Tulips posted this funny little anecdote about coffee time in the Netherlands. Everybody knows that coffee time is between 10:00 and 10:30. Afternoon tea in the Netherlands is a less well-studied pheonomena, and is likewise a little less rigid in its timing--it can begin between 3:00-3:15. And contrary to the names "koffie en thee", you can have tea during coffee and coffee during tea.

In academia, coffee and tea are practically mandatory, and bosses have been known to make attendance required if too many people skip too many breaks in a row. Experiments are planned around these time slots. They are typically situated like circle parties, where everybody sits around a table, if there is one--if there isn't, then all of the chairs end up in a circle anyway. Some places have a fancy coffee machine where you can push a button and your desired mix of coffee, sugar, hot chocolate, milk, and hot water come out. Others have a rotating roster of names of people who make up a large pot of coffee and tea and have it set up ahead of time. Most people bring something to nibble on--that isn't as mandatory as showing up and having a drink, but coffee alone can be unsettling to your stomach. Favorites of the Dutch are cookie/biscuit pack or a slice of ontbijtkoek. Personally, I prefer to make a Cup-a-Soup--it's still drinking, at least....

At first (and I mean way back when I was working in Leiden) I thought all of these breaks were silly and irritating, though that was because I was also commuting four hours a day. When you commute four hours a day, you learn to cut everything extraneous out of your life so that you can make the train home. (I did attend more-than-half of them, but that was only after I got good at scheduling my experiments) In Maastricht, I took breaks, but they were random--a combination of when I felt like it and when I had time, since I was the only member of the group for a while. And they could always be interrupted by a random emergency.

So it's only now that I've begun to appreciate the nice division of the day that coffee and tea allow: early morning to get organized, late morning for prep work. Lunch--another quasi-mandatory thing. Early afternoon for the hard work. Late afternoon for the number-crunching. Er...at least, that's what people say labs should run like...

And to be quite honest, I like that there's a set break in the day. Sometimes it comes too soon, sometimes it feels like it's an eternity away. But having it forces you to take a step back from what you've been doing, clears your head, lets you enquire after someone else's opinion.

Now, if all our world leaders would do that, then maybe the world would be a better place. Or else the conspiracy theorists are right, and Beatrix does, in fact, rule the world.

1 comment:

  1. Even real Dutch people sometimes get annoyed with coffee/tea time. I worked at the microbiology department as a student and I never really managed to be on time for the breaks. After all, if you are still quite slow and start at 9, you're just getting started at 10, so taking a break then would prevent me from getting anything done before 12 (and then Lunch starts, so if you're running a gel you'd have to interrupt your lunch continously to look whether the samples weren't running off the gel). However, no one really noticed that I was skipping most of the breaks (I'd quickly eat a sandwich around 14). Eventually, I got better at planning and doing experiments and then the breaks were a very welcome excuse to relax a bit... :)

    I love your blog! Thanks for sharing your experiences.