A French café in Nice has raised the bar on nice manners by charging less to customers who ask for their joe, or coffee, politely. Bad mannered and grumpy people will pay more. Those who mind their p’s and q’s by adding a hello and a please to their request pay $1.96. Those who shout out their order with no common courtesy pay $9.48.
It’s on a sliding scale. The medium price is for patrons who manage a please or a “s’il vous plait”, but can’t summon up a “Bonjour.” The manager of La Petite Syrah, Fabrice Pepino, said that his staff were disgruntled by the surly attitudes of the lunchtime rush crowd. What’s happened to nice manners? He started his new pricing scheme as a joke, but now his clientele have taken the hint and are “smiling more.” Initially, the patrons were so stressed they could be rude to those who were serving them. They were so anxious for their next shot of joe. Pepino acknowledges that French service providers have a bit of reputation for being rude themselves, but he thought it was time to introduce a “Keep calm and carry on attitude.”
This fits with the old adage “manners don’t cost you anything,” or, in this case, “manners will cost you less.” Nice manners are their own reward.
Another push for societal awareness has gained momentum this year, in the worlwide move to promote “suspended coffees.” This is a pay-it-forward concept, whereby the better-off can pay for an extra drink and later on, a homeless or badly off person, can redeem it. The scheme works by means of chalkboard and word of mouth, so that the original customer and the recipient never meet. It is an anonymous and trust-based gesture. You could say it is another form of nice manners, by thinking of those who are going without, as you slurp down a seasonally inspired gingerbread latte. Or whatever variation on straight-up joe takes your fancy.
Naples in Italy just held a “suspended coffee day” or “caffe sospreso” to continue the long tradition of social solidarity in the poverty-stricken city. Ivan Esposito, a retired maths teacher, 74, paid for one at the till of the famous cafe, Gambrinus. He said, “I think of it as a gesture of civility, it’s not charity.”
The tradition is said to have begun at Gambrinus at the start of the twentieth century when coffee machines, as we know them now, first came into being. The owner of the Napoli football club Aurelio de Laurentiis, donates 15 or 20 each time he frequents the premises.
Italy is still mired in its longest recession since the end of World War II and in the working class area of Sanita, the owners of Pizzeria Oliva have reformed the grassroots initiative into “suspended pizza.” They even deliver. 80% of the grateful recipients are immigrants from Romania and Sri Lanka. The remaining 20% are impoverished Neapolitans.
Suspended coffee works on the same principle as the Cote D’Azur café. It pays to be nice. It gives you a warm glow. It even has its own Facebook page where the motto, “it’s about more than the coffee” is made apparent by many shared stories of random acts of kindness.
As we jostle and impatiently queue for our hot cups of joe every day, it is worth pausing for a moment to reflect. What does it cost to be polite to the barista? And what would it really cost to pay forward a warm drink for someone who cannot afford one? In small ways, we can all do our bit. It starts with saying hello. Nicely.
By Kate Henderson