Koffeeshop Talk

Today as I was lounging under the sweltering sun at 925 Yishun, where the smoking tables apparently were strategically placed, it occurred to me. We need a guide of coffeeshop behaviour. Not MNV-approved non-smoking behaviour, but the real nuances of heartlander living.

Now, the marjority of us grew up through coffeeshops and the likes. In your own area [i.e. where you were born and raised], you would have fit in comfortably in your flip flops and torn tees and there-but-not-there shorts. Yet, when you have to travel out of your comfort zone, some of youse still maintain appearances which right about paints a bullseye on your forehead stating "Outsider".

Follow these simple steps and never be caught out not blending in with the surroundings.

Step 1: The Approach

Never make your first choice of table the indoor seating area. Tables near the food stalls are always unoccupied for reasons that are quite logical. Coffeeshops offer you al fresco dining and you should take advantage of it. It is a major insult to the owner and retailers if you choose to sit on nicely tiled and well ventilated areas instead of out there on rugged pavement and littered cigarette butts. It also cramps their space. No chef likes their space cramped.

Step 2: Sit and Watch

Sit down as you will in your living room. For the men, crossing of one's legs one on top of the other and leaning back on the already strained plastic chair is a good sign. Feel free to stretch out your weary limbs on adjoining chairs. Do not however place your feet on the table unless you have been inhabiting the area for a good 20 years and are on a first name basis with retailers.

Watch the general flow. Each coffeeshop has its own flow and frequency. Pick another newcomer to the venue and watch the flow. Also note if the drinks stall is self service or not to avoid being a blistering idiot who finishes his entire meal without a drop to drink.

Step 3: Drinks Uncle

In non-self service places, the drinks stall has people mobile to your table to ask for your order. Do not shower them with too much politeness. It is an inverse relationship. If you had truly blended in with the surroundings you would have known that the longer you are chummy with the drinks uncle, the less you need to care about common courtesy and politeness. Feel free to order them to your table via a shrill whistle, a shout or a violent beckoning of your hand. You may be appalled that you are treating them like a servant. However, if you do not, they in turn will treat you like one with nonchalance to boot.

Also, remember to make your order short and sharp. A seasoned coffeeshopper knows his order from the moment he leaves his place. Don't be a dumb fuck fool and make the guy wait at the table while you ask each and every occupant of the table what they want to drink. Decide beforehand cos time is precious. Every minute wasted is a Kopi-O down the drain. By current market prices, that's about 80 cents.

It is good to refer to the server as "Ah Chek" [uncle] or "Ah Hia" [brother] depending on how old they look. Female servers are almost always "Xiao Jie" [miss]. Do not make the mistake of referring to them as "Auntie" unless you want added preservatives in your "Home-made" ice lemon tea.

Step 4: Food Orders

It is a honed through the ages and very valuable skill to be able to order in Mandarin or Hokkien. Catch hold of your nearest Chinese friend and learn how to order your "special" order in the language to appear more professional and classy to the stall holders.

Also, many stall holders are still from the era where English was not a mandatory subject. Thus, languages that appeal to their senses are Mandarin, dialects and Malay. These days, China imports are also flooding the hawker scene especially in the areas of chicken and duck rice stalls. Do exercise extreme care even with your Mandarin with these folks. Expect a lot of "Huh?!"s and good practise is to wait for a Chinese bloke behind you to get so frustrated at the wait to step in and help you order.

Phrases you might need translations for, but I am not gonna provide:

No Bones
Extra Chilli
Extra Mee
Bulls Eye Egg etc.

After ordering, when asked for your table number, gesture your hand in a dismissive wave. A true seasoned coffee shop user does NOT remember table numbers or even bother to. A mere nod of the head or pointing in the general direction of where you will be seated will suffice.

At some hawker centres, the stalls may be self service. If yours is a cook in 2 minutes dish, then loiter, pick up and go. If yours will take about 5-8 minutes to prepare, then tell the shopkeeper to "sound" you when it's ready while you return to your table for a tete a tete. If you are dining alone then you should not be in the vicinity of a coffeeshop. You remind me of people who watch movies alone.

Step 5: Leaving the Joint

After eating it is considered very good manners to burp loudly and simultaneously rub your full belly. Also do not leave leftovers as this will greatly inconvenience the guys who clean the tables., plus they are mostly past-retiree age. Feed your leftovers to the nearest stray cat. Interestingly, dogs do not inhabit coffeeshops in Singapore as cats do. However, in Malaysia, a good last piece of cheese naan to the resident stray dog will be much appreciated.

When you up and leave, stand up WITHOUT picking up your belongings at the table. Stand up, compose yourself and then reach down to take each and every article that you possess and place it tenderly in your pockets. These may include, wallet, handphone, ATM card, small change, lighter, cigarette box etc. If this coffeeshop is particularly crowded and when you decide to leave, there is a group waiting to be seated at your table, take your own sweet time. Seasoned coffeeshoppers are all about value for money.

An added bonus is to throw whatever tissue paper you used to smudge your face into the nearest soup bowl. Note, only do this to soup bowls. Apart from visual entertainment, it also serves to be an easier mess to clean rather than solid, non drenched tissue paper.

I hope this has served you well. Do enjoy your next coffee shop experience out of town and have a cold Guinness while toasting my brilliance.



rustycornbeef said...


sheer genius.

Anonymous said...

I can not take part now in discussion - there is no free time. I will be free - I will necessarily write that I think.