Time for a coffee break!

It’s a Monday morning, I’ve just arrived at my new place of work where I will spend the next month studying how the enzyme activity of enzymes involved in the ascorbic acid cycle is affected by different growth conditions. I was told by my program advisor to arrive “9/10” – this should have been my first clue – so I arrived in the building at 9:30. I was given a tour of the building, where I was introduced to everyone in the office. We exchanged greetings then headed down to the kitchen for a morning coffee. Everyone chatted, catching up from over the weekend and talking about things, most of which I couldn’t understand because they spoke so fast!! Maybe half an hour later, we headed up to the lab and got to work.

The next day, I once again arrived at work at 9:30. I got situated and expected to start working, but I was told no, it was time for coffee. Like the day before, there was a mass exodus to the kitchen where the moka was already on the stove. Again, we talking about the evenings we had, the food we ate, the people we saw and what we were planning on having for lunch today – that was what I was able to take away, there was definitely more.

Everyday, this morning tradition of coffee and good conversations continues, taking the time to engage with our colleagues, getting to know each other and building relationships. At Notre Dame, when I get my morning trenta iced green tea, light ice, light water, it’s ordered from my phone as I get ready in my dorm room, picked up on the way to class, then drunk in class. I don’t stand around watching it made, I don’t sip it casually as I talk to friends, and I don’t let the conversation run it’s course after the drink is gone. This change of routine with my morning beverage was quite shocking to me at first. I was used to a great sense of urgency where every task is completed in order to move onto the next task, no stopping to take things in. Here, a greater pleasure is taken in everyday tasks and there is a sense of pride in being the one to make the coffee for everyone.

Taking a coffee break as if it were a Saturday morning catching up with an old friend at first made me feel deeply uncomfortable. I was itching to be done and start my work so that I could get even more done so that I wouldn’t be behind. Even though I did not have any work deadlines so there was no way I could be behind. After two weeks, I am now used to the routine, however, I still have to make an effort to suppress my near-jittery energy and have to remind myself that there is nothing else I need to be doing.

I think this reflects the cultural difference of Italians focusing on what they are doing juxtaposed with Americans focusing on how much they are doing which leads to a difference in pace. Perhaps it is because it is normal and therefore comfortable for me, but this experience has taught me that I enjoy a fast-paced work environment and I like challenging myself to see how much I can do.

Getting a coffee in Rome with some friends 🙂