Casablanca is a revered movie in countless regards. It’s an entirely accessible movie to younger generations while still remaining a time piece unto itself. That alone is deserving of merit.
Beyond cinematic achievements, sterling acting and remarkable screen writing, there is one element that elicits a heavily romanticized motif for me: that of the coffee shop chatter.
Coffee Shop Chatter
In movies of this ilk, cafes and bars always set the scene for conversations of import. Strategic decisions are thrashed out, discussions of historic proportions ensue and moments of gravity Einstein cannot account for occur.
Western movies have taught us one thing: if you want a moment of historical relevance, you must discuss it at a bar or café.
But every time I go to a bar I just play pool or The Finger Game and then forget that I played those games. I never discuss current events that could irrevocably alter history, or worse – my own personal narrative.
And then I began to keep track of conversations I did actually have in bars and restaurant and coffee shops.
Conversations in Expat Bars
Rick’s Café Américain, the bar in Casablanca, in many ways feels like contemporary expat bars of 2018. Even in the simplest of dives, even in the most normal of joints abroad, you get a meshing of various nationalities discussing all the poignant moments of the day.
While expats in bars of contemporary China don’t discuss on ongoing world war or how to sneak away from the host country or how to coerce travel documents from the occupying force, many of us do discuss moments of the day.
We discuss regularly what it’s like to live in that country, or what we’ve done that day or how are our identities are affected by government policy.
We routinely insert ourselves as the protagonist in the daily narrative, when in fact, some of these moments are mundanely routine. “I was walking through the craziest market the other day. They had meat hanging everywhere!” This is, in fact, not crazy, but a normal way to purchase protein.
Even in the bar from Casablanca, the directors, producers and screenwriters inserted America as a protagonist in a worldly narrative. This was a propaganda film in, oh, so many ways and because of that the movie is guilty of many of the trappings many expats have in bars.
Expats perpetually place themselves in direct comparison to their host country, which is normal, but also fetishizes that place, much in the way Edward Said suggests in his seminal work Orientalism.
In an article written by Tarik Bouguerba, he discusses the role of the Oriental in the Casablanca. To him, the movie subjugates Morocco in a number of ways, namely through its use of glib stock images.
Tarik also elucidates the screen writers’ implications that the Americans are there to liberate the Moroccans, that the protagonists of this narrative are, in fact, the expats.
If there were a reason to draw parallels from Hollywood to the must ordinary of expat bars in China, that would be it. Expats think they’re the protagonists.
Café Chats Back Home
It is natural that conversations between expats abroad center on the locale. That is your everything. It is your all-consuming identity. But what happens to coffee shop chatter back home. Is it any less important?
I was recently writing an article in a rather cozy café in Glastonbury, Connecticut and perked up my ears like a meerkat.
I wanted to prove that coffee shop chatter never resembles Hollywood representations. Like much our worlds these days, I wanted to place myself in an echo chamber of self-gratification. I wanted to prove what I set out to prove.
I heard the obligatory conversations about Trump, simultaneously lambasting him from my left and heralding him from my right. Hackneyed. I heard high school girls discussing the Cute Guy of the Month and their luck or lack thereof asking him to prom. *yawn* And I heard reasoned arguments about some local town hall decisions.
So there I proved it. Merely mundane mumblings occur in your average coffeeshop or bar. I can end this chronicle.
But then I thought about the content of those conversations, handsome high school hunks withheld.
The people in the coffeeshop discussed current events of import, how Trump’s tax decision may or may not be good, how hawkish government policy may send their friend’s cousin’s classmate to war, how North Korea could nuke us at any moment, even on the East Coast.
These are genuine tensions. These mimic tensions you see throughout US History.
When reading a US History book, you see vaguely cited sentences about “how young people felt the Vietnam War was unjustified.” (The previous sentence itself is just so, as well — how meta!!) Who are young people? Are they a monolith? How do we know they all felt the same?
I got thinking about what it means to be a historical figure. I’m not Abe Lincoln, and never will be, because I will never deliver a f***ing hat beer or free slaves. I’m not going to be Edison who tediously tested every material possible to bring light bulbs to Americans. I will never be Genghis Khan, grandfather to 25% of the globe. I will forever be Mikey Choquette, bearer of chronicles and bad news.
I got thinking about vague citations, “young people thought…” or “the conservative faction believed…” and wondered how I fit into that.
And then I realized that the very conversations we were having in cafes are the stuff of historical import. The banal banter on prom I heard is the side chats Hollywood would love to organically script, but often falls short.
Basically the thrust of this essay, is that the conversations in cafes and bars, are important. History is simply man’s story. It’s a story. It’s a chronicle of all that mankind has done, and I like to think neither mankind nor history are boring.
These conversations reflect society in a way social scientists would love to capture in ways other than Gallup polls and Ipsos surveys.
When I imagine Hollywood dramatizing any contemporary event, I imagine it being over-the-top and implausible. And while the former may be true, I’m unsure on the latter.
Coffee shop chatter is truly indicative of who we are as a society and possession historical significance.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!! Is coffee shop chatter and bar chat just nonsense, or does it reflect who we are?
Like what you’re reading on the US? Check out some other related articles in: The US Chronicles!!
Bouguerba, Tarik. “Casablanca between American and European Orientalisms.” Scribd, Scribd, 22 Sept. 2012, http://www.scribd.com/document/106675559/casablanca-between-American-and-European-Orientalisms.