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When I approach people to speak to them at coffee shops, I’m met with a mixture of disbelief, disdain and even mild shock. What?! A stranger is speaking to me? She wants to shake my hand? Does she want money?!
The other thing that happens is men of a certain age (about 25-45) assume I’m just a very bold woman trying to pick them up. And what a hustle that would be!
Instead, I simply want to engage in a conversation with them. We, as a people, have gotten so accustomed to not talking to other people in public spaces, that simply greeting a stranger is viewed as a bit odd. Breaking down this initial reluctance is my favorite part of the day.
To allay disgruntled sighs, puzzled stares and bewildered gapes, I start by smiling. I was told recently by a friend that if you smile too broadly, it gives the wrong vibe. I aim for a casual, comfortable, half-smile type expression. I might compliment them on some article of clothing or on their choice of reusable mug, if they seem like the type to take compliments well. Sometimes I’ll ask them how their day is going.
I tend to dress a bit nicer than I normally would while hanging out at a coffee shop. I carry with me a few flyers, because apparently, there is something non-threatening about someone who is advertising with a flyer. We are more comfortable with commerce than we are with simple human interactions.
I usually offer my hand for a shake, unless their hands are obviously full. What else can a human offer another human in terms of unsolicited body parts? Most people reluctantly shake it, and then I can see on their face that they feel obligated to now engage in conversation. I smile, gently, through their hesitation, hopeful that my cheerful attitude will help.
Ice-broken, I then dive in to my spiel. But, I try to make it as unlike a spiel as I can. People feel comforted by flyers, but turned off by sales pitches. I try to make it quick– after all these are people who, by and large, have not had their morning coffee yet.
On behalf of my non-profit, For Here, Please, I speak to hundreds of folks at coffee shops every week. The conversations usually go something like this:
“Hi!” I say, “My name is Vanessa and I work for a non-profit called For Here, Please. I just wanted to introduce myself and let you know about the amazing project that (insert coffee shop name here) is working on. They are transitioning to a Plastic-Free coffee going experience. Starting (insert date here), they’ll no longer offer disposable cups of any kind, instead asking customers to slow down and enjoy their coffee, “For Here, Please”.
The responses to my pitch are generally very positive. Even with folks who speak English as a second or third language (a surprising number in our wonderfully diverse city), there is a combination of head bobbing, praise, and saying “Yes, I agree with that” or “How wonderful!”.
At this point, I usually gesture towards the beautiful lake or park or outdoor space that is closest to the cafe and remind them that: “We’re just trying to do our part to keep (insert name of natural habitat or outdoor space) clean; we noticed a lot of our trash was ending up there”. This revelation is met with more head nods and phrases of agreement– even some “Yes, I want to help too”. It’s really wonderful.
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But, every so often there’s someone who asks, “But what if I need it to-go? What if I’m in a rush?”
“Well, then,” I explain, “You can just bring your reusable mug.”
Folks sometimes squirm a bit at this point. They realize I’m asking them to bring their reusable mug if they want to-go coffee, but not just sometimes, all of the time. Soon, their local coffee shop won’t be providing single-use cups for them.
And then I wonder to myself: Am I asking too much? Do I live up to this philosophy and lifestyle? How did I make the switch to remembering my mug every time?
I was rushing around, trying to do too much, and then, one day, facing the end of the relationship that I cared most about in the world: I realized that I was part of the problem. I had to re-prioritize every aspect of my entire life. I gave up my car and started to commute on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). I reduced my work hours in order to focus on sustainability. And I really did some soul searching: how can I live up to the ideals that I preach? How can I make sure the next relationship that I build will be built on the strong foundation of mutual sustainability?
I wouldn’t have scaled back my day job to part-time and taken on starting For Here, Please if I didn’t believe in the capacity of humans to change. After years and years of driving to work, rushing around, doing too much: I finally changed. People can and will change in important ways in order to preserve our natural habitat; I believe this more strongly than I’ve ever felt anything in my life.
When I approach other people who have not hit rock-bottom in their rushed lives yet, I try to be as gentle as possible. It’s a hard change to make unless you’ve lost someone or something you really care about.
“Not to worry,” I continue, “(Insert coffee shop name here) will be happy to provide you a reusable mug or mason jar, free of charge, for the next few weeks while you transition.”
I’ve realized this is the only way for humans to make change. It needs to be easy. It needs to be beautiful. It needs to be fun.
And so, now, I’m on a mission. To talk to everyone. To help them connect with their neighbors. To help them connect their daily actions to the reality of its impacts.
For the folks already in the midst of transition to plastic-free or zero waste living, For Here, Please gives those people a little friendly nudge. For the folks who are just beginning to learn about the impact of single-use plastics, we make the connections to nature, to the preservation of the planet, to their children. And for the folks who already have a lot on their plate, who are scraping by, or who are just unaware, for those folks– we make it easy, we make it beautiful, and we make it fun.
For Here, Please seeks to increase connections between community members. We hope to make talking to strangers a normal occurrence, and kind of fun. We want to ask people to slow down and enjoy the moment. But most importantly, we want to bring this lifestyle to children at a young age, infusing communities with events and interactions that are careful, thoughtful, slow and intentional, bringing different generations together for genuine exchanges.
Starting September 15th, Perch Coffeehouse in Oakland, CA, located at 440 Grand Ave, is set to become the first coffeeshop in Oakland to ask customers to slow down and enjoy their coffee, For Here, Please. Others are working to transition but looking at dates further on in the year or early in 2020. If you’re in Oakland come congratulate Perch on their launch and support their transition. Vote with your dollar and signal that you too would like more coffee shops to improve their sustainability.
For Here, Please also introduced Perch to the owners of Octopus Literary Salon; a partnership between the two will bring a selection of amazing reading materials, author reading nights and other literary events to Perch. To add to their community centered events, Perch will now be the meeting spot for Fit4Good– a lake clean-up “plogging” group that meets each Saturday at 9am to pick up trash while jogging– a popular international trend.
Vanessa Pope is the co-founder of “For Here, Please”– a non-profit that helps businesses adopt and sustain earth affirming practices. She wrote her book “15 Minute First Dates” to help people learn to restructure their lives with the planet in mind.
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Feature image by Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash.