Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Buying a Coffee Machine

While the Scandinavians drink more of it than anyone else, and the Italians and Turks have taken coffee culture to rare heights, the Swiss have put their own stamp on the morning brew and turned the process of buying a coffee maker into a confounding tunnel into the heart of Swissness.  How?

It goes without saying, at this point, that among the keys to Swissifying a process are to make it perfect, regulated, elaborated, and potentially very expensive.  The clear-eyed and decaffeinated anthropologist, however, recognizes immediately that buying a coffee machine in Switzerland is a cultural rite of passage.  van Gennep tells us that rites of passage require the initiate to leave their old life behind and endure a period of liminal bewilderment before emerging, reborn, into the world.  

So it goes with the search for a Helvetian percolator.  In a country where perhaps 4 varieties of potato chip are on offer in the average grocery store, beholding the chromed infinitude of the coffee machine aisle can be dizzying.

Upon leaving the comfort of your tidy, quiet home, you are thrust into a perplexing netherworld of coffee-related miscellanea: only when you have considered the wattage you'll want, only when you've decoded the on-board grinder settings, only when you've wrestled with the pros and cons of capsule-based brewing, only when you have come to terms (emotionally or otherwise) with paying more for a coffee maker than you did for your first car, and figured out not only how to finance the machine but how to install and operate it - only then do you emerge from the initiation and, to paraphrase TS Eliot, return to Switzerland and see the place for the first time.

And so it is that only once you have bought a Swiss coffee machine, in Switzerland, can you truly be Swiss.

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