A lot of time I work in cafes. I don't see it as expensive coffee - I see it as cheap office space.
Sometimes I'm not thinking very well where I'm living or staying, so I change the scenery to do better work. I've gotten pretty good about not compulsively checking email, Hacker News, etc., but some days the 'net keeps calling me, and I head out to a cafe without internet. Sometimes I'm staying at a place without internet, and I had to a cafe to clear out my emails and do my business online.
Here in Hong Kong, I'm staying in a little hotel in Kowloon with internet, but I don't really dig the vibe of my room. It's too... clean, actually. Now, don't get me wrong, I like a clean room, but there's a faint air of soap and antiseptic and I see a cleaning woman mopping at least twice per day. Add that to my room being in the middle of the building with no window and I decide to head out to a Starbucks for some ambient noise, more light, and the smell of coffee.
At the cafe, there was a young girl playing. I'm not so good at telling age, but maybe 9 or 10 years old? She was of South Asian descent, maybe Indian, Pakistani, or Sri Lankan. Hard to tell an accent at that age, but sounded vaguely American. Maybe her English teacher or the international school she attends is run by an American? Or she's with her family on holiday from the States?
She was running and jumping around, dancing, while her parents were talking intently a little ways away. She kept talking to me, saying "Hello!" and looking at my computer and saying, "To - shi - ba!" She got a bunch of either straws or coffee-stirrers and was bending them into shapes, climbing onto chairs, and otherwise jumping around and having fun.
But y'know, I had this vague feeling of, "Don't play with the kid" - maybe it's different in South Asia or Hong Kong, but in America there's a vibe that if you're a single guy, you're just not supposed to play with kids, look at kids, or otherwise interact with kids that aren't yours. If you're with your wife or girlfriend, then it's okay to play with kids and babies, but people are a little uneasy about men around children.
And I start thinking - is that a good thing? When I was little, we lived in Dorchester and Quincy Massachusetts, and people were friendly. I hung out with the neighbors. When the landlord came by I'd talk to him. Sometimes I'd walk down to the local bakery and buy coffee and donuts. I'd talk to people on the way and people in the coffee place. But now, guys are scared to do that because of the culture of "beware of predators!" I don't watch TV, but I'm under the impressions there's lots of stories about predators and kidnappers and people recruiting into slavery and things like that. I'm also under the impression this is a really, really rare thing that's blown out of proportion and sensationalized.
The Kowloon Starbucks were set up to maximize space in an area that probably wasn't originally designed for a cafe, so there's pillars and stands and tables snaked around them. The little girl's parents were on the verge of being out of sight, so when she talked to me, I was just polite and then kind of ignored her. In a more sane and less paranoid world, I think I'd have asked where she's from, does she like Hong Kong, what grade is she in, and normal things friendly-adults-ask-kids type questions. But I didn't. I think that's kind of sad, kind of sending the wrong message - I'm glad people talked to me and interacted with me when I was a kid. I wonder if that'll change going forwards, it'd probably be good for the world if it did.