A way of life in a glass

"Hello! Err… Yassou!" The greeting comes with hesitance from my lips and into the ears of the Cypriot woman in front of me. I stand at the counter of the indoor/outdoor coffee shop only a few blocks from my apartment in Nicosia, Cyprus, ready to make use of the little Greek and Nicosian culture I had absorbed.

The mission: to obtain and drink a frapp’eacute; coffee in no less than two hours.

Keep in mind this is no ordinary coffee shop – divided into two areas, one indoor and air-conditioned, and the other in the open-air, with the breezes of a Cyprian summer blowing through. The image is the polar opposite of the Starbucks in Melcher Hall. A few of the other Global Learning Semesters students and I had taken a stroll down to the coffee shop to experience one Cyprian drink that no one should miss out – the frapp’eacute;. When the word "frapp’eacute;" was mentioned at orientation the previous day, images of double chocolate chip with whipped cream Starbucks frappuccinos emerged in my mind. But the Cyprian frapp’eacute; is far from what we expected.

I should probably explain what I’m doing on the Mediterranean island thousands of miles from Houston and UH in the first place. Cyprus – not ‘Cypress’ as in the Texas city – is located where ancient Greek, Roman and Ottoman civilizations crossed over and merged to form a culture that remains very Greek, somewhat Turkish, and has a wave of Americanization mixed in. While many average Americans are unaware of the island, it is both a great archaeological and cultural locale for students studying abroad, which is why I traveled so far to reach this country.

The frapp’eacute; was created to emulate the behaviors of Cypriot life: relaxed, unscheduled and thoroughly enjoyed. While walking the area surrounding my apartment and the university, I found that not only were shop owners much friendlier and open to even American students, they easily strike up conversations with customers while ringing up their items. At the local grocery stores, cashiers sit on chairs behind their counters, taking their time to scan items and pack them without any sort of rush, getting the customer in and out as fast as possible. Stores open no earlier than 10 a.m. and close in the middle of the afternoon for the owners to have lunch and a nap, and practically nothing is open on Sundays.

Cypriots frequent coffee shops and spend more than two hours each time they visit, slowly taking in coffee, drags from their cigarettes and the people walking by. A brief conversation about the weather evolves into a debate on the drought, which then leads into a heated argument about global warming. But the frapp’eacute; keeps all parties civil -this drink intrigued me.

The frapp’eacute;, when it arrives in its large tumbler, appears to be 75 percent liquid substance resembling an iced-coffee, and 25 percent thick foam sitting atop the liquid. Stick a straw into the foam, and it slices through the cloud while releasing the coffee into the liquid below. Brown streaks appear as the coffee flavor makes its way through the drink, and one sip turns into two or three. In between sips, conversation ensues among the three other study-abroad students and myself.

We look no different from our counterparts back home, college students gathered in the local Starbucks. However, the difference is evident in our behavior. There is no scrambling to finish a paper at the last possible moment, no laptops attached to tables, fingers flying across as we work on an assignment. There is no sense of urgency emanating from our table, yet there is no air of laziness either. Our conversation is animated, dominated with loud gesturing and a chorus of agreements about differences we have already noticed between our lives at home and the world we have entered in Cyprus. I glanced only once at my watch to check the time, and more than two hours had passed since we had entered the coffee shop, yet none of us were ready to leave.

It becomes quickly apparent that the next few months we spend in Cyprus will be very different from our lives in the U.S. We are simply sitting in a coffee shop, drinking our frapp’eacute;s and enjoying our conversation and each other – that is the Cypriot way of life, the frapp’eacute; way of life.

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