Overheard

Just a note of a wonderful doubler-upper (nice term) agentive noun gone wild:

Let’s just wait for these late wanderer-innerers.

Speaker was from York, male, late 30s/early 40s.

Coffee-shop refusals

Apologies for the long absence. Those of you who know me know that I have had some unpleasant health things going on for a while; these are now largely dealt with. I am now back in the UK, and re-enrolled at York, where I mean to get this PhD thing finished post haste.

But, by way of a recommencement of actual academic-type blogging (as opposed to the waffle on Twitter and Posterous), I have been reminded by a tweet from a friend of an observation I made a while ago. Anyone familiar with Caffè Nero may have noticed that if you order a hot drink and no food, you will be asked if they would like a muffin or croissant with their coffee. This is perfectly ordinary upselling, and I don’t have a huge issue with it. Some people accept, some refuse. Fair enough.

However, over the years, I have started to observe a particular pattern in the refusal. Some people refuse with a simple “No thanks,” but others offer a reason or even an apology. “No thanks, gotta watch the weight,” or “Oh that would be lovely but I’m on a diet.”

What interests (and frets) me is that the reason/apology givers seem to me to be overwhelming women.

Two possible, non-mutually exclusive reasons for this occur to me:

  1. We all know the pressures on women concerning food, and one of the threads of the narrative created by advertisers is that to women snack-type stuff (particularly chocolate) is a naughty but necessary indulgence. Whilst half the media is telling women to diet, diet, diet, the other half is saying “but if you don’t treat yourself how will you know you deserve treats?” Note that even healthy products, such as low-fat yoghurts, buy into this. You have to be “amazed” that this indulgence is actually good for you. All of this leads to the position that, on being offered a “treat” there is strong cultural pressure on women to accept.
  2. However, it could be that I am overly keen to throw around cultural impositions. Maybe this has nothing to do with whether the women feel they ought to be indulgent, and has far more to do with communicative style: is it that in the kind of short, functional interaction that one has in a coffee shop queue, women feel a greater need to have a level of ‘real’, ‘meaningful’ contact? That the apology is less a response to social pressure than an attempt to create a brief spark of genuine human interaction in an otherwise fairly robotic process? This is an equally gendered explanation, and risks buying into the whole Mars/Venus myth nonsense.

There is, impressionistically at least, a phenomena that needs explaining. What do people think of the potential causes?

I keep meaning to do an actual organized survey, tallying up every time I am in a queue in Nero the refusal rate and whether a reason is given to ensure that this is actually a genuinely gendered phenomenon, and not just my own prejudices showing through. Anyone fancy adding to this? Then, if I am correct and this is a predominantly female response, if anyone fancies unpicking the possible motivations with me there could be a fun little sideline project here.

(Note: I am not by any means suggesting that this phenomena is peculiar to Caffè Nero; but because they have this policy of always upselling snacks it is particularly apparent there.)

Brasiliense, and a brasiliense

Yesterday I did an interview with a chap who my random pseudonym generator tells me we shall be calling Lucas. Although the interview itself was a bit of a teeth-puller—he wasn’t unfriendly, just didn’t have too much to say on most things—there were two things that sparked my interest about Lucas.

The first was that in nine months of interviewing, Lucas was the first interviewee to be a supporter of Brasiliense,[1] the local football team. As you may recall from a previous post, I make a point of asking about football as part of my interview design. It’s a useful policy in two respects: it frequently generates animated and unguarded speech, and it’s a potential indicator of some kind of regional loyalties. Brazilian football is organized into state-level championships, as well as the national leagues. The most successful teams are largely those based in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, such as Botafogo (cheers!) and Flamengo (boos!), and these teams garner supporters from all over the country in the same way that Liverpool (cheers!) and Manchester United (boos!) do in the UK. However, it seemed safe to presume that mineiro migrants would continue to support their local teams, such as Cruzeiro. In the younger generation of migrants, I considered that support of a mineiro team could be an indicator of the strength of mineiro as opposed to brasiliense identity, and vice versa. The way I will calculate whether or not these are good tests of regional loyalties will be a topic of a separate post.

Brasiliense won the last Federal District (state-level) championship, yet are only in the third league of the national game. This is not, of course, too surprising as with only a couple of exceptions, all the teams are less than fifty years old and do not have a great deal of money. (Notably Brasiliense is now apparently in the somewhat Chelseaish position of being owned by a very wealthy man who is prepared to splash a lot of cash on good players.) Whatever the reasons for the apparent lack of support, it was nice to finally meet someone who supported the local team, as I was beginning to wonder such supporters existed at all. In fact, Lucas is more than just a supporter: he is a organizer for their fan club, and offered to take me to the next game—an offer I gratefully accepted partly because I like me some live footie, and also because it should be a good area to meet further potential informants.

The second unusual feature concerning Lucas was the place of birth of his father. I select informants to meet specific sampling criteria, and one of the broad divisions is that for people over 40 I require them to be from the state of Minas Gerais, whereas for people under 30 I require them to be born in the Federal District, and to have grown up there (in Taguatinga or nearby towns), with at least one parent from Minas Gerais. Lucas’s mother provides the mineiro link. His father, who we shall call João, was born here. At the age of 48, that makes him from the very first generation to be born in Taguatinga—the city was founded 53 years ago. This means he was learning to speak in the very early years of the city, where everyone was a recent migrant, and that’s fascinating.

There’s no room for João in my sampling criteria simply because I was not expecting to meet him, or people like him. My upper limit for people born in the Federal District is 30. Because heavy in-migration continued through the sixties and seventies, the numbers of locally-born people are simply swamped by migrants until much more recent generations. It would have taken far too long to try and track down a statistically significant number of forty-something brasilienses. However, I do have a generation of 40–50 year old mineiro immigrants, and it would not ruin my sampling system to extend that to mineiros or children of mineiros. So I asked João where his parents were from, quietly hoping for “Minas Gerais.” Sadly no. They were northeasterners. Disappointment. But then João offered a nugget of information that is both wonderfully exciting and infuriatingly annoying.

“But I don’t sound much like a northeasterner,” he said “I sound more like a mineiro.

Why does this annoy me and delight me? Well, you may recall that a major thrust of my topic is a process called koineization. In very brief, we can say roughly the following: usually, when there is ‘ordinary’ contact between dialects, particularly in urban settings, a process called levelling takes place, in which strongly marked regional features disappear from the speech of the region. In the special circumstances of migrant koineization—where the meeting of dialects is sudden through mass migration—something a little different happens. Here, purely structural linguistic pressures may prevail and, I’m sure you remember, this is why I’m looking at mineiros. The mineiro dialect is in certain structural terms simpler,[2] and thus I was predicting that mineiro features would continue in the speech community when ordinary levelling would predict them to be removed. That a child of northeasterners in the very early years of Taguatinga has himself ended up sounding mineiro is a cheering piece of circumstantial evidence in favour of this. It annoys me because, were I to have time, I would now love to track down some more of these first-generation guys. My research design is largely generational: looking at the preservation of features between generations. But, of course, another approach could have been to look in detail at one generation, and make the contrast the location of origin.

Overall, I’m not regretting doing it my way. The grass is always greener, anyway. But I certainly think there is a good complementary project there, possibly one for post-doc, and shall record João anyway, minimally as a qualitative contribution to my PhD, and possibly also as the start of a dataset for another project.

1 The term brasiliense is demonym for the Federal District/Brasília. As a proper noun, it refers to the football team of Taguatinga. [Back up]
2 As always the caveat that (a) I am using simpler to refer purely to structural features, not the content or expressivity of the dialect, and (b) even as such, the concept needs some fine-tuning anyway. [Back up]