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.)