FMP/ Migrant Integration — 09. Social Lubricant → a Cuppa of ☕️ ?
Going back to London to college was helpful in inducing the vigour required to thrust the project into the next phase. Progressing the chain of thought started through ideas thrown in by fellow classmates during the crazy 8s session, I brainstormed concepts that could be tested as low-fi prototypes in the neighbourhood at different scales of intimacy.
Brainstorming Concepts for Neighbourhood Engagement
After an exhaustive session, a concept-map was created enlisting the shortlisted ideas and summarisation of the central theme underlining the research focus of this project. The five ideas were categorised according to the intentions of interaction, highlighted by the keywords ’sharing’, ‘co-creating’, ‘exchanging’ ‘expressing’ and ‘gifting’.
A range of possibilities were speculated by asking ‘what-ifs’ in scenarios that would instigate contact between participating actors from the two segments (of immigrants and hosts) that aimed at fulfilling the above intentions. Some of the ones thought were :-
Sharing archetypal objects from everyday life to represent one’s visual and material culture ⇨ What if there is a montage of flattened used-packaging on a wall near a bin spot pinned along with informative notes?
Co-creating the shared identity of a neighbourhood by representing creativity and diverseness in the form of an installation displayed at a communal space ⇨ What if an effigy is created using bits and pieces of textiles from different cultures being contributed by various people? Placing a new statue every month utilising eco-friendly materials could become a neighbourhood ritual which could be designed around the factor of … maybe weather?
Engaging in the exchange of attributes from one’s world unfamiliar to the other in order to embrace differences and even better, to discover commonalities ⇨ What if drinks being prepared the traditional way are shared between residents of a building who convene at a mutually decided time and venue? Over the exchange of cups, ideas would be exchanged, recipes shared and deeper connections forged?
Expressing intimately through the act of meaningful conversations held with one another over the medium of letter-writing to encourage approachability and forwardness ⇨ What if a correspondence taking place between two residents advances into a successful arrangement for meeting in person that holds the advantage of a reasonably developed pre-acquaintance?
Indulging in the act of gifting and receiving gifts anonymously to support the spirit of compassion, free from the intention of reciprocation. Hence in this way, the practise ensures that it wouldn’t be carried backward; or better still, activate the behaviour of carrying the tradition forward by those people in the loop who could be willing to spread it to a greater number ⇨ What if, like a bird feeder is filled with food for birds, a basket pitched near the home of newly arrived resident gets filled with gifts?
After the activity of brainstorming, I sought the review of my tutors for these ideas. Upon discussing each one of them and emphasising my preference for the chosen one, I was advised to go along with the concept of exchanging traditional drinks. It involved the designing of a drinking ritual to be conducted between people residing within proximate distance of a neighbourhood to cultivate an environment of interpersonal communication over a shared expectation. In this way, I would be catering to the research goal of this project by implementing social design using knowledge from other fields like environmental design and ritual design to conceive a solution.
Why the Ritual of Exchanging Drinks?
Soon, I divulged in the reading of literature to ascertain why exchanging drinks was an effective idea for promoting alliance between people coming from different cultures. Reasoning for the same is explained below which is derived based on the following rationales :-
① Traditions related to consumption of drinks are ubiquitous and occur predominantly in the context of showing hospitality to guests within various cultures worldwide.
In Turkey, coffee ritual combines brewing techniques with special preparation that is ridden with rich communal traditions. “ The tradition itself is a symbol of hospitality, friendship, refinement and entertainment that permeates all walks of life” (UNESCO, 2013). An invitation for coffee among friends provides an opportunity for intimate talk and the sharing of daily concerns.
On the other hand, in Ethiopia, coffee ritual is proudly hosted in a non-quotidian ceremony involving many steps which may go on for as long as two hours. The buna ceremony celebrates drinking coffee as a sensory experience — for example, when the coffee beans are roasted, the mitad (roasting pan) is taken to the guests so that they can inhale and smells the roasting beans. Then incense sticks, usually frankincense and myrrh, are ignited by a hot coal to ward off any bad spirits.
For cultures whose cup of tea is not coffee, customs observed related to tea-drinking are splendid. Chadō tea ceremony of Japan which is rooted in the Zen philosophy, is celebrated as a spiritual process involving meticulous preparations organised by a master host to entertain guests. “Everything is done for the wellbeing and enjoyment of the guests. All movements and gestures are choreographed to show respect and friendship. Beautiful ceramics with seasonal motifs are hand-picked to match the character of individual guests. Even the utensils are laid out at an angle best admired from the viewpoint of the attendees” (Walford, 2019). Several rigorous customs are fondly adhered in other cultures as well, such as Chinese and Indian.
② Certain emotions are evoked by the consumption of material substances as shown by the science behind gustatory sensory system serving to various psychological and physiological functions.
Food is said to harbour powerful emotional significance by creating comfort or evoking nostalgia as contended by Locher et al. (2005) that food has food has “physical, as well as psychological and emotional effects”. For instance, foods like chocolate help create positive feelings about romance because of containing natural amphetamines (Honeycutt and Bryan, 2010). Whereas, drinks like coffee and tea have physiological effects as they elevate blood pressure whiles stimulating central nervous system (Ramalakshmi and Raghavan, 1999).
It is the other way around as well. Many studies indicate the connection between taste and emotion is bidirectional, with taste stimuli influencing affective experience and emotional stimuli impacting on taste perception (Gayler et al., 2019).
③ Food and drink rituals encourage a script which creates shared expectation and promotes conversation at deeper levels.
Consuming food and drink has primally been a social activity as the society embedded it evolutionarily from thousands of hundreds of years ago when homo sapiens sat closely clustered in front of bonfire, sharing meals and lives. In the present age, it is enacting quite the similar role of being a social lubricant, as noted by Humphrey and Humphrey (1988) that “the bread and the wine are bonding devices; sharing the food is an acknowledgement that one is willing to share oneself”.
When the power of food and drink is combined with a ritual script, a powerful mechanism is formed that structures social interactions. Scripts offer a cognitive road map or schemata for how an interaction or relationship should proceed (Honeycutt and Bryan, 2010) — helpful especially when anxiety during initial encounters in early stages of interpersonal relationships is high (Berger and Calabrese, 1975).
With this, I concluded the segment exploring how a neighbourhood ritual of exchanging drinks is efficacious in promoting social cohesion. In the next stages, principles of ritual design and environmental design would be studied thoroughly so as to be applied within the context of designing for social innovation.
Garner, B. (2015) ‘Interpersonal Coffee Drinking Communication Rituals’, International Journal of Marketing and Business Communication, 4. Available at: http://www.publishingindia.com/GetBrochure.aspx?query=UERGQnJvY2h1cmVzfC8yOTU2LnBkZnwvMjk1Ni5wZGY=.
Gayler, T., Sas, C. and Kalnikaitė, V. (2019) ‘Taste Your Emotions: An Exploration of the Relationship between Taste and Emotional Experience for HCI’, Association for Computing Machinery [Preprint].
Mitchell, S. (2019) ‘Traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony’. Available at: https://culturallyours.com/2019/10/12/traditional-ethiopian-coffee-ceremony/
‘Turkish coffee culture and tradition’ (2013). Available at: https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/turkish-coffee-culture-and-tradition-00645.
Walford, R. (2019) ‘A Rough Guide: to the Japanese Tea Ceremony’. Available at: https://www.roughguides.com/article/a-rough-guide-to-the-japanese-tea-ceremony/.