When last did you have a proper old natter over coffee?
One Viennese man is bringing conversation back into coffeehouse culture - even if you need a little jolt first
They’re included in Unesco’s “national inventory of intangible cultural heritage” and have been part of Vienna’s cultural life since the establishment of the first coffeehouse in the city in 1683. However, the days of Viennese coffeehouses being places for the meeting of intellectuals and writers as they were in the 1890s for writers like Arthur Schnitzler and Karl Kraus have faded in the digital age.
That’s changing thanks to Vienna resident Eugene Quinn who, according to a recent Guardian article, has since 2013 hosted a monthly meeting at a coffeehouse in the city. There, residents and outsiders are paired for two hours over traditional food and drink and “challenging one-on-one conversation”.There’s even a conversation menu to help get you started. It may sound like the skit from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life in which a couple at a restaurant are offered a selection of conversation topics to choose from, but it’s a real thing. While it’s similar to speed-dating, it’s different in that you spend the entire two hours with only one person – although as Quinn told the Guardian, the events have “resulted in three marriages”.
The conversation menu includes 30 questions that cover topics such as “money, childhood, fears, and the future …which parts of your life were a waste of time? What do you need that money can’t buy? What have you rebelled against in the past? And what are you rebelling against now?”Since Quinn began holding his monthly events, “visitors from 68 countries have taken part and many make a point of returning”. The coffeehouses are among Vienna’s markers of its high quality of life: the city recently topped a survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the best in the world, and it is perhaps only getting better thanks to Quinn’s attempts to keep the lost art of conversation alive.