31
Oct 13

Unit Three Outline

I’ve changed topics and am now focusing on the shift in manufacturing of consumer goods from durables to disposables.  I want to explore several shifts in practices and attitudes, particularly among consumers, as well as changes in technology that have caused this shift.  Finally, I hope to determine whether the decrease in many products’ lifespans indicates a decline in quality, or is merely the result of more rapid growth and shifts in purchasers’ habits.

I plan to divide the paper into subsections, namely between changes in the practices of companies and manufacturers and those of consumers.  The paper will address these issues as they relate to the American market and its development from the post-WWII era to the present.

  • Introduction: Shift in manufacturing from consumer durables to disposables
    • Average lifetime of common products; products that were popular post WWII
  • Scarcity of WWII made consumers appreciate quality, long lifespan
  • Manufacturing shift from post-war boom in U.S. to foreign made
    • Americans now lack technical skills necessary to bring manufacturing back to U.S.
  • Shift in type of products demanded
    • New technology needs to be replaced more frequently because of increased growth (exponential development of technology)
  • Planned obsolescence
    • Forces consumers to upgrade more frequently
    • New products made incompatible with old
  • Warranties decreased
  • Shift in marketing: focus on newest models
    • Cars kept for a few years instead of a decade; leased instead of purchased
    • Electronics require frequent updating or replacing
  • Conclusion

27
Oct 13

Yank Tank

Cuba

Following the end of the Second World War, Americans turned their attention to Communism.  Although the bloody, devastating conflict had come to an end, political tensions were rising.  The United States saw Communist influence as the greatest threat to American citizens, and its leaders sought to contain it as much as possible.  The Soviet Union, however, was seeking to expand its influence in the post-war years.

Relations between the World War II allies quickly declined, and the Cold War soon followed.  It was an unconventional fight, based on espionage, covert action, and politics.  The two nations never went head-to-head, but instead played an international game of chess (essentially a dynamic stalemate, with pieces moving but no one winning).  In many cases, smaller nations became pawns for the United States and Soviet Union to throw across the board at one another.

Cuba was one such pawn.  The Caribbean nation underwent a revolution in 1959, with a Communist leader replacing the U.S.-allied government that had been in place.  When the new government began nationalizing U.S. businesses and properties on the island, an embargo was established, greatly reducing U.S. trade with Cuba.  In response, the Soviet Union began compensating for Cuban trade losses.  The United States complicated the situation with the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion; following its failure, the embargo was strengthened to eliminate any trade with Cuba.

The Cold War eventually came to its end, and Cuba, no longer a valuable strategic pawn, has fought a losing battle with poverty ever since.  Unfortunately, because of its wording, the U.S. embargo remains in place.  Although efforts have been made to reduce its strength, trade with Cuba is still largely illegal for Americans.

Restricted resources have had some interesting effects on the island, including preservation.  Because it has not been able to import consumer goods since the Cold War, Cubans have relied on restoration rather than replacement.  This is most evident in their vehicles, the majority of which are pre-1960, American-made cars.

[http://images.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/travelblog.org_.jpg]

While some Russian cars were brought to Cuba after the embargo, they were strictly for government use.  Civilians were allowed to retain ownership of cars that had been purchased before the embargo (provided that they had the proper paperwork).  A personal car quickly became a valuable commodity.

Because the embargo also prevents Cubans from buying spare parts, any repairs must be done with what is available on the island.  To maintain cars that have now been running for more than half of a century, vehicle owners and mechanics have been quite resourceful.  In many cases, parts are improvised from other machinery or made from scratch.  For those who use their vehicles frequently (such as the taxi drivers on the island), Russian diesel engines have been rebuilt and modified to fit the American cars.

[http://www.visitcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Havana-Vauxhall-classic-taxi-Cuba.jpg]

The classic cars, built in the over-sized style of their time, have become known as “Yank tanks” in reference to their origin and dimensions.  Unfortunately, as time takes its toll, repairs become more difficult and spare parts less plentiful.  Cubans have been forced to reduce their annual travel by roughly seventy percent.

[http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3039/2641624475_c04755229a.jpg]

However, even as some of the Yank tanks see their last days on Cuban roads, they retain an important purpose.  As relations between the United States and Cuba have improved, hope that the embargo will soon be lifted has grown.  With the market open for American collectors, Cubans may be able to make small fortunes from their beautifully preserved vehicles.  Road-worthy or not, the Yank tanks may offer Cubans some relief from poverty in the future.


24
Oct 13

Stasis Theory and Unit Three

When presenting a prolonged argument, it is important to take a systematic approach.  Stasis allows a speaker to better understand the argument that he or she is trying to make, and thereby the best methods for convincing others to agree.  When considering a paradigm shift, stasis can narrow an argument from generalities and broad concepts, getting a speaker to the heart of the matter.  Making a convincing argument is simply a matter of asking the right questions.

Stasis first raises the notion of the theoretical versus the practical.  A paradigm shift is, by its nature, not finite.  However, a strictly theoretical argument can never be definitively settled.  Therefore, it is best to argue any ambiguous concepts in terms of those things that are explicitly defined.  Using concrete evidence, such as statistics that have clearly changed over time, allows one to make a convincing argument about something abstract in terms of tangible, even quantifiable qualities.

This concept is closely tied to the questions of Conjecture and Definition, as it helps make the topic more specific and reveals more of its nature than a general claim can.  Arguments should, generally speaking, work toward increasing specificity in order to draw an audience along a thorough line of logic in favor of the speaker’s point.

The question of Quality, whether something is right or wrong, can be more difficult to maneuver.  Quality is often a subjective matter, and even more so when considering broad or undefined arguments.  However, it can often be determined without bias by examining an issue in terms of natural or widely accepted laws and moral standards.  By evaluating the issue on grounds that the audience is (almost) certain to share, a speaker can avoid alienating or offending his or her audience with unfounded opinions.

Finally, when it comes to Policy, or which actions should be taken in light of the argument made, a conclusion may not be necessary.  A course of action may be suggested or argued for, but none should be considered as definite for the same reason that opinion must be avoided in determining Quality.  Arguing too ardently for anything subjective risks losing the support garnered by the core of a speaker’s argument.

 


24
Oct 13

Carnevale di Venezia

Venice, Italy

Italy has had strong ties to Catholicism throughout much of its history.  Consequently, many aspects of its culture have been influenced by the Church.  In Venice, for instance, the celebration of a military victory grew into an annual carnival preceding the holy season of Lent (a period of solemn fasting and prayer).

[http://www.airpano.com/files/Italy-Venice/image7a.jpg]

Although now famous as Italy’s city on the water, Venice was an autonomous republic between the seventh and eighteenth centuries.  Because it served as a significant trading port on the Adriatic Sea, the city was frequently forced to defend itself against foreign navies.  Following a victorious battle in 1162, the people of Venice celebrated so enthusiastically that they chose to commemorate the event each year.  The celebration was gradually lengthened and became less oriented around celebrating a single military success; instead, it shifted to fit the Catholic calendar.

The Lenten season is a somber time, meant for reflection through personal sacrifice.  In preparation for Lent, which begins each year on a day known as Ash Wednesday (ashes are used as a sign of penitence), many Catholics enjoy a last day of indulgence before they begin fasting.  The Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday has become the occasion of numerous celebrations, including the culmination of the Carnival of Venice (Carnevale di Venezia).

The Carnival developed alongside Venice throughout what remained of its time as an independent city-state.  It grew increasingly unique, enjoying the height of the Renaissance and enduring hardships like the Black Plague and numerous foreign attacks.  Unfortunately, with its infamous navy greatly reduced, the Venetian Republic fell to Austrian invaders (sent by Napoleon Bonaparte) in 1797.  The Carnival and many traditions associated with it were outlawed under the new rule.

In 1979 the Carnival was finally revived by the Italian government, hoping to preserve the rich traditions stemming from Venice’s unique history.  Lasting roughly twenty days, the modern Carnival attracts millions of international tourists who, along with the city’s residents, enjoy a wide array of new and old festivities alike.

Venice’s Carnival brought new life to one of the city’s oldest traditions: the wearing of masks.  Historically, decorative masks were worn for almost any celebratory occasion.  Venetians spent exorbitant amounts on ornate, hand-painted masks of varying styles so that they could conceal their identities before attending social events, including the Carnival.  Disguises allowed for unrefined behavior without the fear of ramifications; some acts were so outrageous that they led to laws restricting the wearing of masks in Venice, although they were always permitted during Carnival.

The Bauta was an extremely popular design because it allowed the wearer to speak, eat, and drink without removing the mask.  The feminine counterpart to the Bauta is called the Columbina.  The Plague Doctor (Medico della peste) design came into style as Venice was recovering from the disease.  When the Carnival began to be celebrated again after nearly a third of the city’s residents had been killed by the Plague, the doctor’s mask originally meant to reduce the risk of contamination was taken up as another Carnival-goer’s costume.

[http://headdlineslondonuk.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/045-carnival-costumes.jpg]

Masks remain an important aspect of the modern celebration of the Carnival of Venice, with both new designs and variations of the classics.  Music is often played in the city’s streets and many squares, including St. Mark’s (Piazza San Marco).  The city features many other forms of entertainment during the Carnival, with live performances, fireworks, and numerous other attractions for visitors.  Parades are held throughout the city, and the festival ends with a silent procession of boats along the Grand Canal.

[http://www.carnevale.venezia.it/assets/4415/slide_IMG_0047.jpg]


17
Oct 13

Unit Three Concepts and TED

Technological progress has changed many aspects of everyday life.  However, the paradigm that I am interested in examining is not technology itself, but the nature of interaction and socialization as it relates to technology.  Generally speaking, we have shifted away from a time when the communication standard was face-to-face.  With successive innovations, contacting one another has become increasingly easier.  However, it has also become less intimate and impersonal.

Particularly with the advent of the internet, human interactions have become more frequent but less meaningful.  Communicating via newer means of technology often prevents individuals from connecting on more than a superficial level or forming lasting bonds.  While it certainly has its advantages, technology has become a social hindrance when relied too heavily upon, with its effects clear in homes, communities, and businesses.  Furthermore, in areas where technology is not as readily available, social interaction remains largely the same as it once was everywhere.

Another social shift has occurred in the post-WWII generations; each has become more focused on the self and individual.  While those who endured the Second World War had struggled and fought together (and had ancestors who had endured similarly bleak circumstances), later generations slowly lost touch with the impact of this conflict.  The strong sense of national unity was gradually forgotten and, without any similar event in later years, has not returned.

The emphasis on one’s self can be seen in many areas.  Many politicians, no longer forced to work together by circumstance, now focus on public image and pleasing sponsors.  For the same reason, international relations have also lost the sense of greater good that came with reliance on foreign allies.  While every household sacrificed to support the war effort, modern households are usually centered on their own success.  Communal well-being is seldom a priority.

In regards to TED, one of my personal favorites is a talk by Sir Ken Robinson on the nature of education.  He has a very effective style of delivery and uses dry humor to address a serious topic.

TED – Ken Robinson

 


14
Oct 13

Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Harbin, China

Northeast China experiences especially harsh winters, with an average temperature of -16.8 degrees Celsius (just over 0 degrees Fahrenheit) and a minimum as low as 35 below zero (-31 degrees Fahrenheit).  While the climate would be a natural deterrent to most tourists, one city in the region has found a way to capitalize on the cold weather.

Harbin, capital of China’s Heilongjiang province, turned a long-standing tradition of the northeast region into an annual spectacle.  Since 1963, the city has hosted the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, the largest celebration of its kind in the world.  Traditionally beginning on January fifth and lasting one month, the festival welcomes both traditional and modern sculptures.  As of 2007, Harbin boasts the Guinness World Record for largest snow sculpture.

The record-holding sculpture, 250 meters long and 8.5 meters high (over 270 yards long and more than 9 yards high, for comparison), was built in honor of Norman Bethune.  A Canadian physician famous for his revolutionary medical inventions, Bethune was also well-known for his anti-war sentiments and Communist ideals.  The snow sculpture created in his memory, called “Romantic Feelings,” featured elements reminiscent of the doctor, his work, and his homeland.

Snow sculptures are, in most cases, carved from a single block of packed snow (“Romantic Feelings” had to be created in two sections because of its immense size).  Sculptors use a wide range of tools, from hand shovels to hatchets, painstakingly shaping their masterpieces before crowds of onlookers.  In similar fashion, many popular attractions at the Harbin Festival are carved from ice.

Ice sculptures at the festival come in many forms.  One of the most common creations is the ice lantern, which has been popular in the region since long before the festival began.  These works are hollowed out by the sculptor and illuminated from within by a small candle; they are seen in both simple, traditional form and much more complex varieties.  Larger ice sculptures are often formed through a process very similar to that used to make snow sculptures: artists carve and chisel details into a solid block.  However, some artists have chosen to stray from traditional methods.  Implementing the latest technology in their work, some ice artists now sculpt with lasers.  This has allowed for increasingly intricate pieces to be made, and is one of the many reasons that Harbin continues to surprise visitors each year.

[http://rtoddking.com/images/chinawin2007/07012626.jpg]

The festival is sponsored entirely by the government, with funds allocated from both the city and provincial treasuries.  Two areas of Harbin are designated for especially large projects, including one known as “Ice and Snow World.”  Open each night, this attraction features full-scale ice buildings.  Workers build the structures with blocks cut from the city’s river (the Songhua) and illuminate them with electric lighting.  Numerous other works, commissioned and unofficial, can be found throughout the city streets each year.

[http://www.filmapia.com/published/places/ice-snow-carving-festival-harbin-ice-snow-world]

Tourists and locals also enjoy alpine sports, such as skiing and snowboarding, during the festival.  For the adventurous, sections of the Songhua River are open to swimming and diving from icy platforms.  Although infamous for snow and ice, Harbin also features pyrotechnics and fireworks to complement the festival’s frozen features.

[http://i.usatoday.net/news/gallery/2012/n120109_day/10n120109-pg-horizontal.jpg]


10
Oct 13

Unit Two Draft

Ignorance is bliss.  It is an age-old and widely abided-by axiom; for many, it is far easier to disregard issues that do not directly affect them.  However, a recent ad campaign by Amnesty International is attempting to change this stance.  The global human rights group has used shocking and brutal images in several similar campaigns, attempting to turn public attention toward injustices around the world.  This campaign takes a more subtle but just as startling approach.  In its International Flag Campaign advertisements, Amnesty International challenges viewers’ ideologies and national identities in order to garner support for reform.

Each of the ads portrays a violation of human rights; however, the images of cruelty are washed out by the flag of the nation that they are associated with.  Using the symbol that represents a nation as the means of camouflaging the injustices carried out in its name is an ironic but very powerful statement in and of itself.  This tactic reminds viewers to be wary, lest they become unwitting participants in national crimes.  Prior to World War II, many German patriots turned a blind eye when Nazi policies began violating the rights of their Jewish neighbors.  They were blinded by the idea of a new national identity and unity, but inaction would ultimately contribute to the genocide that was to follow.  Seeing prisoners and victims who have been similarly robbed of basic rights, including freedom and life itself, obscured by flags that should guarantee protection serves as a stark reminder that citizens cannot always ride on the national bandwagon with clean consciences.

Securing women’s rights has long been one of Amnesty International’s most difficult challenges.  This campaign addresses the issue as it relates to Pakistan, showing a female citizen shackled at the wrists, her freedom illegally denied.  In Pakistan, the biggest obstacle to equality is not the law, which places no restrictions on women, but rather a traditionalist mindset.  Society has long been male-dominated, and few are willing to involve themselves in the personal affairs of others.  A man’s wife is generally considered his property, and his judgment in regards to her is seldom questioned.  Amnesty confronts this issue by removing it from the privacy of the home and displaying an abused women in plain sight.  The use of the Pakistani flag reminds viewers of reality: while women are constitutionally promised equal rights and quality of life, few see these promises delivered.  The ad prevents those who would rather not concern themselves with a neighbor’s actions from ignoring the issue, and encourages Pakistani’s to stand up for those who cannot protect themselves.

Camouflaging Human Rights Violations

Angola borders the notoriously lawless Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in southern Africa, but its human rights issues receive far less attention.  Like the DRC and many of its other neighbors, Angola is home to a large number of child soldiers.  Having fought to secure the nation’s independence in Angola’s civil war, these boys are unable to enjoy life under its new democracy.  Instead, their lives as unofficial freedom fighters continue, entirely unchanged since the war began.  Just as they fade into the background in Amnesty’s advertisement, Angola’s child soldiers have been largely forgotten by a government facing the challenges of establishing itself.  In a nation with far too many problems to address at once, child soldiers were considered easily dispensable.  The ad brings these victims back to the forefront.  It shames viewers by reminding them of those they have chosen to forget.  Furthermore, Amnesty’s audience is forced to realize that the youth is an integral part of ensuring Angola’s hopes for the future, and that if their lives are not improved the nation cannot move forward.

Camouflaging Human Rights Violations

A third ad portrays what is largely considered to be the most blatant violation of human rights: the death penalty.  In Iran, public execution by hanging is a frequently employed punishment for a wide variety of crimes.  This blatant display of capital punishment is meant to dissuade would-be criminals; however, it robs those sentenced to this means of execution of not only life, but dignity as well.  While the sight of a lifeless, hanging body may have become common in some parts of Iran, the Amnesty International ad seeks to make this image disturbing even to the desensitized.  The deceased, covered by the colors of his nation’s flag, has lost his personal identity.  By stripping its subject of his individuality, the ad focuses its viewers’ attention on the dehumanizing effects of public capital punishment.  It quietly urges the audience to have sympathy for the condemned, even if it cannot change the nation’s practices.

Camouflaging Human Rights Violations

Arguably the most powerful ad in this series is that aimed at the American audience.  Considering the founding, Constitutional principles of the United States, Amnesty’s image is made even more persuasive.  Hooded and chained to one another, three Guantanamo Bay prisoners stand helplessly before an armed guard.  In a nation that prides itself on the security of rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” viewers are forced to reexamine this notion.  Many prisoners of the infamous prison were accused of being terrorists; consequently, they were denied due process and subjected to physical and psychological torture.  Just as the men in the ad are cloaked by the flag, the transgressions against Guantanamo Bay prisoners were justified in the name of national security.  Amnesty seeks to portray the irony in attempting to protect the rights of a nation by intentionally denying them to certain individuals.  It reminds viewers of the danger that lies in a double standard, and encourages policy changes.

Camouflaging Human Rights Violations

While these ads address several different issues, each component of the campaign has one distinct feature in common.  Displayed on each image is the slogan “No one will keep us from seeing.”  While Amnesty International challenges viewers to go against the crowd, it attempts to confront fears of alienation by giving its audience a sense of unity with fellow activists.  By using the pronoun “us,” Amnesty includes the viewer in its ranks.  This is a subtle attempt to reassure audiences in nations where swimming against the current can lead to one being an ostracized outcast; it reminds viewers that, although standing up for human rights requires them to leave a crowd that they are comfortable in, they will become members of a new union with greater purpose.

Finally, while the flag in each ad is used to represent the attempts to hide and ignore injustice, it also serves a second purpose.  Seeing their nation’s symbol juxtaposed with an act that goes against what it stands for can stir patriotic emotions within viewers.  Amnesty International utilizes a call that already exists within members of its audience to persuade them, the call to serve their country’s best interest.  It attempts to remind individuals of the principles that their nation stands for, and thereby move them to action in ensuring that those principles are upheld.


08
Oct 13

die Wies’n

Munich, Germany

A festival first held in 1810 and known as die Wies’n among Germans (in reference to the fairgrounds that host the sixteen-day event), Oktoberfest is an annual celebration of Bavarian culture (Bavaria is one of sixteen German states; Munich is its capital).  Originally a gathering of Munich’s citizens, Oktoberfest has gained international notoriety for its unique, traditional dress and famous beers.

Oktoberfest began as a celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, who were married on the twelfth of October in 1810.  The future king and his bride invited the people of Munich to take part in the wedding festivities, which were held on grounds named Therese’s Meadow (Theresienwiese).  Initially, the festival was meant to be held only once.  However, horse races that marked the end of the celebration were so popular that it was brought back the following year.  Oktoberfest became an annual tradition, and Germans came to call it by a shortened version of the name first given to the fairgrounds.

Oktoberfest has undergone several changes since its inception.  It now starts during September and proceeds until the first Sunday of October, allowing participants to enjoy better weather and a longer festival.  While the horse races that began the tradition were held until 1960, they have since ceased.  During its early decades, both an agricultural show and a parade were added to the festival.  The former is still held every four years, and the latter, a tradition honoring the marriage that led to the first celebration, became a permanent feature of Oktoberfest in 1850.

The Oktoberfest parade - with all participants decked out in traditional costume - takes to the streets of Germany

[http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2009/09/21/article-0-0682C131000005DC-878_964x626.jpg]

Music and dancing have become popular elements of the festival, with numerous bands playing throughout the fairgrounds each year.  Food and drink are also vital components of Oktoberfest.  Bavarian dishes include numerous variations of sausage, cheeses, and sauerkraut.  With up to seven million liters of beer (equivalent to almost twenty million 12-ounce beers, for comparison) served annually, die Wies’n is likely best known for its brewed beverages.  Since Oktoberfest became an official event in its early years, the production of beer for the festival has been well-regulated.  Following centuries-old purity standards, the ingredients for all die Wies’n beers must meet strict requirements, and the final product must be at least six percent alcohol by volume.  Furthermore, beer for the festival must be brewed in the city of Munich.  As a result, only six breweries meet all of the requirements to produce Oktoberfest beer.

GERMANY-OKTOBERFEST-BEER-FESTIVAL180904--500x380.jpg

[http://nypost.com/2009/10/05/oktoberfest-2009/#5]

As Oktoberfest is a celebration of Bavarian history, many who attend choose to dress in traditional styles.  Men don leather shorts with suspenders, called lederhosen (leather breeches), while women wear the dirndl, a traditional dress.  Both of these styles were typical of peasants and members of the working class throughout Bavaria when die Wies’n was first held.  The clothing serves as a way to preserve the Bavarian customs that are entwined in Oktoberfest and remember its origins.

Die Wies’n has grown over more than two hundred years to become the world’s largest fair.  Enjoyed by visitors from around the globe, it is a unique celebration that encompasses both the past and present of Bavarian culture.  Oktoberfest plays a key role in not only the preservation of tradition, but also in its ongoing development.


03
Oct 13

Unit Two Concepts

Advertising methods are constantly changing, trying to find the most effective way to persuade consumers in the least amount of time (viewers often only focus on an ad for a matter of seconds).  Most video commercials have been shortened from half of a minute to just fifteen seconds, and traditional ads (such as billboards and posters) have more competition and less interest, forcing advertisers to convey their messages concisely and effectively.

One of the most unique approaches in adapting to a decreased attention span was a series of one-second advertisements run during the 2009 Superbowl.  These short clips, ads for Miller High Life beer, were meant to catch viewers’ attention and show them the Miller brand in as little time as possible.  The ads were, by necessity, extremely simple.  They featured a Miller employee in front of cases of beer (with the Miller logo prominently displayed) who shouted a quick phrase before the ad ended, such as “Beer’s here!” or “High Life.”  The campaign allowed the company to save on airtime while still effectively marketing its product.

[http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/commercials/2009/2/miller-one-second-ad.jpg]

Recently, shock advertising has also increased in popularity.  Hoping to grab attention and generate interest, shock ads often push boundaries and frequently cross the line.  Some of the most effective campaigns utilizing this tactic have been run by Amnesty International, a group seeking to protect human rights across the globe.  They use startling images, apparent contradictions, and irony to convey powerful messages about issues regarding violence and injustice.  Likely the most persuasive of these campaigns for viewers was a series emphasizing ignorance as the greatest obstacle to change.  They feature an act of cruelty in the midst of a large crowd, every member of which has literally turned his or her back on the victim.  It is a striking representation of the power that lies with those in the crowd, and a very convincing argument that viewers must act.

[http://www.trendhunter.com/slideshow/amnesty-international-campaigns]


02
Oct 13

Coffeehouse Culture

Middle East

Coffee is a daily staple in many parts of the world.  For most, it is the source of a quick caffeine fix before the workday.  A trip to the café is often one of several errands with little significance.  However, some cultures have much stronger traditions regarding the coffeehouse.  In the Middle East, for instance, getting a cup of coffee (or tea) is a significant part of each day, with cultural and social importance.

The Middle East is a region that includes eighteen nations and is home to at least twelve languages.  Making generalizations about the culture in this region often creates inaccuracies, as there are usually exceptions to every rule.  However, one statement that can safely be made about Middle Eastern culture is that it emphasizes hospitality.  While it is customary to offer visitors (even unfamiliar guests) a meal or a cup of coffee in a Middle Eastern home, many Middle Easterners (particularly those in urban areas) now prefer to meet and socialize at a communal venue.

The coffeehouse has become the center of social life for a large (and growing) number of Middle Easterners.  Customs from the home were transferred to cafés, and many comforts besides tea and coffee are often enjoyed there.  One of the most unique is shisha (also called hookah, nargile, and argila), flavored tobacco smoked through a waterpipe.  Customers also play backgammon and other popular games to pass the time.

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Syria.Damascus.CoffeeHouse.01.jpg]

Typically, Middle Easterners will spend roughly an hour at the coffeehouse each day.  It serves as a center for discussion and offers a place to unwind.  Traditionally, only men frequented these establishments.  However, this has slowly been changing in recent years.  Cafés specifically catering to women have opened in more traditional areas, while crowds of mixed genders (especially among younger generations) can be seen in others.

Although something as simple as a coffeehouse may not seem to have broad implications, it does have great importance in the Middle East.  First, it is a place where longstanding traditions can continue to thrive.  Arabic coffee (often brewed with spices such as cinnamon, clove, and even saffron) and the widely enjoyed shisha have been common for centuries.  Cafés have preserved not only these regional specialties, but the social customs that accompany them as well.

[http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3156/2961615847_30b13837db.jpg]

Additionally, because they are the predominant site of social activity in many parts of the Middle East, it is not surprising that coffeehouses are often the birthplace of change.  As the revolutions of Arab Spring swept across the region, they were preceded by hushed conversations in cafés, whispers of rebellion that served as the sparks to ignite a much larger fire.  Similarly, coffeehouses have led to other forms of progress in the Middle East.  As women’s roles have slowly expanded in a very conservative culture, taking part in daily customs (like those of the coffeehouse) has accelerated change and acceptance.

[http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01681/waterpipe_1681393c.jpg]

The essence and importance of Middle Eastern coffeehouses, in actuality, has little to do with coffee, tea, or shisha.  Cafés are a societal center in the region and, while paralleled in other areas, remain a very unique aspect of daily life in the Middle East.


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