Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Burqa and Brew

Op het trottoir / On the sidewalk

Three Sikhs walk into a coffee bar and order a macchiato . . . No this is not the beginning of a joke, this is what I saw today at the University Zoka coffee shop (Seattle).  I don’t know for sure if the man and two women were Sikh, but judging by the man’s uncut beard, turban, and robe, I’d say it’s highly likely.  One of the women was wearing a burqa that covered her head.  The other was wearing a burqa that included a face covering.

From what I could gather, the man and the woman, with the uncovered face, were introducing the other woman to some sort of “first coffee experience.”  When the man ordered for her, he asked for a macchiato.  After the barrista informed him that Zoka makes traditional macchiatos (i.e. a double shot with a small amount of milk, often foamed), he said, “Oh, well we better not start with something that strong.”  He  changed the order to a latte.

So here’s what this scene sparked for me:

  • It is super cool that in a climate where beards and head coverings often appear in association with violence, this type of interaction can happen in a chill and friendly way.  Props to Zoka!
  • A half-Swiss half-Californian (me) is in Seattle watching two Sikhs introduce a third (perhaps visiting from another country) to coffee which was made from beans imported from the likes of Kenya, Venezuela, and Guatemala.  It was just one of those moments where the convergences created by globalism thwap you in the kisser.  Also, I am somehow thrilled that this little scene did not involve Starbucks, and their impostor macchiato.
  • In this situation it was more important for me to have a sense for what was gracious and respectful towards all parties, rather than a mental condemnation or defense of the burqa.

Related stuff:

Rekon’s discussion of crazy ants, Marx, and globalism (scintillating!)

My synopsis of Appadurai thinking anthropology in terms of flow (titillating!)

A blog dedicated to fashion of Muslim Women (fashionating!)

A thought-provoking post from Reality Check which suggests we use the burqa controversy in France to question gender norms in a variety of cultures (invigorating!)


  1. First off, I couldn’t be happier that someone’s first real coffee experience takes place at Zoka. Second, I must have just missed you because I’m sitting at that same Zoka as I type. I’m at the long table near the bar, the one where singles and study groups lurk. Not much diversity near by. The majority of whites and blacks are Macs and PCs. But I digress.

    Your post tickles my fancy, especially as I reflect on mine about ants and global memes. Makes me wonder, concerning the simple fact of globalism, how all our of tribes interact. By tribe I don’t mean racially segregated groups, but cultural units. The kind of units that are populating our anonymous cities out of necessity. My tribe has many post-religious, eco-conscious, politically motivated, quasi-Marxists. How are we to interact with other tribes? How do our abstract relationships (the fact that we’re United States citizens, or residents of Seattle, or fans of Zoka, or Seahawks fans, or pomo-inspired, limp-wristed, green tea drinking, commies) govern our tribal intersections?

    Or can we even call them intersections? When our inter-tribal relations appear to us as parallax gaps, while our abstract categories consider us to be one and the same (by demography if nothing else), how do we treat the Other?

  2. I think Appadurai suggests that the more people flow through the streams of globalization, the more nation-states try to control the flows. They do this by trying to make people buy into national identities (e.g. American, Iraqi, Swiss). But what do national identities really mean anymore? A passport? An international rep? The push for nationalism can be read as an attempt to prop up an Other (a system, a nation) to keep people from making alliances with others (people who are no longer contained by geographical boundaries).

    Of course, some people are forced to flow across borders. Some are refugees, displaced and “contained.” And here too, we see a strong drive to promote nationalism.

    I don’t know what kind of quasi I am, but I believe that nationalism often hinders more than it helps.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you for revealing the treachery of the impostor macchiato.

  4. Just doing my part as a concerned citizen.

  5. I can’t help but feel shocked at the lack of knowledge regarding other cultures and religions that seems to be rampant in one of the most multicultural nations in the world. This might surprise you, but, based on your description, it can be safely assumed that the people at the coffee bar were Muslim. Judging by the women’s burqas, they were definitely NOT Sikhs, as covering the face with a veil is strictly prohibited in Sikhism. Likewise, just because the man had a beard and was wearing a turban, doesn’t mean he was a Sikh; after all, many Muslim men in countries, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan wear turbans which are a part of their attire and hold no religious significance. Regarding female attire, may I also add that Sikh women often wear colourful shalwar kameez (a kind of tunic with baggy pants); sometimes they may also loosly drape around their heads sheer scarves, which are called chunnis and cannot, in any way, be confused with the Muslim “hijab” which is always opaque to conceal the hair. Burqas and niqabs (which cover the face)are examples of Muslim attire and are never worn by Sikh women.

  6. Mahtab: I will be the first to admit my ignorance when it comes to certain cultures and their garb. I did not mean to offend by demonstrating it in this post. I merely wrote based on the best info I could find at the time. Luckily, you came along to shed some light on the situation! Thanks.

    NOTE TO ALL READERS: Please check out Mahtab’s comments as a correction to my post.