New Languages and Nostalgia

My wife Leslie and I walked into a neighborhood coffee shop in New York, Juan Valdez. The coffee’s not bad, but you have to read a description of all the farmers they didn’t exploit to get it to you.  As I ordered, the gentleman serving asked what size I wanted. I was flummoxed. “What is your word for small?” I asked. He looked at me deadpan, “Small.” He pointed to the wall menu. Amazing! “Small, Medium, Large.” I congratulated them on not forcing me to decode an alternative language and ask for a Venti Tall Half Mast or something to get a small cappuccino.

And then I realized that much as we can smirk at invented vocabularies, it is also a mechanism of creating a type of community, of people who are ‘in the know’. Maybe, and then maybe today people want something simpler, something that reminds them of the human touch of cafes, not the PR flackery we’ve all been imbibing.

Some of the leaders of Coach Inc, the premium retailer, have been reluctant to tell the story about how their dedication to craftsmanship, something iconically and ardently felt within their company, coming as it does from their beginnings in a loft in New York, defines them. When such stories are true, as they are for Coach, perhaps a tad truer than alleged partnerships with coffee growers (and Valdez forgive me if I’m underestimating them here), I think we should share them…invitationally, but definitely. There is a real hankering today for true stories of real quality, of demonstrations of genuine dedication. We’re nostalgic for things that express artistry and commitment.

Long after today’s hucksters and their ability to trade in their empty sleeves have been forgotten…long may such things, and our appreciation of them, continue…