We are always being told that a ‘cafe culture’ is taking root in the UK. Certainly in London it is common to find tables outside of coffee shops and restaurant premises in the more desirable parts of the city.
Coffee shops have also taken over our high streets, you can’t turn a corner in Nottingham without being confronted by a Nero’s, Costa or Starbucks. One of my colleagues is so attached to his favourite Starbucks that he is starting a campaign to stop its possible closure!
All very nice, but spending time in a European city like Florence really brings it home to me how we are so dependant on ‘chains’ in the UK.
Over here in Italy there are very few large restaurant chains – McDonalds is probably the most common! All the other bars and restaurant’s are small private business’s. Even in the prime shopping areas there are many privately run bars and restaurants. This creates a totally different feel to the city, a much cosier, friendly feeling. (It is also helped by the lack of bars filled with loud drunken yobs.)
Walking the streets of Florence in the evening is a pleasant experience, there is street culture – artists, musicians and a few dodgy traders. At no time do you feel threatened by drunks or large groups of youths. I accept that this is a major tourist destination, but I do wonder if our visitors to Nottingham feel as safe and relaxed when searching out Robin Hood of an evening!
As a country we have a long way to go before we get close to a European feel in our cities. In truth it is totally alien to our way of life and it will take a lot more than warmer weather and a few tables on the pavement to truly bring a cafe culture to the UK!