Wake up, and Smell the Coffee

When I was in the USA, I lived in the midtown area of Atlanta…which was lovely! I was told this was the “gay area” by someone in hushed tones, but honestly I didn’t see the problem – all I saw were friendly strangers who liked to give compliments, and some great brunch establishments! How could anyone hate that?! Certainly always put a smile on my face!

50 Cent Patrick Stewart GIF

But anyway, this was a little far to travel for some friends who lived outside of the city, so I would hop on the MARTA train and meet them half-way at Bankhead Station…then we’d drive out to some random diner, restaurant, or coffee shop for a catch up on the latest shenanigans…

One of these times stands out, and has been turning over, and over, and over in my head recently – I’m sure it won’t take a genius to work out why…

On this occasion, four of us pulled into a quiet roadside place, and piled into one of the cushioned booths to get warm. A chirpy waiter came over immediately to take our orders…we were all pretty exhausted, so there was only one obvious choice for most! “Black coffee, please!” “Black coffee for me too!” “Yeah, black coffee – thanks.” 

He nodded and smiled, as he jotted it all down – before turning to me.

“Errrmmm…” I murmured, a little unsure as I stared at the menu. “Can I have white coffee please? I don’t really like it black.”

Buffy Staring GIF

There was a silence. A horrible, agonising silence. 

Everyone had their eyes fixed on me, I instantly turned the brightest of reds – as if a volcano had erupted in my face, and was attempting to force its way out through my ears…I had no clue as to what crime I had committed, but I was sorry all the same. I looked desperately at the faces of my friends, hoping one of them would throw me a life-line…all they threw me were looks of complete, and utter disbelief.

“Is that supposed to like…be funny? Because its not.” cautioned the waiter,

“Erm, no…not at all – you don’t…you don…you don’t have white coffee? I mean…wha?!”

The waiter looked across to my friends, as if to say; “who is this no-good piece of shit, and why do you even hang around with him at all? Can we shoot him in the head, once my shift finishes?” I wished that I hadn’t been so choosy, I could have just said “black coffee for me too!” and all of this mysterious awkwardness could have been avoided. I wriggled, and writhed in my seat – the leather sticking to my sweaty backside, as I prayed for the ground to swallow me up whole. I gave it one last try…

“Sorry…I want a WHITE COFFEE, PLEASE!” More stares, now there were some who were shaking their head – as if I had gone too far with a bad joke…this was past the point of humiliation, doubly so as I didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on! “Black coffee…you put milk in, and it’s white coffee. What…you don’t have milk in a coffee shop?!”

Crazy Pills GIF

“Ohhhhhhhh!” everyone chimed together, which instantly broke the awkward deadlock of silence. But I was still completely dumb-founded, my head bobbing from person to person hoping for an explanation. They laughed (a lot), but eventually told me I had incurred a rather regrettable mistake – and that it was probably best to not repeat it again, even if it is an everyday phrase in England. Ask for a coffee with milk, or a latte…or…anything but a fucking WHITE COFFEE! Well, you didn’t have to tell me twice! Jheez!

After all this they dropped me off at the station, and I was just looking forward to getting to bed – so I could forget about how shitty a person I was without even knowing. And I was in luck! The train was right there! Everything was coming up John, after all!

Not quite…ten minutes later, and I was still sat there – the train hadn’t moved an inch. I put my phone away, after all it was all full of white coffee jokes from the friends I had just left. I glanced to my left, and did a double take as I caught sight of some commotion in the opposite carriage…I moved for a better view, maybe this was the reason that…oh Jesus…fucking hell… 

There was a black man, lying there lifeless – with a puddle of blood around him. There were policeman murmuring into their radios, and a paramedic still desperately trying in vain to save the poor man…with blood all the way from his hands, to his elbows. I couldn’t make out much more than that.

I held my head in my hands, tears began to swell, as I began to struggle to breathe. I looked up at everyone else in my train carriage, I watched for their reactions which were basically just to glance over shrug, and go back to their phones, their books, their whatever else. “Babe, some guy’s dead. So I’ll be late.” I heard someone announce in a bored tone.

So wait…a man dies in a bloody fashion, and no one bats an eyelid? But I mistakenly use the wrong phrase when talking about a cup of coffee, and everyone loses their minds? Something’s wrong there, surely.

You see…I didn’t link the two like this till recently, they were just separate events in my head. But the two are unequivocally intertwined, I see that now.

We can’t just stress, and worry about words…and being “politically correct” or appearing to be a person of true compassion. REAL equality comes about with REAL action. Not just talking the talk. All of the horrendous news stories we have seen laid bare recently, SHOULD be sparking something inside of you…and that something shouldn’t be disdain for well meaning people like Benedict Cumberbatch…but more horror for corrupt, or racist individuals.

Please, don’t just look away – wake up, and smell the coffee – BE the change. 


76 Replies to “Wake up, and Smell the Coffee”

  1. Yes yes yes. YES.

    In Canada, my friends look at the recent police shootings in the states, shake their heads sympathetically and mutter “well at least we don’t have racism like that HERE.”

    Blows my mind, the ability to disconnect from the unpleasant, to willingly adopt the “Everyman is an Island” mantra.

    P.s. I love the white coffee expression.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Some people’s priorities are all wrong and think that talking the talk is the same as walking the walk, it’s depressing. Great post and call to remember our humanity no matter how inconvenient it might be to spare a thought for others.

    Though, the whole white coffee thing confuses the heck out of me. If it should be coffee with milk then why would you ask for a black coffee and not just coffee? Good job I’m a tea person.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Here in Australia, it’s perfectly fine to ask for a flat white coffee and I guess you’d ask for an expresso if you want black coffee.
    Sometimes it seems like language is politically correct but when you scratch the surface it makes sense. I used to work in HIV/AIDS communication and had to use a lot of what I considered politically correct language but when I developed a severe auto-immune disease this language was helpful There were phrases like “living with HIV” instead of saying you have it so that the disease is separate to the person. It’s not who they are. That distinction has made a huge difference to how I’ve viewed my situation and I see my illness as a malevolent stalker…not a part of me. xx Rowena


  4. I went to vermont to visit my sister a few years ago, the year before Obama resided on said throne. We were in a noisy bar my brother in law lifted his cigarette as if to ask if I wanted one. I tried to let my sis know what I was doing over the cowboy metal music. As I stood pointed and shouted to be heard ” GOING WITH TONY, FOR A Faggg” Ten seconds into my shout, the band stopped, the whole bar turned and open mouthed stared.
    I needent continue because I am sure you get my drift. The point is I had committed a huge faux pas, especially as it was in Vermont. Tolleration was thin on the ground, but a woman of afro carribian decent was killed by a hit and run driver. This was witnessed, but the passerby, a woman didn’t report it as it was none of her business. P.s. she wasn’t dark skinned.


  5. Great post! And as someone who has lived in the States for about 20 years now, very thought provoking. I am often amazed at the little things that get certain people bent out of shape and conversely, the important issues that others regard with casual indifference…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Right, well I’ve made a note not to say white coffee, should I ever go to the US. But the guy on the platform…that was awful, and the explanation for being late! Loved your post, thanks.


  7. We get so caught up in being politically correct sometimes, that we lose sight of the reasons we do it. Words matter, but people matter more. It is a dark day when there is more outrage over an innocent blunder caused by a “language barrier” than there is over the violence and injustice that happens around the globe and in our neighborhoods every single day. Given the choice between being PC or compassionate, I’ll choose compassion every time.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a world, when what we say is more important that what we DO!

    For centuries a man’s words were inexorably linked to his actions and vice versa. Yet, now we live in a world where officials, politicians, executives, middle, upper, and lower class people can DO whatever they want as long the have a good explanation, sound compassionate, and inoffensive. Everyone nods their head and says “Oh, I see! THAT’S why they didn’t help the man with a stroke…What a sincere guy/gal.”

    Statistics tell us that in America 60%+ of Americans would rather “appear” rich than BE rich! They would rather APPEAR sensitive and caring than actually go through the effort to be that way.

    Your story is gives a very salient point!


  9. Finally, someone draws appropriate conclusions. The big stuff is no big deal, but the little harmless things we say are blown out of proportion. That’s the result of a society that wants to look like its fighting for something when in reality they can’t be bothered. Thank you for writing this thoughtful piece. The anecdotes were very nicely done 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m surprised at the reactions you received for a minor cultural misunderstanding. We have white chocolate here in America. We have White Mocha frappuccinos here in America. It’s unfortunate you were made to feel uncomfortable for this. But it’s true, we sometimes focus more on what people say rather than how they feel or the actions they take.


  11. Loved the coffee confusion, great story, Seems silly but words are important.
    As to being apathetic and inhuman about the daily horrors I call it self-protection. The time to help that poor man was before his blood hit the floor. Does it really help anyone to cry and sob over a fait accompli?


  12. Reblogged this on Mind Chatter and commented:
    John is so right, we must stop the pretense of being equal and politically correct, and seriously attempt to just care for each other. I lived in Atlanta for a couple of years, and I can say the white coffee would have been a major faux pas. Seriously though, any person, black, white, green, or purple should illicit some compassion in our hearts. We can’t be that dead can we?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. When I used to work at a 9-to-5 desk job, I had to take the metro to work everyday. You won’t believe how much shitty (pardon my language) stuff went on, and NOBODY even gave it a second thought or glance. I’ll admit there were a few times when I wanted to get up and do something, but hesitated…and then it was too late. However, I would’ve reacted the same way you did if I had witness a man in a pool of blood in the next train car. I at least, would’ve offered you a tissue to wipe your tears. I’m so sorry.


    1. Yeah, it takes a lot in the moment (usually because of shock I would suppose!) to do something, and then in a blink of an eye it is over. Obviously in this situation nothing could be done, but I was just astounded at how desensitized people had clearly became to this kind of thing…I think people should have been horrified, but they didn’t seem to care. Odd…well odd is putting it gently.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Oh I wish someone would have helped you out on that one. Seriously I am surprised that one of your friends did not say, “Hey he’s English, don’t take any offence, my friend here doesn’t know any differently. Just add creamer to the coffee if you could please.” Racism as much as we want to say its almost dead here in the states, its not. Its taken me all my life to get over it. I was raised around a generation that would make your toes curl. I am not proud of that generation, and it saddens me that they were raised around folks who were just as bad. Funny thing I thought racism and prejudice existed everywhere until I was watching a few BBC shows. Then I realized its mainly an American thing. I also find it funny that our founding fathers wrote in our Declaration of Independence, “That all men are created equal” and yet they owned slaves.
    Also, its rare to witness someone’s death, and to be placed in a situation like that. I don’t know how I would handle it, maybe cry like you did. Maybe half wanting to punch the “Hey babe” guy for his lack of compassion. Then again if you are around situations like that, I guess you become immune and harden to them. Sad I know.


  15. I loved this post, it had me gripped, the point you’re making is awesome and I totally agree. Well said!

    Um, sorry if I look a bit stupid, but, um, what does white coffee mean? 😳


    1. haha! It’s a commonplace term in England! White coffee means with milk, and black coffee means without! I didn’t even think!

      I am really pleased you enjoyed the article, and took something away from it 🙂 that’s great to hear, thank you truly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh no, i get the term, i’m welsh, we have white coffee here. But i wondered why your friedns were shocked at what youd said, like an ulterior meaning?

        I love your blog, your stories are great! Thanks for reading mine too 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh right! Well they don’t use that phrase in the US, and with racial tensions in the South it’s a bit touchy…it was largely due to the fact that everyone asked for black so it seemed like I was making a racist joke! I guess anyway.

        No worries, I’m glad you enjoy it! I’ll keep an eye out as always, I spend way more time reading than I do writing, haha!

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Me too haha! I love reading.
        I thought it meant something like that but couldnt be sure.
        I was wondering if they just thought it really was a bad joke because you can’t actually have white coffee because coffee is black, or brown however you want to call it! Haha


  16. We don’t use the term white coffee in India (not that you had to know). Just wanted to say what a wonderful piece this was and I agree that we NEED to be the change. Wait, that man died?
    P.s I love the title of the post
    P.p.s I actually don’t like coffee ( *again* not that you had to know )

    Cheers xx


  17. Well, as a man of words, I think you understand their nuances and impact. I’ve never been to the southern US, but as soon as I read the words, I thought OMG! It’s always useful to “climb into another person’s skin” (Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mocking Bird) to understand context. You’re quite right about the disconnect – PC words, but complete unconcern for a dying man.


  18. Sadly, this is true. People worry about appearances, but when it comes to the real deal, /actions/, some don’t even care. Sometimes I just want to shake my head and say “There goes my hope for humanity…”

    Thanks for this post. #foodforthought


  19. Sigh……yep! But on a lighter (pun not intended) note, I learned what white tea was (and not the black, green, white kind of tea) when I married into a British family. Me: Wha? White tea? I put lemon and honey in mine. Got stares…


  20. Come on now, you can have your coffee Black, but White coffee…now that is pushing things too far. LoL. I am taken aback with the reaction here. We are becoming so politically correct, I may have to mind my manners in 40 years when I purchase my grandchildren “white chocolate” candy for the holidays. You know, that is a bit racially insensitive and all


  21. It’s so annoying to encounter people who try to shame you into being super politically correct and sensitive! Very insightful post. I’m glad you were able to identify the connection between these two events and make a good point about it. More people need to practice what they preach!


    1. I just thought, wow – big deal – come on, work with me here?! But my friends later said that on that issue, people are a little (over)sensitive so I should be more careful. Of course I don’t want to offend people, but come on…jheez. Anyway I think you are totally right! After all lots of people talk a good game, but it’s actions that truly count.


  22. G’day John,
    Having had a rather busy, albeit a writing free few weeks. I’m now attempting to catch up on recent visitors to my page and thank them for taking the time. You being the first on my list, your “Wake up and smell the coffee” has held me spell-bound as have the many replies, I will get to the others tomorrow now lol
    It’s hard to understand who was the most misunderstood, you being the visitor, the waiter for not recognising your accent, and realising you may have different customs than he, or your friends that fully understood what you ordered and didn’t even try to help you out, here in Aus we order white or black coffee or tea for that matter, so I would have done the same as you, As for your train trip, I would rather cry for the deceased than be unaffected by it. It has been a pleasure spending my evening reading your page, Happy New year to you 🙂


    1. Hi Muzzy! Appreciate you getting back to me,very thoughtful! 🙂 oh, and happy new year!

      It was certainly an odd one, it’s good to know that I wouldn’t be so out of place if (well, WHEN) I get to Australia! 🙂 thanks again for your kindness, speak soon!


  23. If this happened in my country, people would have surrounded the black guy, not to help him but just to have a better view. The police take their time so they would have probably ordered coffee too. 😀


  24. I grew up and still live in the South and have worked in hospitality for a few years now, so I’m a little surprised that your waiter didn’t ask you to clarify by giving you options (i.e. milk, half and half, etc.). I get it, racial tensions can be pretty high down here, but in hospitality you have to be prepared to answer (or in this case, question) and take in stride anything that is requested from the customer. As for the second half of your story about the man on the train who’d been killed, that’s sadly a pretty common occurrence in large cities, which is probably why that girl on the train wasn’t emotionally concerned. However, I think our generation is becoming more tolerable towards others and our concerns about one another are growing. Change is coming, that’s for damn sure!


  25. Very poignant post, John, I missed this one the first time around. I hope to never become jaded to see a person struggle or die. What is happening to us ?

    And..I’ll take my coffee cream colored. . ☺


  26. Heh, white coffee…

    By the way, you’ve been chosen as one of today’s nine blogs in That’s So Jacob’s Ninth Month Blog Challenge! I challenge you to find nine blogs you find interesting and give them a comment to brighten their day…well, eight other blogs and mine 🙂 Copy this message in your comment and enjoy your new blog friends!


  27. Thank you for a good read.

    Cheers, I was just having my coffee. I prefer black coffee because well ground beans and hot water make a black beverage called black coffee, regular coffee, puro, lungo, americano or just coffee.

    I know that some British people insist on real milk. I understand them but it still led to anecdotes in the past. So many jokes and stiff upper lips…


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