Kristina's Cafe, Ripon, Wisconsin, December 4, 2006
On Monday, while waiting for a prescription to be filled across the street, I stopped for a quick breakfast at Kristina's Cafe. It was about 8:40 a.m., and I caught the cafe during its coffee klatch. There were five men and two women sitting at the tables near the front of the place. They were having coffee and talking. The women sat catty-corner from one another. One of the women had her back to me. I was in a position to observe the other woman.
This was coffee klatch. Nothing of much consequence was getting discussed. "What's John doing now?" one of them asked. "How was your trip back?" another wanted to know.
"We stayed in Nevada an extra day because of the storm."
"How were the roads?"
"If I had a dollar for every set of tracks we saw run off into the ditch," the traveler said, "I'd be a rich man. But we didn't have any problem."
I wasn't really eavesdropping. From where I was sitting, I had to strain to hear what people in the group were saying - strain, and read lips. Mostly this was an opportunity to observe body language and facial expressions.
I could see the woman at the far end of the bunch, and her face was lively. I didn't know what she was saying or hearing, yet I could tell when she was especially interested, or when she was dismissing what she was hearing. Her eyes said it; her lips spoke without sound. A raised eyebrow, a tilt of the head. She licked her lips with her tongue, licked them again.
The men, in contrast, did not give anything away with their faces. These were friends having coffee, but to look at them, they might have been playing a million dollar poker hand. They sat straight-faced, expressionless for the most part, reserved as statues. They moved their eyes to look at each other, but rarely turned their heads. They never leaned into the conversation; they seldom even nodded. Sometimes the only response they made to something someone said was a little twinkle of the eye. A psychologist might say these men had pretty flat affects. That's how I'd put it. You know they are friends; you know they were enjoying the conversation; yet their expressions didn't show it.
An anthropologist sitting in my place having breakfast might have been taken with such a difference in expressiveness between the men and that woman. Such an anthropologist might wonder whether the woman at the end of the table was an outlier; whether she was simply more expressive than everyone else in the culture and not fully representative of her gender. So he would watch other women whose faces he could see: were they more expressive than the men? The answer would have been Yes. Perhaps not so vividly expressive as that woman at the far end of the coffee klatch, but the other females in Kristina's on that Monday morning did investment themselves more fully in their conversations than any of the men did.
The fellow on this side of the table at the far end got up to pay his check. The woman who'd had her back to me got up and moved down the line, to sit across from the other woman in the group. Now I could see half her face as she talked, and I could see that half her face was five times more expressive than any of the men's.
Yes, the anthropologist in my booth would have concluded, the difference in expressiveness might be related to gender.
The fellow who had gotten up from the far end came back to get his coat. The woman who'd taken his seat said, "I took your chair," as if the chair belonged to him and not to the establishment.
"Well," the fellow said, "I got it warmed up for you."