This week was the first time we practiced ethnographic research, the main method we will use when we do our own field projects. It is a fancy term for studying people. This week we had to practice observation in cafés, which was quite exciting because the way cafés are designed here is quite similar to the Netherlands: people sit next to rather than across from each other, because people seem to love to observe others just as much people do in the Netherlands… So basically, we would do ethnographic research on people who practically also do ethnographic research themselves. Of course it was not that easy.
Observation as an ethnographic research method is quite systematic, and there are many steps and issues that can be quite confusing. Naturally, we did everything wrong at the beginning. This means we did not analyze according to a plan (there are for example 9 steps you do at the beginning to get an overview), and so we already had specific things in mind (which we call “observational distortions”). The good students that we are, we noticed our mistakes and tried to do it again, this time somewhat correctly.
What is quite challenging is that for me personally, I found it awkward to sit in a café taking notes while suspiciously looking around. You suddenly become so aware that you are not really a part of what is happening in the café, because (ideally) you distance yourself to be able to analyze what is going on. What makes up for that is that it is quite fun to talk about what you see with your research buddy. The good part of doing ethnographic research in a different country is that people most likely not understand the language you are speaking, so that way (you think) you can be quite freely in talking about that woman that sits behind you talking quite loudly to her friend. Of course you feel quite embarrassed when you find out that the man at the next table is fluent in English and heard everything you said. The optimist in me says that it is a matter of getting used to being in this sort of awkward situation where you quite obviously observe other people. And it is also not as awkward as I made it sound like.
What is probably the best and most integral part of ethnographic research is that you get to be outside and explore while you do the research. So it is systematic exploring and you are part of what you try to analyze. That way you learn so much more about the culture and society. For example, I would have never noticed that the tea glasses in hipster cafés here are a mix between traditional and modern tea glasses. Here is a picture of this finding:
Now, of course this seems like a really small, irrelevant tea glass, but it is part of the larger things you learn here… and I think it would be actually quite cool to find out where else people merge traditional and modern aspects of Moroccan culture. And well, I simply did not take any other pictures during my observation, so this is the best finding I can offer.
Let’s see if in two months’ time from now we moved from being awkward amateurs to confident advanced ethnographic researchers.