Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Starbucks is everywhere!!!

(Or is it "Starbucks are everywhere"? Starbuckses?)

Zurich is overrun with them, which means that my husband and I will probably be taking up a new Starbucks habit. We didn't before since (for some unknown reason) there were none in Bordeaux. There we had "Columbus Cafe" and "The French Coffee Shop" (pictured here) instead. Even these American-style coffee shops are a recent arrival -- neither was there when we moved to Bordeaux at the end of 2000. And back visiting the family in Minnesota, we used to go to "Caribou Coffee" and "Java Jack's" (just in case you're curious, don't worry, I'm not getting paid for product placement or anything... ;^) ).

For the moment I'm still playing the "ugly American": the first question out of my mouth wherever I go is "Do you speak English?" Actually, as I told people when I was living in France, it's not that big a deal to try to get by on just English -- that's what Europeans themselves typically do when they travel. No one can be expected to learn all of the local languages, so it's easier just to have everyone learn the same second language, that way nobody has to learn more than one. Of course that was easy for me to say when I was beatifically looking down from my superior position as someone who understood what the people around me were saying. If I was smiling smugly to myself then, now the joke's on me. ;^)

At the moment, my system is to try to read all of the signs and guess what they say. Plus, my husband got me an MP3 player and put some recordings on it for learning German. That will be my next project right after I finish my assignment for nonbelieving literati: La Peste (The Plague) by Camus.


beatdad said...

EEk morebucks is everywhere. They are even in my local grocery store...which is nice when I have walked there in a cold rain.....curse your flavor full coffee Starbucks..

Lars Larson said...

I do like Starbucks, too. I admit it. During my year in Germany for school way back in 1986-87 I probably would have fired-bombed a Starbucks but I have softened my notions in the past few years. (I made it a full year without succumbing to my classmates penchant for slipping sideways into the McDonald's for lunch at twice the price of the delicious bun/wurst combo they sold near the Muenster)

Connoisseurs say Starbucks burns their coffee beans...well then burn them for me every time...that's obviously the way I like it...I also like burnt cheese and burnt toast, and the burned parts of the lasagna.

And tell me, is there a better place, outside of one's home, to meet people, silently read a book, write a good story, and basically be left in peace than a Starbucks?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Beat Dad!!!

lol, that's about how I feel about it too. It's vaguely disturbing to see it everywhere, but not quite disturbing enough to counter the urge to go there... ;^)

Hey erlybrd!!!

Yep, that's the situation. I've dealt with the McDo question as well: we managed never to go there (or to any equivalent, like Quick) at home in Bordeaux (since there we know all our options). But we broke down and took the kids to McDo in Paris more than once since it's one place where there's a playground and we know they serve something our kids will eat...

Shishberg said...

Vaguely related, and still stuck in my head from when I found it the other day: Lewis Black on Starbucks.

Lynet said...

When I was in England, I found that Starbucks was one of the few places that could make a decent chai tea latte -- seems like that particular drink hasn't caught on in the UK the way it has in Australia and New Zealand. I always felt a bit bad about it, though. Even when the big chains are pleasant you can't help but think that a real coffee place ought to be small and poky, with individual quirks. Well, I can't help but think that, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a huge Starbucks fan, but I don't hate them either. I just hope Europe doesn't start looking like one big American suburb. YUK!

Anonymous said...

The "funny" thing about Swiss Starbucks is how expensive it is. Two grande lattes and a couple of donuts is at least 20 swissies. Yikes. Though we've become inured to it, to be honest.

Three-point-five years into it, my first sentence is STILL "Bitte sprechen Sie Englisch?" Because schwyyzer-dyytsch does my head in, and high german doesn't work as well as people say it does. At least not in this town.

Luckily, most people do speak English, and I gave up feeling bad for being a 'dumb american' for lent about four years ago. Americans only speak English because they live geographically separately in a very large country where everyone speaks English, bordered on the north by a country that mostly speaks English. And yes, bordered on the south by a country that speaks Spanish. My experience has been that people who live in more spanish areas actually do speak a lot of spanish. My California-originating family mostly speak spanish (I 'rebelled' with French) and a lot of other americans speak spanish too. The fact that americans don't speak many other languages is mostly because they don't have the need to. If they were situated like Europe is, I doubt americans are per se so natively dumb that they wouldn't speak multiple languages.

Hmm, apparently that's my soapbox today. Didn't realise it until it poured forth. ;-)

Aerin said...

In my community - Starbucks has forced out all the small coffeehouses. There are one or two hanging on - but many have closed. It's sad, really - for me because I always liked independent coffeehouses - for all the reasons erlybird describe - read a book, meet people, etc.

So - I try to go anywhere but Starbucks if possible. I certainly understand why people go there though - and it might be completely different in other countries....

Rebecca said...

From The Week news magazine:

Starbucks spends more than $200 million annually to provide health insurance for its employees - more than it pays for its raw coffee beans.

I can totally get on board with a company like that. Also from in The Week (the following issue):

Coffee-shop owners around the country have discovered that "the corporate steamroller known as Starbucks" is actually good for their business. It turns out that when a Starbucks comes to the neighborhod, the result is "new converts to the latte-drinking fold." When all those converts overrun the local Starbucks, the independents are there to catch the spillover. In fact, some indepdendent storeowners now actually try to open their stores near a Starbucks if they can.

My advice:

Peppermint hot chocolate, with half the syrup (too sweet!). They only advertise it during the holidays, but they make it all year.

Soy chai tea latte. DE-licious!

Lars Larson said...

Aerin, in my Midwestern experience, Starbucks WERE essentially the first public coffeehouses. In East Lansing, where I spent some time in school, an old friend named Bill Castellani had an Italian deli which did espresso drinks, but that was it. Then came Starbucks, but that was not the reason for his store’s demise. I have found that much of the “Starbucks drove out our independent coffeehouses” arguments may well only work in places like Seattle where there actually WERE coffeehouses before Starbucks came along. Before Starbucks the only place you could get coffee in where I grew up was out of a pot kept hot behind the breakfast counter at a diner. I have seen independent coffee houses not succeed, certainly, but frankly that is more because the employees were awful and the coffee sucked even though to hear them say it, while I waited forever for service, I was a “homer” if I went to Starbucks and actually enjoyed it. That said, I hold no loyalties, and I admit that I am a “homer” about coffee…but I am learning. Pete’s, Caribou, Tully’s, Seattle’ Best, Beaner’s…I don’t care. In fact, one reason I DON’T go to Starbucks as much as I could is that there ISN’T an easy way, at least here in the US, to use the internet there.

One other, slightly off-topic point. Independent bookstores have whined for years about Border’s and Barnes & Noble coming into town and driving them out. Yeah, well, I immediately ceased patronizing the independent store in East Lansing when I went to Barnes & Noble and did not get the “are you gonna buy that” look or the “you can’t drink that in here” prohibition from the snob shelving the books who had looked down her nose at my job application while looking for the missing M.A. in English Lit when I arrived in town the month before. I was working at B&N two weeks later and after that the coffee shop next door agreed to allow a door to be knocked through the wall…et voila!...combination that peanut butter and chocolate would envy.

Thanks, Ms. Hanson…I think this will need to turn into a blog topic of my own…you have got me thinking about all sorts of things.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Shishberg!!!

Unfortunately, my regular computer isn't set up yet and this one I'm borrowing doesn't have the plug-ins to let me see the video, but thanks anyway. Others can tell me if it's interesting. :D

Hey Lynet!!!

Yeah, once I'm installed in a particular town, I prefer the little places that have their own flavor. But like many here, I'm torn because -- slick and corporate as Starbucks is -- when you see it you know you're going to get at least XYZ, which includes some temptingly good stuff...

Hey Chaplain!!!

Exactly, that's a big part of the problem. You go to Paris and see Starbucks and the Gap, and wonder why you bothered to leave home... There are a lot of advantages to encouraging diversity and a range of options.

Hey Wry!!!

Yeah, I know, intellectually there's no good reason to feel guilty for not knowing the local language in a city as cosmopolitan as this one. At the same time, I'm planning to live here for the long term, and I'd like to be able to talk to the people on the street and understand them.

In a sense it's an advantage to have English as one's native language, and at the same time it's a disadvantage since learning another language is rewarding, but it's a big enough hurdle that it's hard to make yourself do it when you don't really have to...

Hey Aerin!!!

That's unfortunate. As I said in my response to Lynet, that's the biggest thing that makes me hesitate about this. I don't even know what kind of Swiss places might be competing with them.

Hey Rebecca!!!

That's excellent. Okay, now I don't feel quite as bad about it -- maybe they're helping the little guys, maybe they're hurting them, but in any case, they're not exactly Wall-Mart.

Given their commitment to their employees, though, it seems odd that they don't use certified fair trade beans. They have a whole display set up that explains the process from bean to your cup, so I assume they have a lot of say in the whole process. If they were to make that switch -- given their clout -- they could make a pretty big difference. Then I'd probably give up the residual guilt for patronizing their many establishments. ;^)

Thanks for the tip, BTW, I'll try the Soy chai tea latte.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey ErlyBrd!!!

Very interesting points -- I'm looking forward to seeing your post!!! :D

Urban Viking said...


Actually, I've become a lot more tolerant of bad coffee since we moved to the UK. We had to really 'cause that's about all it's easy to get here.

I still get a warm glow when I remember that Starbucks had to actually close some outlets they opened in Melbourne due to lack of business.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Urban Viking!!!

So you're saying they have better coffee in Australia?

Anonymous said...

Rebecca said, Peppermint hot chocolate, with half the syrup. Take it home, add a drop of brandy and you'll be in heaven.

C. L. Hanson said...

Mmmmmm!!! I've got to try that!!! :D

Anonymous said...

Quad venti mocha with whole milk, extra hot with whip please.

This is what I gave up a five dollar a day smoking habit for? A five dollar a day Starbucks/Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf/Seattle's Best/Plantation Coffee mocha habit?

Sometimes I become painfully aware that I really am as much of a fool as I often suspect I am.

OK, I will give the mocha habit credit for the fact that it doesn't run my life in the way that smoking did. It still pisses me off that my habits always end up costing me money though. You think orgasms would be enough of a hobby - but nooooo, I've gotta have something that costs money.


C. L. Hanson said...

LOL, so true!!! ;^)

Urban Viking said...

Hey C.L. - Yes, I believe I am :-)

Specifically Melbourne though actually. The rest of Oz can be pretty dire as well.

Melbourne had a very large influx of Italian immigrants after WWII and has a very strong coffee-culture.

In fact, there was (when we first moved to London) a forum dedicated to ex-pat Australians trying to find a good coffee in the UK. It seems to be defunct now unfortunately.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Urban Viking!!!

That's cool. I imagine that the population of Australia is spread out enough that there are lots of regional variations like that.