08 January 2008

Small Piece of America

Today I met up with a friend who recently had a baby. After a walk-about until baby went to sleep, we headed to Starbucks.

I know, I know. I went to Starbucks. That evil corporate giant who sucks the lifeblood out of the small, locally owned coffeehouses across the United States.

In my own defense, Switzerland is not known for it's Coffeehouse Culture. With few exceptions, Starbucks is pretty much it. It's not like there were any other coffeehouses to put out of business.

Plus, Starbucks is an extremely popular choice among mothers due to its strict corporate policy of Non-Smoking, which incredibly extends into the Smoker's Haven that is Switzerland. No second-hand smoke mingling with the pregnant women and the youn'uns. Or me, for that matter. So, give me a break already. (And yes, Kaite, I am talking to YOU!)

Anyway, while placing my order I realized that I wasn't speaking German. Though in most exchanges I have on a daily basis I doggedly continue to speak German even when they respond in English. Not a single German word had passed my lips since I walked through the door.

Then it hit me. I have never spoken German at any Starbucks I have visited since moving here. In fact, this is the first I have noticed that I don't attempt German while within the walls of a Starbucks. Not even to say Verstehen Sie Englisch, bitte?

After some thought I figured out why. Starbucks is the most American-feeling place in Europe. (Well, aside from the US embassies. But that's different.) My point is that it didn't occur to me that I should speak German in Starbucks.

It's an American company with an American feel and I am going to speak, well, American. And I won't feel a single ounce (not gram!) of guilt about it either.

So there!

One last note: Ya think Starbucks is expensive in the US? Hah! Try paying over 5 chf (close to $5 USD) for a small cup of tea! And they won't even give you more hot water for free. Astoundingly enough, it no longer puts me into cardiac arrest. Have I gotten accustomed to how expensive everything is in Zürich?


Greg said...

I can remember back to my days in college when Starbucks was THE small local coffee shop.

Global Librarian said...

And not long before those days, Walmart was a small, locally owned dry goods store...

David becomes Goliath.

Where ya been? You haven't posted anything since November?

Carol said...

I live in Seattle, so there's literally a few Starbucks within a block of... well, of every street corner -- and I willingly dish out a good chunk of change per week on my latte fix.

But when I was in Germany last September, my deeply ingrained habit came to abrupt halt when I saw the prices at Starbuck's in Germany! I just couldn't bring myself to pay for a cuppa Joe there, no matter how addicted I am!


Greg said...

@GL: I've been keeping busy helping keeping EF alive. And travelling into the mountains for the holidays. I got LOTS of practice listening to the Walser dialect ;-) You're right though, I really should post something.

@Carol: Isn't there a streetcorner someplace in Seattle with Starbucks shops on three of the corners? I can't say too much bad about Starbucks as I've got friends who work for them, but I wish they'd make fresh iced tea like Tulley's does. Last time I tried to get fresh iced tea, they offered me something out of a bottle!

Marcy said...

You know, Starbucks gets a bad rap b/c they're so big, but if you look at their practices they pay decent wages to their workers, buy fair-trade coffee, and often give big donations to all sorts of charities. So while they may not be a cute mom-and-pop, they're certainly a far cry from, say, Wal-mart.

However I must say I do have a hard time forking over 7+chf for a vanilla latte. At least in Geneva we have a few other options for coffee shops that are more reasonably priced.

Marcy said...

ps- the other great thing about Starbucks? You can always go into one and use their bathrooms for free. ; )

rswb said...

While I take your point about Switzerland not being known for its coffehouse culture, and of everywhere being ridiculously smoky, I don't agree with you at all that there's nowhere to get a coffee except Starbucks. In my experience there are cafes everywhere. In the town I used to live in (which was pretty small) there were at least 5 cafes as well as heaps of restaurants where you could go for a coffee (with varying policies on smoking). In my experience of Zurich (relatively minimal), there are cafes everywhere (even in the centre of the city, although there you often find them inside other shops, in bookshops or whatever). Plus there's the advantages that the drinks are all far more reasonably priced at non-Starbucks cafes, and the coffee is actually nice (not like the hideous, milky, weak, frou-frouey coffee that Starbucks sells).

Phew. As you may be able to tell, I don't like Starbucks. Although their couches always look a bit enticing.

Midsummer night's knitter said...

Haha! Starbucks os one of the places that I DO speak German in! I have learnt how to get my cofffee the way I want it. It was done in steps but now I can just rattle the order off - because I know how Starbucks works, I didn't have the added stress of expecting table service when it was counter and vice versa. I could just focus on the German. Course, it all goes to pot when they then let of a stream of German at me, but I'm working on it.

The Big Finn said...

I agree with rswb...
"...their couches always look a bit enticing."
I think one pays for the Starbucks experience, not just the coffee. Where else in Switzerland can you get a gigantic dose of caffeine, plunk yourself down in a huge, soft, American-sized piece of furniture, and waste an hour or two reading a book/magazine or visiting with a friend? I think the $5 price tag is a bargain. Plus, don't forget that a small Swiss coffee (although very tasty) still comes in at about 4 CHF, and it's done in a few sips.
You've inspired me...
I'm going to go to Starbucks today and read my Economist for a couple of hours.

Global Librarian said...

Yes, there are certainly other places to get a cup of tea. But they are not coffeehouses. (Although I will point out that there are far fewer places to get a decent cup of tea then there are places to get a decent coffee. Notice I said "decent." Really great tea is pretty much impossible to come by...)

However, it is the coffeehouse atmosphere that I am seeking, not merely a cup of tea. That wonderful, comfortable, smoke-free environment in which you could stay all day nursing a single cup of tea without anyone saying "boo." And using their clean, free restroom to boot!

However, my favorite place to pop in to use the toilet without ever purchasing even a soda remains, without a doubt, McDonald's. Even in places where public toilets amount to a hole in the ground, McDonald's can be counted upon to have an acceptable, working, actual toilet pretty much anywhere in the world. With no charge. And they are everywhere!

Global Librarian said...

And one word about Wal-Mart.

I worked at Wal-Mart when I was in high school. At that time Sam Walton was still alive and Wal-Mart was a very different place. It was a great place to work as a student. And the older employees, who needed that job to pay for rent, food and clothing for their children, were all well treated too.

It actually saddens me that Wal-Mart has become such a nightmare of a employer. Sam Walton would be disgusted.

Anonymous said...

What about McDonald's?

Global Librarian said...

Yeah, McDonald's sucks and they are terrible to their employees.

But I only use their public restroom. I never eat their food! They are not profiting from me.

Sara said...

i go to starbucks weekly for our knitting club, the main reason being it is the only nonsmoking cafe open then. but there are also interesting arguments to be made for how starbucks (at least in the US) has helped not hurt mom and pop coffee shops, not the least of which by making people used to the idea of paying 5 dollars for a cup of coffee.
another point of view here: