starbucks abroad


i have a starbucks travel mug, which i got in china. it says shanghai in big letters, and i take it to class every day, filled with tea.
one day, a colleague asked me if i’d gone to starbucks in china, to which i replied that i did. they looked at my mug with disdain, and told me that they’d never do that, their voice dripping with moral superiority… it struck me as an odd thing to say, “i’d never do something”… how do they know?

i didn’t feel the need to justify myself to an almost stranger, but thought about it for a while… and then i realized we didn’t go to starbucks because we particularly liked their coffee (though i respect any brand that has the talent to pull a ‘red bean’ frappuccino…). we went there because it was familiar, and consistent. you know what you’re going to get, and how you’re going to get it – which at times was more than you could say for the rest of the places in the neighbourhood. we went there because when you’re out of your element, feeling misunderstood and lost, you want what is familiar and comfortable. big brands do consistency perfectly, and it can be very soothing.

this is what i should have told him. damned esprit d’escalier!


5 comments to “starbucks abroad”

  • Sílvia says:

    fiquei tão chateada com a atitude desses teus colegas que nem consigo exprimir por palavras o que estou a pensar sobre eles!

  • WoAi says:

    Yes that is the secret to their success – consistency and familiarity. The coffee certainly is not amazing, but in China if you go to a local coffee shop, you’ve got a high chance of getting very bad coffee. I prefer average coffee to bad coffee!

  • Nathalie says:

    I’m not familiar with Starbucks and I was there only twice – I find their set of options very intimidating, and in Belgium they can only be found at the airport. But I totally understand your feelings about it. It’s the same reason why we sometimes go to McDonald’s while abroad: when you’re tired of searching for a local restaurant that might be both good and not too expensive, or going through menus in languages you don’t understand, it’s good to find a place you know, a menu you know, and prices you know will be very moderate. Even though it’s a bit sad on a cultural point of view, of course.

    I might be naive or whatever, but I don’t get the reaction of your colleague: what’s wrong about going to Starbucks in China? Especially since you’ve been there so long, it’s not like if it made you miss a rare chance to go to a local cafe. And even then, how could it be an object of disdain? How do YOU interpret it?

  • ana says:

    @Nathalie: What bothers me in Starbucks, if you can believe it, is the smell of the place. American-style coffee shops all seem to have a similar scent, which I can’t really describe… it’s just “artificial”. Blergh.

    One one hand, I think he felt that I was somehow supporting a big & evil corporation, instead of the local, smaller businesses. This anti-capitalism spirit in very much present Berlin, where Starbucks and other big name brands are rareish and confined to the touristy areas downtown… And on the other hand, he might have thought that I was the kind of tourist that spent her days abroad complaining, and longing for the stuff I had home.

    Either way, he would be wrong on both accounts. :)

  • Nathalie says:

    Oh, I understand now, thanks. Another proof that it’s silly to judge someone on a single fact. And if I ever go to a Starbucks again, I’ll pay attention to the smell ;)

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