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Buying into a lifestyle


Starbucks Korea by toughkidcst, under Creative Commons. Click pic for toughkidcsts photostream

Starbucks Korea by toughkidcst, under Creative Commons. Click pic for toughkidcst's photostream

I’ve moved office, temporarily. Rather than the dingy, open-plan, ex-living room I was in I’m in a large, private office staring out of the window and doing little work. Not that there’s a lot to do mind. Any how, being on a different part of the campus, my nearest coffee vendor is Starbucks, as opposed to the school’s considerably cheaper arrangements. And so, I think, it’s Monday, a new week, maybe just this once I’ll put misgivings aside and head to ‘bucks.


Well, I remembered why I don’t like Starbucks fairly quick smart. My main problem with them is not the quality of their coffee (which is poor at best), but being dragged into a lifestyle. If I order a medium coffee, I expect to be given a medium coffee, not a grande americano. It might be the exact same thing, but I resent my order (“medium coffee”) being read back to me as “grande americano”. Is that what I said? Did you just translate into fluent corporate for me?

I understand why Starbucks drill their employees to repeat in Starbuckese – the whole drive of the corporation is to create a lifestyle that’s synonymous with the brand, so that consumers associate the coffeehouse culture with Starbucks alone. It’s very smart: you can go into any Starbucks around the world and order the same drink, made to the same standards, in the same environment. You can be comfortable in that you won’t have to worry about what size that cafe’s medium is compared to your usual, whether the coffee will be good or bad (as opposed to Starbucks’ bland), etc. You know that there will be the same acoustic folky music that’s playing in any branch, that there will be the opportunity to buy some sort of own brand Fair-Trade coffee, you can probably get wi-fi, you can get those really big mugs and sit on assorted sofas. 

And it all starts with your order being repeated back to you in Starbucks’ own language, so that the regular consumer becomes indoctrinated. It’s very clever indeed, but I feel compelled to resist. If I must go into a Starbucks, I’m ordering a medium coffee, thanks, and that’s what I want. I refuse to submit to your standards, ta. 

In all honesty, I’d just rather go elsewhere. If I find myself in a Starbucks, it’s because I’ve forgotten this. If I was in America, I’d perhaps go to Cowgirls Espresso, Coffee of Doom (special, burn your house down, $3.95), if I’m here I might go to more accessible joints like Monmouth or the Algerian, where I’m treated as a conniseur, not a plebeian seeking comfort. Not Starbucks again in a hurry.


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