I know many people around here who are not happy with Starbucks. They like to criticize it while still patronizing it. Well, I think Starbucks is the wrong target for the socially, culturally and aesthetically sensitive crowd. I don’t find much wrong with Starbucks, actually I like it.
Some people say it is expensive, but there are so many other overpriced indulgences in the world that cost much more. Plus, a simple solo espresso at Starbucks is actually dirt cheap.
Others say what’s wrong is that it is a chain. They criticize the concept of chainness itself. Yes, but wrong as it is, Starbucks’s chainness introduces it in more places in the US without actually forcing the local residents to buy it.
Still others blame Starbucks for opening stores in other countries (from Argentina to the Middle East and Hong Kong) and contaminating the pristine authenticity of their culture. But… In this case, why don’t we also stop exports of jeans, MacBooks and soccer? Also, it is interesting that Starbucks does not operate in Italy. It’s simple: it won’t survive there, probably because the local strong coffee house culture clashes with the one endorsed by Starbucks. But I don’t see why coffee house pluralism should be something wrong, if it can survive. We do allow for non-Americans to wear jeans and use the internet, after all.
And even if the country in question does have a local coffee house culture, let’s not forget that the custom of drinking coffee itself is already a globalization event, originating in an era we used to call colonialism. That custom spread around the world, adapted to local tastes and realities and fortuitousness. Nobody was there to say coffee should stay where it was discovered and cultivated. And the opposite is also true as Starbucks introduces fine European sophistry to the New World: Italians in the US think that the above mentioned solo espresso is the only coffee they can consume on American soil that is worthy of its name.
A well-known international Starbucks controversy is that it is too pervasive everywhere in the world, including in China’s Forbidden City. That’s unfortunately true. But it is obvious that Starbucks opened in that specific place to capture the tourists and their money. One can argue that tourists should not want to visit Starbucks when they are visiting the Forbidden City in the first place. But sadly they do, and that says more about the tourists themselves than about Starbucks. Blaming Starbucks is like shooting the pianist.
Why I like Starbucks:
Especially in the United States, it is difficult to find a place where you can be in an informal, relaxing atmosphere with other people, without actually having to know them beforehand or organize a meeting/get-together with them in advance. It is an informal space for social interaction that does not imply you have to spend (a lot of) money. And it is a great place to read a newspaper or get some work done, surrounded by nice music and maybe art on the walls.
Starbucks is about the only place where you can ask for and receive a fair trade coffee. This means a lot to me.
Starbucks creates a community. It has a bulletin board for announcements for local creative events and businesses.
Starbucks raises consciousness. It publishes the Good Sheet, has a Starbucks Shared Planet collaboration, talks social issues. Maybe all this has a hidden commercial agenda, but at least it provides a starting point and is a space for social engagement.
Well… there are also those who have developed the theory of the Starbucks-financial crisis syndrome. It maintains that the more Starbucks shops a country has, the more is it affected by the current financial crisis. Here is the explanation:
Having a significant Starbucks presence is a pretty significant indicator of the degree of connectedness to the form of highly caffeinated, free-spending capitalism that got us into this mess. It’s also a sign of a culture’s willingness to abandon traditional norms and ways of doing business (virtually all the countries in which Starbucks has established beachheads have their own venerable coffee-house traditions) in favor of fast-moving American ones. The fact that the company or its local licensee felt there was room for dozens of outlets where consumers would pony up lots of euros, liras, and rials for expensive drinks is also a pretty good indicator that excessive financial optimism had entered the bloodstream.
OK, I guess if we keep Starbucks within the American borders that solves the problem 🙂