The talk about Starbucks setting up shop in Milan will not seem to go away. And while there are obviously loud cries of protest from those who have embraced Italian café culture and realize that this American institution flies in the face of all that Italy stands for, a little research has uncovered that those detractors may, in fact, may not be as great a majority as I would have thought. Many comments (especially those planning to travel to Italy) wish that they could get their mermaid branded cup everywhere in the world. To those people, I ask, “Why Travel?” Travel is about experiencing new cultures, new smells, new sounds and different ways of life. Sure, there is some level of anxiety and reaching beyond your comfort zone but that is how we grow and expand our thinking. And maybe, just maybe you will begrudgingly admit that something is better than it is at home, no matter how great home may be.
I like Starbucks. I admit it. For some coffee connoisseurs, this is a travesty and probably means I should have my coffee addict card revoked. But the coffee is consistent and better than most places you can find it in the US. Certainly, I have my local favorites as well – Ashlawn Coffee in Old Saybrook, Uncommon Grounds in Saratoga, Blue Bottle in San Francisco. But guess what? Most of the time I am in rural Connecticut where there is a Starbucks nearby and I know what I am getting. I don’t go for anything fancy. It’s strong, black coffee for me on most days and an occasional latte when I am feeling crazy. No syrups, no drizzle, no whipped cream on anything.
I go to Starbucks because it is often the best option I have here in the US. I would not ever, in any way, under any circumstances step foot in a Starbucks in Italy. To do so is to miss the whole point of coffee in Italy. The café culture is vastly different from that which has been created at Starbucks. Sure, it works here in the US but in Italy, not so much. And here is why:
To go cups?
No thank you. Even if you are in a hurry, the idea of not stopping for your morning coffee is completely UNCIVILIZED. If you are short on time, stand at the counter, don’t sit at a table. Your barman will briskly get to you and deftly take care of 14 different orders (see my primer on how to order coffee in Italy). You will be on your way in a matter of minutes, after having satisfied that caffeine (and sugar – you know you are going to get a pastry!) craving. The Italians are brilliant in that they never make the cappuccino too hot so that it is immediately at a drinkable temperature. If you prefer something piping, just ask for ben caldo.
Have you ever seen a line in Italy anywhere? Italians are not good at lines so this whole lining up to order your coffee at a café is simply unheard of. When you enter the café, go right to the cashier and pay for your order (yes, this is BEFORE you order). Then hang on to that receipt (scontrino) for dear life and march over to the counter. Grab any inch of the counter, even if it means sliding in between two Gucci clad, sweet smelling Italian men (ahhh, the sacrifices…). Gesture to the barman with your receipt and you will usually get attention. With a swift glance at your receipt, he will know what you are having and before you know it, that sweet smelling ambrosia will be placed in front of you.
Cafes are social centers.
They are not workstations. They are actually where you go to avoid work. Several times a morning from the office. It’s a place to catch up with the locals and enquire about the owner’s family’s health, chat about last night’s soccer game or wax nostalgic about the pasta alla norma you had for dinner the night before. Headphones on and eyes glued to a computer screen does not fly in Italy.
So please Starbucks, stay away from Italy. Believe me, I understand the appeal of this beautiful country. I’ve built my life around it. But Italy is no place for to-go cups, waiting patiently in line, or coffee shops with unlimited wifi. Let’s keep Italy Italian.
Now it’s time for you to tell me – If Starbucks opens in Italy, will you go? Please let me know why or why not. I would love to know! Leave a comment below and take a stand.