Monday, October 1, 2007

Starbucks attempts to invade Paris

In keeping with the spirit of this blog, there is nothing new about the subject of this post. Starbucks first set it's sticky, mochachino-stained fingers on Paris a couple of years ago, much to my horror and the seeming indifference of the average Parisian. I, a stalwart advocate for the preservation and advancement of the classic smoke-filled Parisian café, felt pain and agony for the local corner cafe owners, already an endangered species in many of the more upscale parts of the city. To my great relief, Starbucks has not seemed to have made a huge impact on this city, where the very idea of take-out coffee is strange and somewhat disturbing. It is mostly young people who are smitten with the place--the fact that it is American and modern makes it cool and hip, much like MacDonalds (yes, believe it or not, MacDonalds is cool here).

Still, there is something about the Starbucks presence that intrigues me. How does the average Parisian deal with the dizzying array of choices presented at the take out counter? This is a country where coffee basically comes in black, decaf or "au lait," and where a cappuccino is still pretty exotic. Starbucks has managed to convince Americans that it is perfectly normal to order a "skinny regular vente" when asking for a cup of coffee. Their marketing depends on it. But what happens here? Will they ever get French people to believe that a sugary milkshake is java? I forced myself to enter the giant Starbucks in front of the Gare St-Lazare to find out. Sure enough, there was a big sign behind the counter explaining very carefully how you too can become a demanding American Consumer. A chart with arrows shows how to choose your milk, your coffee, your syrup (!), your size, etc. Maybe it will work, but it just seems so very un-French. An abundance of choices usually throws the French mind into a state of paralysis, and who in their right mind would ever think of putting soy milk in their bodies, let alone their coffee! Only time will tell...

3 comments:

Jen said...

Ugh, right on. I can't even stand having Starbucks in the U.S., I don't know how you put up with it there. In May, when I was there, I saw the one you mention near the Gare St.-Lazare. Vulgar.

Robyn said...

I am NOT a Starbuck fan (don't like the coffee) and can relate as we have a nice little Main Street here in Unionville with lots of unique shops, art galleries etc. but there in the middle is a Starbucks. It is pretty popular too unfortunately so I guess it's here to stay. If I do venture in I annoy the staff by refusing to order by their dumb names. I just ask for a small 'normal' coffee and smirk while they sniff at me and ring it up.

Zane said...

Honestly, I have managed to go a year of living in France and not go there, that is until my parents came. They put upf with cafe cremes for 2 weeks until the last day we broke down and went to starbucks. I kinda hid and was a bit embarrassed, but in truth, I forgot how good it is...heroin in a paper cup.