Passion is always good. Sometimes ill placed, but always well-intentioned. Be a stickler for the causes you hold dear I say, but be careful of letting a bad mood ruin your day. Enter stage left – Professor Rosenthal. Displaying the stereotype of the rude New Yorker, our angry heroine caused a riot in Starbucks resulting in the police escorting her off the premises, warning her never to return. Now there’s a tax payer expenditure bargain.
What could incite a learned Prof to start a riot in a haven such as Starbucks you ask? Turns out the Prof in question was highly affronted when asked by a barista if she would like butter or cheese with her bagel. Reports vary slightly but it went something like this:
Professor: May I have a multi-grain bagel please?
Barista: Of course. Would you like butter or cheese with that?
The barista is clearly way out of line here and has touched a nerve so raw the professor goes completely off her head and staff had to call the police in to deal with her. Cleverly speaking to the press later, the Prof explained that she “…refused to say ‘without butter or cheese’. When you go to Burger King, you don’t have to list the six things you don’t want. Linguistically, it’s stupid, and I’m a stickler for correct English.”
A stickler for correct English the Prof may be, but a pompous ignoramus she certainly is. As a business, Starbucks has a USP of training their staff to make your beverage exactly as you want it. They provide a bespoke product based on your immediate wants – not an easy feat when dealing with a whack job. Any bespoke service requires investigation to ascertain exactly what the customer wants. I am also not at all sure I understand the reference to Burger King as a measuring stick for the proper use of English as I fear even our brave Prof may come unstuck when trying to rationalise the ‘whopper’.
What I find interesting about all of this is the venue she chose for her prima donna foot stamping, and not just because right now I would love a hot chocolate without cream. Starbucks is a brand. Wherever you are in the world, you can recognise a Starbucks and take whatever comfort you need from the fact that the branch in downtown Taipei is pretty much the same as the one you visit every morning on your way to work. As a global brand with a global physical presence, Starbucks has done exactly the right thing in creating an ethos, a culture and a language of its own that is internationally recognised. Yes, I would rather ask for a small drink than a tall drink. Yes, we all know the argument against the term ‘latte’. Yes, the figurative hands of Starbucks will never be clean of the blood from when they butchered the cappuccino. However, it is their cappuccino in their world. When I go to Starbucks, I never ask for a cappuccino, because I know they can’t make one. This is called living and learning, and life really can be that simple. Of course if I was a Professor, I could flounce off to my nearest branch, ask for a cappuccino and then return it with the unhelpful remark ‘I asked for a cappuccino and this appears to be a latte with some froth. Let me try again – one cappuccino please.’ I wonder how long I could keep that up.
What Starbucks have done is to make coffee a versatile designer drink. In a world where you can design your baby, I think asking if you would like butter or cheese with your bagel is at the tame end of the designer/choice spectrum. Starbucks too are sticklers for the correct use of language, except they mean Starbuck-ese. You can ask for anything you like at the counter, but you have to use their terminology; you gotta speak the lingo. And what’s wrong with that? Walk into any business in any field, there is always an internal language. Why penalise Starbucks however stupid you feel ordering your friend’s skinny venti iced mocha, extra chocolate, no whip, or tall Americano-please-don’t-give-me-a-long-black and hot milk on the side. They even provide big boards with Starbucks to English translations.
A friend of mine who lives in Spain once took me to a typical Catalan coffee shop for a ‘cortado’. I drive my friend nuts because I can’t pronounce the ‘t’ properly, however when alone I seem to be able to smile my way through any translation problem. The cortado is simply the best coffee in the world and would seem to be a simple espresso with hot milk. Although when I ask for that over here, it never tastes the same. Of course, the Spanish drink it at 10am in the morning with a shot of something medicinal and 40 fags on the side which is impossible to replicate in the UK. Would I trade Starbucks for a traditional Catalan greasy spoon with my cortado served by a hirsute and overweight waiter with a fag in his mouth and an attitude you can see from space? You betcha!
The point I am trying to make is this: if Starbuck-ese pisses you off, why don’t you make your own coffee at home and boycott Starbucks altogether? Just don’t tell us about it; however good you think your English is.
A latte is a latte by any other name