What I like about traveling is seeing new places, learning how people live in other countries and finding out a few things about myself along the way. At least that’s the way I tell the story. In truth what I like most is when I can visit an exotic place without adjusting at all. I prefer the comfortable over the new.
It’s that way most of the time. I remark about the abundance of McDonald’s, carefully avoiding any patronage. I have smeared at Starbucks. I laughed at how we never heard anything but American music in Belgium. But even the most opinionated of culture snobs is forced to confess that things can get too strange. And so, as we start our second week in France, I find myself asking, “Where are the Starbucks?”
Until now, I never missed Starbucks.
Everywhere we have traveled so far, there were Starbucks. Along with McDonald’s, Starbucks has planted it’s roots in every country we visited. We have laughed at finding Starbucks in the shadier tourist magnets of Buenos Aires, Argentina Trujillo, Peru and Rome, Italy and mostly avoided them like the plague. It seemed that Starbucks, like American culture, had conquered the entire world. Then we decided to visit France. Now I find myself asking where is the Starbucks.
In Italy, there was a coffee bar every few feet. Italians fuel their coffee fix with a quick stop for an espresso. There is always coffee. Argentina and Peru as well. Even Belgium had places to stop for coffee although they would be happy to sell you a meal to go with it or even better, one of their extraordinary beers. We expected France to be the same. It seems that the French go their own way. You have to search for someplace to get a cup of coffee.
In our neighborhood the options are limited. There are a few restaurants open in the Winter and it isn’t at all clear that they welcome a couple who only want a cup of coffee and maybe a croissant. Yesterday we strolled over to the town market without seeing a single coffee bar or snack shop. Even at the town square with a full market and a Christmas fair there were only one or two coffee places. We found ourselves asking, “Where is the Starbucks?”
I guess this is a reveal into the shallow nature of my travel. I claim to want new experiences while I really just want the familiar dressed up in foreign garb. It turns out that the nearest Starbucks is in Lyon, many miles away from Carcassonne. I don’t know if this is a beach head for Starbucks or a last stand. It won’t matter to me. Clearly, however, it means that we will have to make due with the French way of delivering coffee during our visit.
I never drink coffee any way but black so ordering is easy. I just ask for cafe. For my wife, accustomed as she is, to the plethora of coffee fabrications Ala Starbucks, it is more complicated. She asked for a latte like she would at home. The waitress shook her head in puzzlement. I suggested cappuccino and after a confusing conversation that apparently centered on whipped cream, the waitress nodded. The delivered drink looked good but was unsweetened, to my wife’s dismay although sugar was available. It appears that the closest approximation to the latte my wife desires is cafe Au lait. This is coffee and hot milk. Sugar is optional. This has worked for my wife as our trip progresses.
I’m sure we will adjust but I can’t help admitting, with intense embarrassment, that today in the beautiful south of France, I miss Starbucks.