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Starbucks in Paris . . . drinking a latte for science

I wasn’t going to go near a Starbucks for my two months in Paris. I was working on the principle that I’d avoid all American franchises. Especially a franchise that sells coffee in a city that makes great coffee. Actually I was pretty surprised to see Starbucks here. I would have thought France would try to keep Starbucks out. You see KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Subway here. That seems plenty.


The first Parisian Starbucks opened in January 2004. But there were lots of skeptics. Thick, dark espresso is coffee to the French. “American coffee, it’s only water,” said Bertrand Abadie. “We call it jus des chaussette (sock juice).”

Another part of Starbucks hard for the French to get is the takeaway-coffee-in-a-cup thing. “It’s an absurd idea,” said Jean-Paul Bedel. “The whole point about cafes in France is that you can sit over a coffee as long as you like, read the papers . . . taking away a coffee in a Styrofoam cup is anathema, unthinkable. It’s the kind of thing you’d only think of doing at a railway station.”

Perhaps the French don’t consider getting a cup of coffee unless they have the time to leisurely sit. Perhaps they also have excellent coffeemakers at work, so don’t see the value in bringing in a Starbucks product when they enter the workplace. Or perhaps the takeaway-coffee-in-a-cup thing is more indicative of a stressed, fast-paced culture. On the other hand, on many occasions, I’ve gone to a Starbucks just because I want the nice sit-down meeting place with pretty good music and a place to use the wireless for my laptop. It’s not just about the takeaway component.

But what about the comparisons that friends might ask about when I return to the States? Don’t I have an obligation to go into a Starbucks in Paris and see what’s the same and what’s different? In the name of science, I needed to try exactly the same things I get when I’m in a Starbucks in the States: a tall latte and a blueberry scone. I went to the Beaubourg Starbucks (pictured below), which is right next to the modern art museum, the Pompidou.

STUFF THAT WAS THE SAME. They still played American music. They sold those big city mugs, “Paris” in this case written on the side and decorated with famous monuments. The tables, window bars and stools, and comfy chairs were the same as I’ve seen in other Starbucks across the country. There was coffee stuff and CDs for sale. There’s no smoking in the Parisian Starbucks, a lucky break for me since the French smoke everywhere else.

STUFF THAT WAS DIFFERENT. I got my latte in an actual ceramic mug, keeping my drink nice and hot. I did notice a group of four near my stool who had paper cups. Maybe they’d changed their minds about getting their drinks to go. My latte and scone were more expensive. My latte was 3 euro 50 ($4.95), and my scone was 2 euro 30 ($3.25). There was also a 19.6% TVA (tax value added) attached to my bill. In the latte-and-scone scenario, the TVA was almost a euro. My final bill was 5 euro 80 ($8.21)). A “tall” size was a “moyen.” I ordered in French. There were no blueberry scones. I had to get a chocolate chip one. The views I got out the window as I sat on my stool was of French cafes, tourists, and French school kids. Some people were begging for coins with Starbucks paper cups.

I don’t plan to go to Starbucks again on this trip, but it was kinda nice to check out the ambience, the prices, and the coffee. Other mornings a cafe creme is my breakfast drink of choice and a tartine au buerre (slice baguette and butter) my carb of choice. I am in Paris, after all.

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