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One might ask if breakfasting at Starbucks when abroad is really traveling

IMG_1524One might ask if breakfasting at Starbucks when abroad is really traveling. I ask that myself when I enter one. Believe me, there are plenty of reasons not to enter one. Number one for skipping an English Starbucks is that they don’t have scones, at least not I the English Starbucks I’ve been in so far. But, despite this sconelessness, here are my reasons for frequenting this American franchise.

10. Like it or not, Starbucks is usually there. In London and Paris, certainly. In smaller big cities, yes.

9. Counter people are friendly. This is a big plus in famously snooty Paris, where ordering a café au lait at a small bistro can be an exercise in indifference.

8. It’s open early. Many Americans like an early start to our day, our lunch, and our dinner, yet, for instance, some of the coffee shops in Bath didn’t open till 10 a.m. 10 a.m.! That’s really late for Americans—even Americans on vacation. On this trip in the UK, the Starbucks open at 7:30 a.m. By American standards, that’s still kind of late.

7. The tables are big enough for laptops. Tiny, round Parisian tables are picturesque, but, at a small table like that, a writer can only accommodate a small moleskin notebook, not a laptop. Even an iPad might have trouble sharing with a cup and saucer, cream pitcher, pot of sugar, and a pain au chocolat.

6. Starbucks are usually found in walkable tourist areas. That’s where Americans tend to be. We’re not usually in a foreign suburb with a car. Starbucks are usually not hard to find, and they’re not hidden away in some dodgy neighborhood. They’re on the boardwalk, the esplanade, in the shopping corridor, or the corner of Main and Center.

5. You instantly recognize the logo and the name. You know the green-and-cream circle with the mermaid is coffee and carbs. I was walking yesterday and saw an “Aldi” in the distance. Was it worth the walk? Was it food? Or clothes? Or a dental clinic? I later saw an ad for Aldi on TV, and it turned out to be a grocery chain, but I had no idea.

4. Sometimes you just don’t have the energy for something unknown. It take enormous energy to figure out new stuff. To be outrageously obvious, travel confronts us with new names, new schedules, new cultures, new vocabulary, and new attitudes. We often haven’t been sleeping all that well. Weird lumpy beds with a guy snoring in the next room, two girls excitedly yakking after coming back from the bar, or a shower that didn’t get above tepid can put a damper on even the sunniest of mornings. So sometimes old, familiar stuff is good. Even an old, familiar franchise.

3. A tall skinny latte is comfort food. To me, anyway. It helps me cope with the aforementioned lumpy bed, guy snoring, or the girls yakking.

2. It has wi-fi. If you haven’t been abroad in a while, you might think that most places—restaurants, hotels, coffee shops—would have wi-fi by now. Not so. But Starbucks is a reliable place to find it. When my friend Dianne travels, she likes to patronize local libraries, where it’s quiet and you’ll just be charged a small fee for Internet access. Even a Starbucks pretty much expects you to at least buy a coffee, if not a coffee and a muffin or cup of fruit.

1. In this uncertain world, there’s a certain good, fuzzy feeling when you walk up to a counter where you understand the ordering language and can revel in the friendly ambience. Oh, the Costas, the Caffee Neros and other non-American chains seem to also have adopted or parodied Starbucks’ friendly coffee culture, but there’s nothing quite like just walking into a Starbucks, shedding the façade of “I’m-so-worldly-and-I-have-a-lot-of-energy-to-figure-new-stuff-out” and ordering a damn tall skinny latte and getting on with it.

And, sitting here just now on the second floor of a Caffe Nero in this new-to-me town, I just noticed the local Starbucks–albeit a small one–across the way on New Bond Street. Will it be “traveling” if I go there tomorrow? By wide definition, most certainly.

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