When the newness and the exhilaration of the prospect of going to St Andrews was still fresh within me, I remember discovering that among other things, St Andrews had a Starbucks. Ironically, I found this out while in a Starbucks, meeting with a recent St Andrews graduate who had kindly agreed to meet with me the summer before I left for Scotland. Unable to visit the school, and indeed never having been to the United Kingdom before, my vision of St Andrews was a sketch taken from extensive Google research and the reading of too many British novels. It was with slight disappointment that mid way through answering my keen questions that led her to describe a quaint Scottish town, she mentioned that it was “normal though – there’s even a Starbucks”. Having a Starbucks makes a place normal? I brushed off the idea of going to Starbucks while in small Scottish town by the sea with scorn. How dare the generic taint my ideal vision of sweet cobbled streets lined by old fashioned, small businesses?
St Andrews did not disappoint me, however, despite a Starbucks located half way down Market Street (and to my horror, a Subway not far from it). There were plenty of other coffee shops, and even more pubs to choose from. Costa and Beanscene were generic as well, but never having been in them anywhere else before, I associated them with St Andrews, with the United Kingdom, so they were somehow acceptable. I decided too that the charm of St Andrews, and the secrets held within its streets and history were too strong to be detracted from by any massive chain that had the audacity to be here.
I admit it: I stuck my nose up at Starbucks, as so many do. It’s a trend in our generation, or perhaps society in general, to look down upon that which is generic, that which is popular. We like to conform to our non-conformity. We don’t want that which is standard, we want that which is different.
Some like the idea of supporting a small business as opposed to the monopoly. My own mother often refuses to shop at stores like Walmart, or other massive chains in America because she wants to “support the small businessman”. My sister refuses to buy coffee at Starbucks and insists instead on going to a small coffee shop in the opposite direction called Beanetics on principle. Starbucks isn’t about good coffee she claims, Starbucks is about good marketing.
She is absolutely correct. Starbucks doesn’t sell better coffee than the small café next door. What Starbucks sells is an experience – and this is what, to my surprise, I have grown to love- it is an experience that is the same everywhere. Generic comfort. I can go into a Starbucks in Washington DC, New York City, London, Edinburgh, or St Andrews and order the same drink in almost the exact same environment. It has the same wooden furniture and green or brown couches, same beige walls, same cups, same type of music playing, same sound of steaming milk and clanking espresso machines. The atmosphere, the product, the experience, I found, is wonderfully generic.
Although I frequent many café’s in St Andrews and like the ones I go to each for their own reason, there’s nothing quite like the experience of Starbucks. It is a bit like going home. And even though I always feel rather cliché, sitting in Starbucks reading the same book as four other girls sitting near me, all a little scarily dressed alike, I don’t really care. Because if I tune out the British accents and meaningless chat going on around me, I could be anywhere in the world, and most often I pretend that place is home. When I’m homesick, I’m longing for that which is familiar. And when turning to the books or songs, movies or YouTube clips isn’t enough, when I want to tangibly smell and taste that which is well-known and distinctly homelike, I go to Starbucks and spend a comforting £2.40. Somewhere in its chain-like sameness, Starbucks has produced something quite unique. It has a way of turning your entire day around, because somewhere around 3 p.m. when the day begins to threaten afternoon ennui, I know just the cure. A small taste of generic comfort.
Image Credit – Morgen