On being global

Apparently I am a global citizen, indeed we are all global citizens these days.

OK, so my current train of thought is heading down the route largely blazed by Naomi Klein in her book No Logo. Large companies like, say, Starbucks, are able to push smaller local competitors out of business. Which is true and I’m a big supporter of our locally run cafe which, as an aside, makes the best chicken pesto panini EVER, and would hate to see it close down.

That said, Starbucks coffee is generally pretty good and is always reliable, and so we begin the inner conflict.

You see when I venture into Starbucks (I do wish my fingers would stop typing Satrbucks) I immediately know that the environment I’m in is manufactured, and yet despite that knowledge I do quite enjoy it. I’m sure there is a phrase for this effect, and no it’s not “gullible fool syndrome”, but whatever it is, it works. I enjoy the Starbucks experience, the sofas, the gentle music, the calmness that seems to ooze from the walls. And while I’m guessing the latter is just down to the seating arrangement, I certainly rarely feel that I have to shout over other peoples conversations… but that’s all beside the point.

Generally, if I hear someone saying something negative about the Starbucks experience I get quite defensive.

Yet when they challenge Starbucks the ‘global company’ I tend to agree.

See, inner conflict. My desire to be seen as a valid person within my demographic fighting against … ummm… something that I know isn’t right but largely doesn’t impact me all that much.

This is a bad thing. Or at least so I’m told.

Fast forward a decade or two and the only coffee house in town will be Starbucks, all local economy disappears into their vast coffers and the realisation that we need to change things arrives just a little too late. You know, like that whole global warming thing, we’ll REALLY get it as the rising oceans lap at our doorsteps. And no, not an ocean of coffee, that would be silly as it would just taste of fish.

Everyday the internet opens up the entire world, although admittedly most of it is skewed towards the USA. However it’s easy to convince yourself that you are part of a global community, should such a thing exist, and, after all, sharing the simple experience of ordering a coffee is part of being in a community.

Admittedly most of this makes me feel slightly uneasy but, as time marches on, that feeling is squashed underneath a Lemon and Poppy seed Muffin, and washed away with a Venti Skinny Latte, hold the sprinkles.

Globalisation is bad and evil. I’ve read it in numerous blogs so it must be true but the thing is, it doesn’t seem to be happening. Whilst there are numerous Starbucks in Glasgow, they seem to have sprouted competitors with the number of cafes suddenly, visibily, increasing. Even that crap sandwich place now has an expensive coffee machine, and I’m pretty sure the staff don’t get trained as barristas.

I guess my point is this, for every large global company, there is a smaller, more dynamic, competitor and it seems like they are multiplying. I could be wrong of course… on the other hand, only a few years ago, Internet Explorer was about the only browser anyone used. That isn’t the case now.

The internet, whilst aiding globalisation on some terms (I can relate to Jose in Brazil as he sits typing on his MacBook in his local Subway) can also hinder it. The realisation that I have more choice is but a click away and as far as I can see, people are still clicking.

10 comments

  1. I’m with you on the whole “I know it’s bad, but…” dilemma. I see the strangled local company, but I also see and agree with the ‘competition is good’ argument, and I think you’re right that many companies have risen to the challenge.

    One related anecdote – the local greasy spoon with their simply “white or black” options for coffee have long gone. Just make sure they know how to clean the milk steamer – It’s frequently the measure by which I judge whether to get a latte or just stick with a trusty mug of tea that’s very very difficult to get wrong.

    We’re big fans of Bean Scene here in Shawlands. It’s cosy, local, friendly and plays good music. Only problem is they’re a little expensive, service is rather sluggish, and full of rug rats running around on Saturday afternoons.

    When in London too there’s a superb Italian coffee shop across the road from one of my clients on Great Portland Street. Best. Danish. Ever. The Starbucks just nearby though still gets my custom because they have the ‘grab and run’ mentality for a coffee and sandwich that appeals first thing in the morning. But I stopped being guilty about buying Starbucks a few years back. It frequently hits the mark, and whilst they may knock a few companies out of business, I think you’re right in that they encourage better competitors, and that’s good for us all.

  2. Personally, I don’t really care whether an establishment is run by a sole trader or an international conglomerate, as long as I enjoy the experience. For me, quality is key. And whomever can give me the best quality, wins my business.

    I don’t drink coffee, so I can’t speak with authority about your example. But allow me to talk about pizza instead… When I get a hankering to eat pizza out at a restaurant, I have a choice of the chains (such as Pizza Hut or Pizza Express) or any of the independent Italian restaurants. Now in the past I’ve had pizzas from all kinds of places, and some I’ve enjoyed more than others. But I have no problem saying that the pizza I like the very best in all the world comes from Pizza Express (if you’re interested, it’s the American Hot with jalapenos and extra chicken).

    However, I’m not stuck in my ways. I do like to experiment with new places every now and again, and if I ever found an independent restaurant that served better pizza, then I would shift my allegiance without hesitation.

  3. i absolutely adore the little cafés that serve coffee in England – the ones that i have come across even heat up the huge cups/mugs before pouring coffee into them. i’m not a huge coffee fan, but a good mug of coffee is worth whatever you pay. i’ve been to starbucks twice (we haven’t been invaded by the company over here yet) and have enjoyed both experiences.

    Belgium serves disgusting coffee imho, there are few places where it’s good, so i wouldn’t mind a starbucks in the centre of Brussels and other communes, but not like they are in England where you can find several on one road.

    On that note, there are at least two Mcdonalds in the centre of town and that’s one too many. in fact, in a country of this size, there are 57 Mcdonalds in total. let the Belgian (and better) version carry on – the ‘Quick’.

  4. So, to continue the Starbucks theme, we are happy to help further globalisation for ‘good’ products/brands but not so for low quality products/brands (McDonalds being an easy example here).

    This fits with what I thought to be honest, as long as *I* am getting something I like, the large impact doesn’t factor.

    Now, can anyone say ‘global warming’ as I think it’s the same issue. It doesn’t impact me directly so whilst I’m aware, it’s not a big factor for me…

  5. The only thing I hate about these places is that they have no idea what a black coffee is. I don’t want a Latte grande sprinkle half fat banana boat coffee.

    I asked for a black coffee once in one of these places and they had no idea what to serve me.

  6. As a woman who spends a disproportionate ammount of her time and her salary on venti skinny lattes, I am completely incapable of going anywhere else for my coffee. I love Starbucks and am tremendously impressed when men order complicated things like caramel macciato’s whilst still appearing masculine, it’s quite a feat.

  7. Mmmm, well, for what it’s worth, I only drink fair trade coffee and tea and so no point in going into the places that don’t have it. I go into the wee places and ask and they can make a change. If you have to think about every cup of coffee you drink (and I do) then it is very easy. So, I have never had a coffee in a Starbucks, sorry, because even though I hear they do fair trade, I don’t don’t support what they are up to. I have issues anyway with throwaway cups and so end up not going into the places with fair trade coffee as much as I might want to. In my very radical days I went round the place armed with a camping mug and demanded that any drink be put into that, and not yer throwaway nonsense. I have been considering re-starting that instead of always drinking in.

    I don’t think people think about it before they buy. They go on the assumption they want a coffee: they generally don’t care how it is produced, they generally don’t care about the landfill it generates, they generally don’t care if it is Starbucks, McDonalds, or Mr Hitler’s Ãœberlatte – they want a coffee. So they go into the chain, opt not to get fair trade, chuck away their cup and only then, maybe have a soul search. Wrong order. If you think about this before you go in would you still do it all? If yes then this really isn’t an issue for you at all. If no, why are you doing it?

    This isn’t natural goody-two-shoesness, it is a conscious decision every time I want a coffee, which is, when it comes down to it, a luxury item. The reason the wee places do ok is because people do think about it, there is still hope. One of the surprising things about Hull is that on a main street almost entirely made up of takeaways, the McDonalds had to close down…

  8. Donalda, the Starbucks in the USA give you a discount if you bring your own mugs and do Free Trade. The ones in the UK do free trade but not sure about the mugs.

    Back to Gordon’s original post.

    I read a great article by the guy (Italian) who started Illy Coffee. He said he loves Starbucks. Why? Because before SB, coffee was a small niche business. Now since SB he’s selling 2-3 orders of magnitude (not times, magnitude) more coffee. Why? Because SB turned coffee into something that people valued and placed a premium on, and would pay for it. Now people pay more than the price they get a SB to get better coffee than SB because suddenly coffee was a premium purchase.

    I for one thing the “SB closes the small guys down” is a myth. Sure their are examples where it does happen, but isolated incidents are not the same as real impact.

    The lousy coffee places close down. And by lousy I don’t necessarily mean the coffee is not as good. Sometimes it’s the business model, sometimes the owner is down right git, and sometimes they are just not flexible enough as a business. Any business needs to grow and change, even if you are a mom and pop coffee shop.

    Never mind London, NY & Seattle, the king places of coffee, I have seen many many independents thriving, when there are plenty of SB’s and other places near by. Why? Clearly people have places to go, but they are good independents. The coffee is normally not just better, but really fucking amazing. Or they offer something special in the way of service of food or something.

    There is plenty of place in this world for small guys doing well. (Such as my own personal startup I’m working on). You survive the same way any business does by serving customers, and serving them well, and doing something no one else is doing or doing it better. And if you look around London, NY, Seattle (and I’m sure Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow etc etc) you’ll see loads of small chains and independents thriving. And I do. everywhere. Delis. Coffee shops. Eateraries. Etc etc. And many of them doing well not in spite of SB but because of this new greater demand SB has created.

    What starbucks is shutting down is the places that aren’t as good, that aren’t as flexible that just aren’t able to compete because they aren’t innovative and not willing to change to compete. I hate greasy spoons but I have seen many good greasy spoons doing a roaring trade. Why? They are flexible, competitive, and serve their community better than anyone else.

    I get defensive around SB too. Mainly because I am tired of lame arguments about SB being bad because it’s American or because it’s global.

  9. There was a boy in my house at school who was by universal agreement – a complete idiot. He now owns most of Pret a Manger
    and is a squillionairre or something. 🙂

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