While abroad, I maintain my relationship with Starbucks with what I’d like to describe a healthy amount of shame and self-scorn.
Professing to want to experience a new way of life, a new language, and new customs and foods, I go to great lengths to travel and avoid all things American while away.
Just the other day, I met a fellow American in Buenos Aires. He was thrilled to see me—not because of anything inherent to my character, but because we shared the same nationality.
“It’s great to talk to other Americans, you know?” he said.
Yes, of course I know, I thought to myself. I do it nearly every day of my life, and anyone who knows me knows that I often do it at length. If, in a given year, I am in Country X (here: Argentina) for one month, that means that for 11 months—and the majority of my life—I can, have, and will speak to other Americans.
A bit aloof, and rather proud of myself for trying so hard to take advantage of things I don’t have at home, I politely carried on conversation with this fellow American for a few minutes before excusing myself to carry on with my research duties and with my Spanish conversations.
But, to steal the famous words of Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, I am too old to lie to myself and call it honor.
While abroad, I avoid other Americans to the extent that I can but actively seek out Starbucks.
I have frequented Starbucks more times in the past three weeks than I may have in the past year in the U.S.
I vividly remember December 22 of 2010, when I disembarked an international train in Munich, Germany. I’d just lived three months in Ljubljana—which is remarkably free of American chains, save for a McDonald’s or two in the small capital city.
Practically weeping with joy, I fled the train and sneaked through the door of the coffee shop, moments before it was locked for the night.
“Chai,” I said rather breathlessly. “Chai tea latte.”
At home, I make chai tea lattes at home daily. While abroad, without my mixes or tea bags or latte-maker, it’s not the same.
I can eschew the English language, live without interacting with other Americans, adventure to unfamiliar cities, and deal with converting dollars to foreign currency in my head. I’ve lived without air conditioning during the hottest muggiest months of summer and am currently somehow surviving what has been a surprisingly chilly winter in Buenos Aires without central heating.
Chai tea latte?
The thought of ignoring the Starbucks on the corner of my street in the Belgrano district of Buenos Aires seems nearly impossible. (It also helps that Starbucks has one of the few reliable internet connections I’ve been able to find).
So, armed with my laptop, I approach the counter of a Starbucks in Argentina.
“Un chai té latte, por favor,” I say. One chai tea latte, please.
“Qué tamaño?” I am asked. What size?
“Grande,” I affirm.
And with this, I shamefully succumb to an American stereotype on the streets of every foreign city in which I find myself… at least for a few minutes.
This was first published in the Southbridge Evening News earlier this week.