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An American (Coffee) in Paris

With inadvertently perfect timing, the same week that I wrote a blog entry on the US-driven homogenization of world culture, Starbucks opens its first store in Paris.

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French students, loyal American customers and Japanese tourists flooded into the first Starbucks outlet in France, eager to get their first vanilla cafe latte or mocha Frappuccino on French soil.

"You know what? They opened a Starbucks on the avenue de l'Opera! I'm here with Mom," Sandy, a 22-year-old French student, said eagerly into her mobile phone to a friend as she waited patiently to order her hot chocolate.

"For those of us who have travelled in the United States, seen films or watched American television shows, we know the Starbucks brand," Sandy said, as she explained to her mother -- a first-time visitor -- what and how to order.

"I will definitely go out of my way to come here," the student added.

On the one hand, this is undeniably part of the trend of the US absorbing other cultures' practices, modifying them, and exporting them back to the rest of the world, tempered in the heat of our hyper-efficient, entrepreneurial economy. From Starbucks' own corporate timeline:

1982 Howard Schultz joins Starbucks as director of retail operations and marketing. Starbucks begins providing coffee to fine restaurants and espresso bars.

1983 Schultz travels to Italy, where he's impressed with the popularity of espresso bars in Milan. He sees the potential in Seattle to develop a similar coffee bar culture.

1984 Schultz convinces the founders of Starbucks to test the coffee bar concept in a new location in downtown Seattle. This successful experiment is the genesis for a company that Schultz founds in 1985...

1985 Schultz founds Il Giornale, offering brewed coffee and espresso beverages made from Starbucks coffee beans.

1987 With the backing of local investors, Il Giornale acquires Starbucks assets and changes its name to Starbucks Corporation.

In other words, a US entrepreneur visits Milan, sees the espresso bars there, modifies the concept for the US market, tests it, refines it, and another worldwide trend is started. If this isn't the Borg-like assimilation of world culture, I don't know what is.

On the other hand, speaking personally, would I visit Starbucks in Paris? Sure I would. I wouldn't only go there, or make a trip across town (well, except to pick up a Starbucks Paris mug), but if I were in the area, absolutely, I'd stop by. I like Parisian cafe culture, but on the other hand, I know that I can get skim milk with my Starbucks coffee. I know they'll be able to make almost any drink as a decaf. I know no one will be smoking in the cafe. So yes, I'd visit Starbucks in Paris.

I suppose this means I'm a Borg, but a self-conscious Borg.

By the way, "Sandy, a 22-year-old French student"? Pardon me? Sure, and my kids have friends at school here in North Carolina named Jean-Pierre and Mireille.

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Comments

An American company selling Italian coffee to French people. I like it!

I have written a book about Starbucks that will be released this fall by McGraw-Hill. A french publisher is interested in buying translation rights for the book but has asked for inclusion of a few stories of Starbucks in France. I am interested in taking a couple of sentences from your blog entry (re the skim milk, non-smoking etc). Can you contact me so we can secure a release from you and in turn send you a starbucks gift card and a copy of the book upon its release? Thank you Joseph Michelli, Ph.D. author of The Starbucks Experience: 5 principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary.

No problem. An e-mail is on its way to you.

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