13 June 2012

Apple, Starbucks, home?

Amsterdam now has the biggest (and dare I say coolest) Apple store in the world. It also has the most eclectic Starbucks I have seen. Both opened earlier this year - one on Leidseplein, and one on Rembrandtplein.

Just picture it: Shiny MacBook Pros at aesthetically pleasing intervals. "Can I help you?" A young blond guy, an Amsterdam Dutchie with perfect English who is Apple personified. He's quick, he's knowledgeable, and he's hyper aware of the global dominance of his employer. He's no doubt a convert himself. Then there's the barista at Starbucks: as friendly and efficient as any in small town USA, but she's Ukrainian. We speak a few obligatory Dutch sentences to demonstrate our "integration" but then chatter on in English about how cosmopolitan Amsterdam is. She puts it best: it's like being in a giant airport. She's right. As I munch on a muffin I listen to the flow of languages and watch a dizzying variety of races walk down the steps, ready to place their order.

Spontaneously, I love both places. I'll admit it: For me, Starbucks and Apple symbolize home. In my years abroad I've enjoyed the privilege of English spoken on every corner, American pop music on every radio, TV series and films straight from Hollywood broadcast on Dutch TV. Now, it's the coffee and the computers. For better or worse, "home" follows U.S. citizens everywhere they go, especially in major metropolises.

But on some level it does strike a false note. Starbucks "coffee laboratory"has worked to integrate sustainable and local materials and is positioning itself as a cultural center. Apparently this is the future of Starbucks: to seamlessly blend with their environment, instead of plopping cookie cutter shops all over the globe. But it's still Starbucks. Part of me longs for the local coffee shop, even if the locals don't have wireless or soy milk. The uneasiness is not just about the impact on the locals. Some believe that travel or living abroad should be about experiencing things unique to the host culture. But for me, a sometimes reluctant expat, sitting in a Starbucks or talking hard drive space with Apple personnel is where I feel most at home.

This might be the future, for now. I'll sip my latte and soak up the ambiance and try not to think about how this could be the only option in 20 more years. I'll also ask myself the hard questions, like do I need my coffee to taste the same in every city I visit in the world?


  1. The answer is no but your sentiments are well appreciated.

  2. I've got one complaint about Starbucks that trumps every other, including how during the last boom there were more Starbucks and Starbucks stands in the SF Financial district than there were corners to put them on. That complaint? No drink from a Starbucks, including a double shot of espresso, actually tastes like coffee anymore. I don't buy from them for the soul reason that what they sell bears no resemblance to what they claim to sell. No matter how cozy they try to make their shops, I go to such a place for something that tastes like coffee.