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August 27, 2006

Sociological Theory of Coffeehouses

Ok, considering the fact that I live near Starbucks headquarters, and my step-brother works there, I figured I should weigh in on this little subject.

I………am not a coffee drinker, nor have I ever been, which most of my friends can’t believe. They figure I should have started drinking the stuff at some point, either during my 4 years in the Marine Corps (where serious coffee drinkers are born), or my 6 years in college (especially during graduate school, where caffeine is considered to be PART of your blood plasma), or even during my last 8 years in law enforcement (where coffee drinking is considered almost mandatory). The simple fact is that I can’t handle the taste of the stuff, regardless of how much you doctor it up with whatever crap they have behind the counter. I am, however, a Mt. Dew junkie, but that’s a different subject.

Now, on to Starbucks proper. If you think Starbucks is prevalent where you live, try coming to Seattle sometime. From the front door of our main office building, you can literally see 4 Starbucks within view! I’m not talking a mile away worth of view, I’m talking within 2 blocks of each other! If Starbucks isn’t the legal equivalent of your local meth dealer, I don’t know what is. They want you hopped up, and begging for more…….so, that you’ll actually pay those ridiculous prices for something is simple as BEAN JUICE!

Now, onto the main body of my rant. It’s something I’ve called my Sociological Theory of Coffeehouses. This not only applies to Starbucks, but to any of the other franchises like Tully’s, Seattle’s Best Coffee, etc. I have been in enough of these establishments to have observed the behaviors of people well enough to have formulated a general sociological theory behind the behaviors that occur in these places. The reason I’m in these places is because I generally associate with people that DO drink the stuff by the gallon, so I’m typically along for the ride. Either that, or I simply order a hot chocolate, and I’m on my way.

Ok, someone previously mentioned the sizes associated with cups of coffee, so I will address that first. The entire purpose of these silly facilities is to make you feel better about yourself, or to superficially inflate your ego to the point that you will pay outlandish amounts of money for something that actually costs a fraction of that cost to make. Isn’t it interesting how in most places in our predominantly English speaking society, if there are sizes to be associated with something, it’s typically “small, medium, and large”? Well, that begs the question: Why would a coffee house need to convolute the issue with “Tall, Grande, and Venti”? Simple, their marketing strategy wants you to believe that you’re special because you ordered something Tall, not small……..that you’re not average, you’re an INDIVIDUAL because you ordered a Grande, not a medium……….that you’re not a caffeine guzzling coffaholic for ordering a large, you’re somehow cosmopolitain or eclectic for ordering a Venti. That last one I find somewhat funny since it’s an Italian term being used for a South American product (coffee), being sold in the United States, a predominantly English speaking nation. At least Grande has a spanish association with it, if not assinine in it’s inception, and “Tall” is just retarded right outta the gates. If it’s the smallest thing you have on the menu, then it’s a SMALL, dammit! There’s nothing “tall” about it!

Ok, enough of the sizing difficulties. Now onto the concept of acquired ego or individuality through coffee. When I’d sit and watch people ordering their coffee, they can’t order coffee anymore. Remember a few decades back when the epitome of what a cup of coffee should be was simply a cup of black coffee? Now, under the guise of buying coffee, people are buying as much sugar and caffeine as possible, and consider themselves to be coffee afficionados because they can now order the most confusing cup of coffee under the sun. Somehow, Starbucks and others have gotten the general public to believe that if they order a confusing cup of coffee, they are somehow a better person, or more of an individual for having done so. So, in these long lines of people waiting to order their morning cup of expensive, improperly sized, buckets of sugar and caffeine, they will try to come up with something that will impress the barrista (another term meant to impress us…..at Denny’s it’s the waitress, waiter, or the damn cook……..NOT a barrista), and confound everyone else, including themselves into believing that they’re somehow “special” for ordering confusing coffee, and overpaying for it.

Once, while I was in Washington, D.C. I was in a Starbucks, and decided to put my theories to the test, so I sat and watched people for a while. Well, sure enough, it happened. At the front of the line, some guy just got done ordering his Venti, half caf, half decaf, double shot, non-fat, hazelnut latte with whip, and a sprinkle of cinnamon, and blessed by the Cardinal before being served to him by Venezuelan virgins wearing Egyptian cotton robes with the Starbucks emblems on them………….(I’m exaggerating, obviously). That, in itself, was bad enough, but what transpired behind him was worse. Apparently, the guy directly behind the first was going to order the SAME THING. Well, he simply couln’t let that happen, because it would interfere with his being able to define himself as an individual through his cup of coffee. So, he became nervous, and looked hurried as he tried to come up with something equally convoluted before the barrista (again, overinflated title) became impatient. That is where we are folks. People in this country have become so bad, that they have to derive their own sense of identity through their coffee! Needless to say, i was perplexed at the concept that we’ve become that superficial.

Now, what’s more interesting than this is the fact that , if you want it, Starbucks will still sell you a simple cup of black coffee. There is, however, something interesting about this particular fact. Generally speaking, as I know most Starbucks aren’t identical, there is off to the side somewhere, a set of those old pump thermos containers filled with just plain old black coffee for those folks that either aren’t special enough, or ‘individual’ enough to stand in the long line, and be overcharged for a foofoo cup of mud. Starbucks marketing ploy is to keep you from going to these containers, because number one, they’re cheaper, and there’s no profit in that. So, they usually keep these things way off to one corner, and keep that area dimly lit so as to not attract people there. What is funny about this, is that the poor shlump that just simply wants a black cup of coffee is looked down upon by all the sheep in the long line for not being an “individual”………….ironic, isn’t it?

Another issue in these places is the food being offered……………..anybody notice that donuts are taboo? They have to offer an international fare so as to keep up with the idea that they have an influential, eclectic, group of clientele visiting their establishments. So, they serve up some ridiculously expensive, and horribly dry biscotti or something so that you’ll feel better about yourself because you’re “special”. Your wallet is lighter, but you’re special.

Finally, the last item that I noticed in these places are the superficial wingnuts that hang out there. They sit on the barstools at the windows, watching and looking down their noses at passersby, because they have an expensive, improperly sized, confusing cup of sugar and caffeine that helped define their individuality. I learned that even though I might be in the store, and have purchased something there, the fact that it’s simply a hot chocolate, makes me an uninteresting, uneducated, uninfluential clod. That’s fine with me, because I still have money left over for lunch folks.

The other type I have seen there is the actor. I saw one in D.C. and had to watch him for about an hour to verify my theory. He, was there to impress women………..or anyone else for that matter. He had some obscure book in his hands, and had had it open to the same page for the better part of 45 mintues. That’s right, folks, he wasn’t reading, he just wanted to LOOK as if he was. He sat there pouring over the page as if engaged in terribly deep thought, all the while hoping some errant female might be intrigued enough to approach him. His tactical error would be if she actually WAS intelligent, and asked him about the book, he’d sound like an idiot because he hadn’t actually READ the damn thing. So, needless to say…………pathetic. Besides, the practicality of reading in a coffeehouse is minimal, at best. It’s loud, obnoxious, and people are moving all over the place. This could explain why there still aren’t Starbucks in the libraries of our country…………ya think?

Anyway, I know this is quite the long rant, but since I haven’t been on in a while, I have apparently been building up to a lengthy one. I don’t mind coffee drinkers, actually I like the smell of coffee. I just can’t stand the fact that the people of this nation are so easily led to believe that they aren’t individual because of themselves, but rather that they have to have it defined for them by a retail establishment. We, as a people, are better than that, and could be again if we simply got to know each other, and quit worrying about what each other is drinking, wearing, driving, eating, so on, and so forth……………it used to be pretty important what other people thought and felt……………………a concept seemingly lost at times.

Alllllllllllllrighty then, I think I’ve blathered on quite long enough…….

(Note: This is authored by my dearest friend G, who resides outside of Seattle.  Yes, babe I’m giving credit where credit is due!!!)

Filed under: Life,Pursuit of Happiness,Rants by Kat at 3:00 pm
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