I don't drink coffee, so I don't have much to say about Starbucks one way or another. I know that people tend to love or hate the coffee itself. I know that people make fun of the baristas - and the grande-vente pretensions. I also know that when I want to meet a friend at a Starbucks for coffee (I'll have tea), the stores themselves - if occasionally crowded and noisy - have been unfailingly clean and pleasant: a nice place to sit and catch up.
Starbucks, of course, is all over the map - quite literally. Included in its empire, according to a story I saw the other day on CNN.com, are 3000 international shops, including over 200 in China, where, apparently, they're taking on the green tea drinking public.
Well, today there's one fewer Starbucks in China,
The one that, since 2000, has been located in Beijing's imperial palace museum (The Forbidden City), was closed recently, the victim of a media-led effort decrying the presence of something so startlingly Western in such an ancient historic site.
I can see their point. Kind of.
In Krakow, I ate at a McDonald's that was in the cellar of a 14th or 15th century building. I was struck by how decidedly un-apposite it seemed there. Beautiful, ancient stone walls instead of glass and plastic. They should have been housing something more 14th or 15th century there, or more Polish. An ancient book store. A pierogi stand.
In the states, we really have nothing comparable to The Forbidden City - can you just imagine how something called "The Forbidden City" would go over here to begin with. Talk about a non-starter.
But Starbucks in the F.C. would be kind of like selling dim sum in Ye Olde Tavern in Williamsburg, I guess. It just takes something away from the experience. Although, given the American Commercial Instinct, it would be no surprise if Ye Olde Tavern did sell dim sum or, more likely, sashimi and soba.
The objection, by the way, is not to money-changers in the palace. The Forbidden City - which takes up a whopping 183 acres - is home to souvenir shops and trinket sellers (presumably selling tourist junk that's, appropriately enough, made in China), as well as to numerous places to get food and be.
It's the out-and-out American-ism of Starbucks that rankled.
So, if you're heading for The Forbidden City, remember that one thing that's verboten there is Starbucks.
But it's hard to imagine that, with the myriad vendors there - some, I'm guessing, hawking all American drinks like Coke and Pepsi - that having a low-key Starbucks is such a terrible thing. But in general, when we travel we should want to see and experience new things. Sure, I just confessed to eating at a McDonald's in Krakow. And I'm admit that on some other "foreign" trips I've stopped by a Dairy Queen or a B.K. But mostly I try to go native (even when the menu's conveniently in English.)
Obviously, Americans aren't the only tourists crawling around the Forbidden City. But they're likely to be the ones who'll miss that particular comfort from home the most.
They should get over it and take their chances on a nice cup of green tea.