What if the Michelangelo's David was replaced by Andy Warhol’s White Brillo sculpture? What if Ciao, Bella was replaced with Hey there and the Pizza Margherita replaced with the hamburger and fries (oh wait, that is already happening) or the Italian’s animated body communication was muted by space, distance, and kisses on the cheek became handshakes instead? What if drinking a 1 euro caffe’ al banco-at the bar is replaced with to-go cups and the Frappucino for 4 euros, (oh wait, that may begin in 2017). Now, I realize I may be exaggerating a bit but I am trying to make a point with my dramatic and over-the-top examples.
Italians already make great coffee and have a very distinct and traditional coffee culture, and some tourist cities will hand you un caffe’ al volo (to-go cup) if you ask and actually will make you a coffee Frappe’ if you wish. A drink very similar to the Frappucino—the Frappe’ is Greek in origin and may not have the Starbuck’s logo but its just as good and will cost you a lot less. One can sit at an Italian bar/cafe’ just as in a Starbuck’s with free Wifi, breakfast food options and panini to munch on as you speak about the election, general life woes with friends, and/or type away on your laptop computer filling the pages for your next blog post or novel. Italy already has Starbuck’s on every corner but their Starbuck’s are named Caffé’ Greco, Caffe’ Florian, Al Bicerin, Caffe’ Gambrinus, Caffe’ Spinnato, Caffe Gilli, Ideal Caffé, and not to mention all the coffee chioschi (kiosks), and on and on I can go. Their Starbuck’s have history beyond the 1990’s, their Starbuck’s created an Italian culture all its own. Now, why would Starbuck’s want to replace a coffee custom, a coffee tradition, a coffee culture with that of their American brothering? Why begin a shift that is slow to start but will eventually slightly skew or maybe even cause a culture, a tradition to disappear and be replaced by Tall, Grande, and Venti cups with a Siren’s lure? Will the Italians or la gioventu’ (youth) be called by this Siren’s song and begin to carry their Frappucino in one hand while taking a bite of their McDonald’s or Burger King burgers in the other? Or will they just try it out, out of curiosity or for the novelty, and then leave it to the tourists? Or will a historical coffee culture die like languages do in the midst of urbanization, Americanization and/or globalization?
Why Starbuck’s in Italy? I am saddened and disappointed that Howard Schultz could not respect its inspiration, its muse enough to leave it untouched—Is Capitalism’s alluring song deafening the Siren’s? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect Italy to be a dinosaur amongst its growing and thriving European neighbors but I am not sure if a Starbuck’s in Italy is a catalyst for positive growth and change, if anything Italy would then be no different than its neighbors, it too would have a Starbuck’s on its corner. Italy however has a coffee culture that is different, that is rooted in a long history and has become a custom, un modo di fare, (an attitude), a part of an Italian’s every-day cultural make-up unlike its European neighbors. A Starbuck’s in Italy may cause a disappearance of that very custom, of that very Italian cultural make-up. Or at the very least (and my hope) cause a change in Italy’s coffee culture that very much reflects the thought of Lampedusa.
public domain/creative commons photos used