For the Love of Starbucks


I’ve embraced a lot about the European lifestyle. I get that a proper café au lait should be consumed sitting down with a ceramic cup and a biscuit. That cappuccinos aren’t ordered after noon in Italy. That the espresso closer comes not with but following the dessert and before the after dinner liquor. But sometimes you just need a strong Grande filter drip coffee TO GO before 9am. And after four years of dating around it’s probably ok to admit you prefer the familiarity and personality of Pike’s Place Roast.

So … I may have a habit of occasionally driving unnaturally long distances on a motorway to one of the only two Starbucks in Luxembourg, specifically the one AT THE AIRPORT because it opens at 5am. As far as I can tell it’s also the only place in Luxembourg that isn’t a hotel or gas station serving coffee before 8:30am. The excursion takes both commitment and courage. You must park in the short term parking lot, jog lightly to the terminal, pray for a short queue and not be distracted by the Duty Free Shop or the fact that you are mingling with passengers in their traveling finest while you’re barely one degree past pajamas.

As a straight up filter girl without the need to burden the coffee bar, I usually can get ‘er done before my €5 filter coffee all of sudden jacks up to €7.50 at exactly minute sixteen. (There is no grace period where parking lots, parking meters or parking dials are concerned here.) But I’ve also learned to abort mission when the line is too long or there are obvious SBUX rookies ahead reading the menu or trying to find the tea selections. I also know I’ve been in line too long when I dare to want to try the pumpkin bread or muffin again, hoping for a better (butter) outcome.

This morning I made the trek through traffic – for the love of Starbucks - after I dropped the boys off at school. There was no queue which means I had time to have my beans ground and because I was dressed presentably even pop into Duty Free for a squirt of perfume. Now awake and smelling lovely, I situated my Grande drip in my car cup holder for the journey back across town for some errands at a local mall. I drank slowly, savoring every sip, extending my TO GO pleasure into the mall.

I know this may sound like an exaggeration but this was my first time grocery shopping in Luxembourg accompanied by the green and white Siren cup. It was such a little pleasure and reminder of home. But in a culture where coffee is a ritual and not something to be multi-tasked, grocery carts don’t come equipped with handy cup holders. As it turns out, navigating a cart and a hot cup of coffee requires more coordination than I’ve been gifted so I shortened my list and persevered all the way to the cash wrap.

One of the funny things about Luxembourg is that in the big hybrid grocery/homeware stores like Target you must do a bag check at one of the two main entrances before entering. They aren’t looking for weapons, they’re looking for openings. Whatever bags you’ve accumulated while shopping at the mall are either stapled shut or vacuum sealed or put in another bag that can be stapled shut. And while it doesn’t happen every time, they also mark any plastic bottle you walk in the store with. They are very serious about this business which presumably is intended to prevent theft and for whatever reason(s) has spilled over into water bottle vigilance.

Without any consideration that I could have possibly broken any rules, I show up to the cash wrap with this cup. It doesn’t take a close inspection to conclude:
a) This paper cup with a well-protected US based logo has not been been stolen from this store.
b) It has clearly been through an ordeal to get here.
c) Someone went through the effort to put on lipstick this morning.
d) It cannot be stapled.

But it wouldn’t be a story if the cashier didn’t inspect my cup. She did. I didn’t follow everything she was saying because it was in Luxembourgish but it was clear I had missed the mark in understanding this cultural norm of bag checking extended to paper cups. It wasn’t a big deal – and it made me laugh a little – but I left feeling a mixture of how stupid a rule and how embarrassing to be called out. Four years after moving here.

I can’t help but think of others living in places as visitors like me, especially the refugees, where the cultural norms are drastically different and therefore the potential for misstep and embarrassment even greater. How when we have grown up in a place that like the cashier we would be quick to point out, with justification and in our language, what the rules are. The lengths I went to for a silly cup of coffee, a piece of home, are small but what the cashier missed – what I wonder if we all can sometimes be guilty of missing is that embracing a new place takes time and patience on both sides.

Yes, we need to follow the rules. We also need to give THE OTHER the benefit of the doubt. Most people other from us aren’t trying to lift what isn’t theirs. Anyone who has left their homeland has been through an ordeal to get here and if that move was forced upon them, chances are good that ordeal has come with a lot of cost, sacrifice and suffering. Lipstick may signal that I’ve shown up ready for the day but effort comes in a million different forms. You had to be looking closely to notice the lipstick just like we have to look closely for how people are putting their best foot forward. Staples may be a strategy to try to keep things contained but some things – like a sloshing cup of coffee or a messy soul in a constant state of being emptied and refilled – cannot be stapled shut.