Starbucks Tears

by Joke Debaere

A couple of weeks ago, a waitress in a Starbucks asked me whether I wanted the milk foam on my cappuccino wet or dry. I had to ask her three times what she meant. In the beginning of our conversation, all she could do was repeating those very same words:

“Whether you want your foam wet or dry?”

“Pardon me, what does that mean?”

“Whether you want it wet or dry?”

“I am so sorry, I am from Belgium, I am not used to this. What did you say?”

“Do you want the foam wet or dry?”

When I at last think I understand what she means, I explain her that I even didn’t know that there was a difference between wet and dry milk foam. I really feel a strong urge to share a meaningful conversation with her about this world of American specialized coffee choices, but it feels as if there is no time at all to do so. Around her I see two young women with heavy make-up, blond hair and headsets. They are zooming like bees. They are writing down the orders of the cars who are waiting outside in the line-up of the drive-thru. Functionality. The pleasure of drinking a coffee is offered extremely goal-orientated in Starbucks. As fast as it can at that moment, I decide to go for … “eeuhm, let me think, make it dry please.”

As the girl writes down my choice on the paper that will be wrapped around my coffee, I think of the way I actually really prefer my cappuccino, coming to think of it: half-dry. Is that a choice too, half-wet, half-dry? The last choice she is obliged to fire in my direction is whether I am thinking of soy milk, skinny milk, fat milk, of half half milk.
Jeez, half half milk, what would that be? I was actually more thinking of those other fancy choices you find in American supermarkets these days: almond milk and rice milk. But I don’t dare to ask whether she has that too. I can feel the steaming breath of the next customer in my neck.

“Euh, just normal” I reply. As soon as I speak out these very simple words, I realize that “just normal” is no answer at all, in the States. No customized choice on this planet is ever “just normal”. Normal is not normal anymore. A normal size boils down to a ‘small’ which we in Europe would call a ‘large’. I have obviously heard stories and jokes about all of this for many times, yet to experience the rush and stress that comes along with it is something quite different..”


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