Trying to be Conscious: Why Zürich loves Starbucks
Cécile discovers why "going where the locals go" in Zürich may well mean going to the local Starbucks.
Zürich is not a big city (380 000 inhabitants). Despite that, Starbucks is all over the place. The American franchise started the invasion only ten years ago and recently opened its 16th café on Zürich’s main shopping street. It’s surprising because Zürich has many other cafés offering coffee and food of superior quality and a taste of the local culture. So I used to stay away from Starbucks; I preferred to support the small cafés.
I remember my friend Beat asking me: “Why don’t you want to meet at Starbucks? It has comfy couches, nice music and decent drinks.” I was surprised that he wanted to meet there; he usually avoided mainstream stuffs.
”It’s true. But you can find Starbucks everywhere in the world. I want to go to places where locals go.”
“I’m a local, and I like Starbucks,” he insisted. “I often go there with my girlfriend on Sunday afternoon. We can even get the newspaper and stay there for ages with only one drink.”
Beat had many points. Starbucks is a cool place to hang out. The drinks may be a bit expensive, but nobody comes to harass you every half hour to sell you another drink. I was still resisting though because I also knew other nice coffee places. But were they really so nice?
The first café I liked in Zürich is called HENRICI. It is well located in the middle of the old town. I loved the cosy atmosphere, the good coffee and the unbeatable hot chocolate. The staff used to be really friendly. I started to teach French at Henrici a few times a week and I would always meet my friends there.
Unfortunately, two years later, the café is always full and the staff takes itself too seriously. The drinks and food are still excellent, but the atmosphere is not friendly anymore. I went there last week with Andrew. We had just bought two little cupcakes from a new shop nearby and I needed some good tea to enjoy my cupcake fully. Andrew is English and polite, so he does not bring food or drinks in cafés. I convinced him to go anyway because I’m a rude French woman. As we sat down inside Henrici, our cupcakes already half-eaten, one of the waiters came to our table. He looked all red and agitated. He started shouting at us in German:
“YOU CANNOT EAT THAT HERE; OKAY? IT IS A RESTAURANT HERE; WE SELL FOOD; HADN’T YOU NOTICED? IT’S NOT ALLOWED TO DO THAT. IF YOU COME HERE, YOU HAVE TO BUY THE FOOD WE SELL HERE.”
Andrew and I looked at each other, baffled. The waiter’s disproportionate anger made us want to laugh. But we stayed silent.
“DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I'M SAYING?” said the guy, impatiently. We shrugged at each other and left. We hadn’t responded to his diatribe, which annoyed him greatly.
Of course the waiter was right. You’re not supposed to bring food or drinks in a restaurant. But both Andrew and I were regular customers and it was just an innocent little cupcake! We would have ordered loads of tea and probably more cake from them.
“That’s it, I’m not going there anymore,” said Andrew, in his most manly voice.
I was relieved to hear that he was not mad at me; it was my idea to bring the cupcakes inside and he does not like scenes.
“It’s not the first time that the waiters from Henrici are rude to me.” I said, trying to eat my cupcake without rubbing the whole thing all over my face. “One day I did not have any cash and I was in a hurry to go. At that time, I was coming almost every day with new students. Their credit card payment system was not working, so I asked them if I could come back later to pay. The waitress made a big fuss about it. She directly asked my student to pay for me; I felt embarrassed.”
It’s really hard to eat a cupcake elegantly and sustain a conversation at the same time, I realised as I was talking.
“Yeah, I like the staff but they’re slow,” Andrew said, staring in ghastly disbelief at the mess I was making on my face.
“But where else can we go?” I sighed, finishing my cupcake. It was a nice cupcake, by the way - too bad the stupid waiter spoiled my enjoyment of it.
We tried to think about nice cafés to hang out in Zürich. Most of them have unfriendly service. Sadly, it is the same story in restaurants, especially for non-local customers: waiters tend to be impatient when you don’t order in perfect Swiss-German.
Starbucks offers a solution to all of the above problems. The staff is usually friendly and doesn’t mind orders in English. You get your stuff right away and pay for it, without having to wait. Then you can sit down and relax for ages.
It’s just a shame that in a Swiss city, you have to go to an American café to hang out.
Cécile is a French girl who decided to settle for a while in Zürich after trying New York for a year. When she is not teaching French to the Swiss, she sits in cafés for long hours and writes. You can find her writings on her blog Trying to be Conscious and now on Expatica. Enjoy!
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