I entered a Starbucks for the first time today.
As a non-coffee drinker, I've never before had the need to venture into this alien place alone. But today I wanted to buy a coffee for my darling wife, so armed with the words "Venti caramel frap LITE no whip" saved in my iPhone, I walked through the front door.
Then I stopped dead in my tracks. There was no immediately obvious clue to point me in the right direction. If the clues existed they were drowned out among the CD's, pastries, display cabinets, and other visual clutter. Four green-apronned employees glanced at me indifferently. A customer, lounging on an overstuffed chair, looked at me over the top of his glasses as if to say… "well, now what are you going to do."
I spotted a cash register and took a step toward it, which apparently was the trigger for one of the green aprons to acknowledge me. She smiled and asked if she could help me. I turned my phone toward her and said, "I don't drink coffee; my wife orders this. It may as well be Greek to me." I almost added that actually I know Greek, so maybe Chinese would be the more apt analogy but I decided that her friendly smile wasn't really that friendly.
She took the order, said a few words of Itali-gibberish over her shoulder and then walked away from me. Another green apron, an unenthusiastic bearded young man with bed-head sluggishly approached the register. "Is that it?"
"Uh, yeah." This was all I could offer, paralyzed in confusion as to why the first lady left me in the hands of this lethargic young man and how someone could act this exhausted in front of his customers in a place that sells coffee.
I paid for the drink. Then the languid green-apronned man disengaged. He literally just stopped looking at me.
"I guess I'll just… step back over here."
And there I stood, awkwardly, for four or five minutes. The smiling green apron lady looked up from her work behind the counter at me and then to her fellow employees. "Are you guys done?" They were. "Your frap is over there." She pointed to the opposite end of the workspace.
I nervously explored my way past the register, the other customers, and the large display case. There I found a high counter with a single plastic cup and straw sitting alone, ready to be claimed. I picked them up, looked around in vain for some kind of acknowledgment and left the building without another word spoken.
Now most of this is my fault. Starbucks has been around for my entire life and I've never bothered to pay attention. I'm sure that regular customers, who've learned the lingo and have immersed themselves in the Starbucks culture, would not have stuck out like the sore and confused thumb that I was today.
But I have to wonder what the learning curve is like for the uninitiated, for new converts to pretentious coffee drinking. Do friends guide them through it? Are there Cliff Notes or a "Starbucks for Dummies" book? Does Starbucks lose any customers because the coffee shop is geared toward insiders and not outsiders?
As an insider in my own culture (church, Christianity, married with kids, etc.), I wonder.