5.18.2006

colloquial

Peter says that I am half-hearted about bumper stickers. I have several stashed carefully in a folder, and occasionally I tape them to the inside of my back window. The closest I have gotten to pasting something permanent to my car are the two small decals - the same color as the paint job - that grace the corners of my hatchback window: a frog (water/life) and two handprints (family). You can barely see them if you aren't looking. I usually forget they are there. I have a pretty handy collection of stickers, though. I keep thinking that one day, I'll get brave enough to post my philosophies for the world to tailgate:

"Jon Stewart : 2008"
"caffinated" (well, not anymore)
"reduce.reuse.recycle."
"visualize whirrled peas" (say it aloud five times, fast)
"who would jesus bomb?"
"bare feet, not arms"
"free trade" (or tibet, take your pick)
"ride 'em like you stole 'em" ... (to which peter usually responds: "don't they still hang horse thieves in Texas?")

One that I actually had up for awhile involved bashing the company we all love to hate (and still give our money to): Starbucks. I played it safe, though. I was living in a little seaside village with six independant coffee shacks. Subway and Safeway were the only concessions to the corporate food chain at the time. I wouldn't accidentally end up in a Starbucks parking lot, forgetting my mantra at the back. An easy way to be bold! (Wouldn't you know it: a year later, a Starbucks opened in the newly remodeled Safeway. It never does end.)

The truth is, I enjoy a Starbucks mocha enough to pay the extortion tax required to secure one. Although the coffee witch in Cooper Landing makes a better mocha than anyone else on the planet, the corporate version is reliably nummy in a pinch. Until I gave up caffeine (again! *sigh*) I was shucking over the nearly four bucks a pop, far more often than I'm likely to admit in a crowd. Now that I'm caffeine free, I have found myself drawn back into the soothing embrace of a nice soy hot chocolate when bad days strike.

But I had another good laugh at Starbuck's expense today, and its such a nerdy reference that I didn't dare try to explain it to the barista-drones working the Harrisburg branch. Starbucks recently launched it's "Black Apron" coffee initiative - basically they use savy marketing to sell coffee at $26 a pound. Highway robbery even by their standards. The first of these atrocities was from eastern Africa, and the cultural bias was clear in the little flier on the display. It lamented the rough life of Starbucks coffee quality controllers, who have an awfully hard time finding coffee growers that live up to first world standards in third world countries. Apparently, when they do find quality coffee in exotic locales, it is worth breaking your bank for.

The most recent offering hit closer to home: Kopi Kampung from Sulawesi, Indonesia. I nearly laughed out loud when I saw it. The direct translation is quaint, and I'm sure the PR people at corporate ate it up: Village Coffee. What better tagline to sell Starbuck's newfound social conscience campaign to better the lives of their growers in the coffee belt?

What they forgot (or hoped their well educated buyers in US stores wouldn't notice) is that in a quickly industrializing country, "village" does not bring up familial or pastoral scenes in the third world's collective consciousness. Simply put, in modern Indonesian, Kampung means Slum. It’s common use insinuates poverty, ignorance, disease and debilitating manual labor. It embodies everything that the people flooding urban centers are trying to leave behind.

I am very curious how the sales in the few Starbucks stores on Bali, Java, Singapore and in Malaysia - no translation needed - are fairing. Slum Coffee indeed. Not that it matters. This new Black Apron blend will be sold out by the end of the week nationwide, and we'll have to cool our heels for another two months before the next Conscience Coffee of the Moment is revealed.

Has anyone else noticed that for all their social program propaganda, Starbucks' black gold is STILL not free trade? And now that I've ranted publicly, I really do need to kick this habit before the hypocrisy police show up on my doorstep. I might as well put that sticker back up in the window.


(Peter and I hanging out at Resurrect Art coffee house in Seward last May. The Cooper Landing Coffee Witch has better brew at her roadside shack (wild foam coffee) but no warm stove and cozy seats for rainy costal days. Rez Art boasts free trade and locally roasted coffee and chocolate, washable cups for those sipping in, buyable local art, thursday jazz nights, paperback free-trade shelves, and kitchy tourist junk for cruise ship folk brave enough to wander away from the harbor - and the starbucks.)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

mary... i have enjoyed reading your blog... when i moved to baltimore and bought a car, i settled on "bare feet, not arms" :) - that has seemed to satisfy the bumper sticker dilemma for me. how silly.
we need to make sure to hang out before you head back north.
kara

maria said...

I first saw the 'bare feet, not arms' on your fridge in Chicago! We do need to hang out. I'll call you this week!! (thanks for reading!)

Anonymous said...

Well, I am an Indonesian living in Singapore. The name "Kopi Kampung" does invoke, at least in me, a nostalgic feeling. Feeling that the coffee is not just any mass-produced coffee. Coffee that is prepared in road-side stall through the tender loving care of the stall owner cup by special cup. By the way, "Kampung" does not necessarily means "Slum". "Perkampungan kumuh" Yes. Although sometimes "Kampung" is used derogatorily, like "Orang Kampung" = "Hillbilly". But, I can tell you that to most Indonesian, Singaporean, and Malaysian, the word "Kampung" still brings up "familial or pastoral scenes".

Just my two cents since you are "very curious how the sales in the few Starbucks stores on Bali, Java, Singapore and in Malaysia".