San Francisco Glacier in Chile

Friday, June 6, 2014

Coffee Shops in Moscow

In many countries Starbucks has a major presence.  In Asia, they are all over the place - Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, China, etc...

Overall, compared to what I'm used to, hot-brewed coffee in coffee shops in Moscow, unless it's an espresso shot, is sub-par and expensive.  I had to do without my iced lattes for a month!  And, oddly, Starbucks was on my list of things to do once I returned (to the States). However, Kade and I did have some quality starts-to-our-day at Coffee House and the other Russian chain seen in the video.  These were places we'd go in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  And we went to a Turkish tea house in St. Petersburg that was truly dynamite.

Someone later e-mailed me this:
Do you think countries and areas that look up to "Americanism" want Starbucks, while those who see "Americans" as cheesy and Johnny-come-latelies most definitely DON'T want Starbucks?
My largely uninformed assessment would be that western Europeans see America not as the ideal but as a culture of fast food, chain restaurants (and coffee bars), and as a culture of people who do not understand, much less appreciate, classical culture.
On the other hand, eastern cultures (including Russia and Asia) like being "westernized," "Americanized," if you will.
This may explain why Bangkok has boatloads of Starbucks while France rejects the entire concept.
What do  you think of my assessment?

My reply: 
Good questions and interesting points.
I would definitely group Russia with France in that they both limit the amount of influence of chain restaurants (American ones and maybe their own).  And my feeling is that people in Russia and these other areas of Europe would bristle at the idea of being "Americanized" or "Westernized" (another way of saying the excesses of capitalism/branding/chains).  You do see a fascination with Hollywood movies and many clothing brands that are popular in the US.  Music and MTV are other American exports that do well.  I think these are adored because they are great things, no matter where you are or no matter who creates them.  On the other hand, McDonalds and fast food chains and coffee chains that truly are inferior to the local food and drink culture...these things get rejected or they don't spread that much.  Of course, that doesn't explain Thailand or some other countries where you see bunches of them.  But, these countries, the ones in Europe you mentioned and many in other parts of the world, also have their own strong traditions and strong businesses, plus the people have a pride that would prevent from being inundated with "foreign" ideas - the same thinking that goes on here in the US.  
This doesn't truly get at these issues...but it's a start.  It's as complicated as anything else.  What I can tell you is that I saw one Subway sandwich shop, no Starbucks chains, one or two Baskin-Robbins, a Pizza Hut, three or four McDonalds..and this in cities (Paris, Moscow, St. Petersburg) where I did a lot of traveling and observing.  They weren't as noticeable and not as numerous as I have seen elsewhere.  And the American chains I did see were surrounded by local names, local chains and mom-n-pops that seemed to be doing very well. 
By the way, I did learn that, back in the 18th and 19th centuries, French culture was considered the supreme "foreign" culture vis a vis social circles in many parts of Europe.  This perception was true in the eyes of Russians at the time.

UPDATE:  Since Starbucks was initially blocked from entering the Russian market (or the road wasn't made easy), at least one has opened in Moscow - here.   Also, I read recently where the Russian Duma passed a law requiring patrons of restaurants to smoke only in special areas or outside.

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