When in Rome, you won’t see a Starbucks. Yet.

Take a look at these slice-of-life pictures I took several years ago in one of Rome’s lively shopping districts on the Via del Corso. What’s different about this scene than a similar one in another city?

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Need a hint? Look at their hands.

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Yes, they’re holding cellphones, but we know that’s not different.

Need another hint?

What’s NOT in their hands?

These.

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That’s because Italians most often drink their coffee like this…

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They go into coffee bars. They drink their coffees small and strong. They drink from real cups. And they stand, not only because that’s the culture, but because it costs two to four times more to sit at a table. Seriously, you have to pay for table time.

It’s different than we’re used to and it took some time to get used to, but different is one of the big reasons we travel.

We never saw an Italian walking with his coffee. Italians do not take coffee to go.

Coming from Seattle, home of Starbucks and a paper cup in every pair of hands, it took more than a few mornings for my husband and I to adjust to walking sans sipping. We did our share of quiet complaining (only to each other of course) and before we knew better, we even asked one barista for a to-go cup. He went searching under the counter and found a small stash of plain, white, non-descript ones, probably put there for foreign tourists like us. Embarrassed by our mistake, we didn’t ask again.

When in Rome, right? Right! And also when in Florence and Venice and in the Cinque Terre. We started drinking our coffee the Italian way.

Even on a bus trip when we stopped at rest areas, we stood at coffee bars and drank our espressos.

What we also didn’t find, of course, were any Starbucks. In Seattle, we can’t walk a city block without seeing one or two. We were told Starbucks was high on the list of things that are never going to happen in Italy. We were told Italians want Starbucks as much as they want to cut their pizza into slices and eat dinner at 5. It’s just not done.

Until now.

Starbucks recently announced it will be opening in Milan later this year. If it succeeds, as Starbucks has in cities around the world, I suspect stores will pop up across the country.

“Well that’s depressing,” my daughter said of the news.

My thoughts exactly. While I like to think I’ll be standing at a coffee bar next time I’m in Italy, I also can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t be tempted by a take-out coffee. That’s sad.

 

 

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