I will do everything I can to avoid Starbucks. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not out of some sense of duty to the independent barista. I’m not that good a person. Neither am I at all discerning about their particular imitation of coffee. No, I’ll gladly nip into Costa or Nero, but the caffeine headache has to measure eleven to force me into Starbucks.Why? Surely there’s no real difference between all the chains? Well, yes, in terms of the objective product, they’re all the same. But there’s one problem: I’m pathetically, cringe-worthily British. Or, couched in terms that don’t make me look like a useless wet fish: it’s about the purchasing energy barrier, and from my perspective Starbucks have set theirs way above the rest.
We’ve all experienced an energy barrier. Starting a boring task, like calling the bank or robbing the bank, requires a certain initial kick. Just like your car needs the starter motor, you have to get over that first hump of procrastination or dread before you’ll do something important. Who hasn’t put off their tax return?
But, for me, it isn’t just chores that have a barrier. Even nice things like buying coffee require some level of mental strength to initiate. Just how much strength depends on what I anticipate happening. I’ll run a mental reconnoitre: I imagine myself walking in, placing my order and receiving my beverage, with perhaps a few amusing mishaps here and there, and assess how I feel about the potential venture.
With Costa and Nero, it usually works out okay. Perhaps there might be a little difficulty communicating my order, perhaps I’ll screw up counting out the correct change, but by and large the cringe factor is surmountable. If I talk carefully and pay with a large banknote, all should be well.Foolishly, though, Starbucks made one recent change which erased my timid patronage: they now ask for your name. My caffeine-deprived brain is now tasked with engaging on a much more personal level with a barista who probably just wants to sit down and ignore me after a busy morning shift. Not only that, but if my name is mis-rendered through fatigue (theirs or mine), there ensues an even more awkward discussion of whether that really is my pumpkin spice mocha despite it being for “Hansen” instead of “Francis”. Nightmare.
It’s not just Starbucks with an insurmountable energy barrier, though. French cafés are another prime example where my patheticness might trump a tasty beverage. How do they work? Do I just go and sit down, or must I request une table pour un? Do I have to flag down a waiter to order, or will catching their eye work okay? Should I use my finest Français, or will that reap the inimitable Parisian scorn when I butcher their language and garner only terse English in reply? It’s all far too complicated. Maybe I’ll just have an instant coffee in my hotel room instead.
My hair suffers from the energy barrier almost as much as my stomach. Having to find a new barber is a scenario nothing short of apocalyptic. Fancy ones—probably called “mens’ hairdressers”—might use appointments only, bog standard ones will be entirely walk-in, and far too many in-between operate a confusing mixed mode. There’s no way to tell how it works from the outside. The energy barrier creeps upward.Even if I do somehow end up in the chair, by no means am I home and dry. I know what’s coming next. “So, what’ll it be today?” “Um… cut. Shorter. Like, kinda what I have, but better. And with less hair. Yeah?” No. “Off the ears?” “Um, sure, why not.” Got to take some chances in life, right? No. Higher still goes the energy barrier.
If I make it into the chair and survive the negotiation, though, I’m locked into my fate. Once I know how the place works, my repeat custom is assured. In fact, the barrier to switching barber is so high that they could do anything short of give me a mohawk and I’ll still come back. I daren’t think what would happen if I found a good barber and they closed. Dreadlocks, perhaps.
So if you see me curled up in a ball on the Champs-Élysées, nursing a caffeine headache and sporting a mass of hair to rival Marge Simpson, then please, please, give me a coffee and tell me how the nearest barber works. I’ll be forever in your debt; the least I’ll do is buy you a coffee in return once I’m in better shape.
Just don’t ask for one from Starbucks.