Businessweek Archives

Starbucks: the hegemonic language


I walk into a Peet’s coffee shop in the Great Northwest. (It’s across the street from a Starbucks.) I order a double tall soy latte. “What size is that?” the barista asks. “Twelve ounces? Sixteen?” After we nail down a couple more details, he calls out, “Two shot small soy latte.”

My mistake was to speak Starbucks in Peets. The barista, of course, understands this dominent dialect of the American coffee world. He knew what I meant, just the way a shopkeeper in Rotterdam understands English. But the appeal of the smaller coffee businesses involves nurturing a different ambiance than Starbucks—and sustaining minority coffee dialects. This gets in the way of clear communication, but boosts diversity. I’m not complaining. There’s a reason I’m not across the street.


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