"Yes, Americans are too stupid to order their own coffee." Plus: Readers shatter romanticized images of motherhood.

By Salon Staff
February 26, 2004 10:35PM (UTC)
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[Read "Macchiato Morons," by Dale Hrabi.]

I worked at Starfucks for two years, and agree with a lot of this article: They're schmaltzy, they love the faux-nostalgia trip, and their marketing department is so obsessed with creating the "Third Place" atmosphere (a phrase that I can almost guarantee you will show up somewhere in that 22-page booklet), that they've resorted to the kind of coddling reserved for overindulgent grandparents. But to answer your opening question, yes, Americans are too stupid to order their own coffee. It didn't matter that the menu was mere feet from them, easily readable, and lit up -- they would not look at it. Ever.


They certainly didn't want any kind of explanation or help when their drinks came out tasting like espresso. They lacked any inclination or vocabulary for fixing the problem, and thought that "regular" was an acceptable size to order. I understand not ordering in Italian, if it makes you feel ridiculous. But there's three sizes. Surely you can make the decision between small, medium, and large if tall, grande, and venti are too much to take.

The book itself may be offensive, but the concept of educating your customers about what they're drinking is a good one. And hey, if it convinces you to order a plain coffee, all the better. It's less likely that you'll end up screaming at some poor green-aproned schmo behind the counter.

-- Stella Dillard


I live in Sydney, Australia, and Starbucks' guide to ordering coffee the "right" way has been out here for a few months. Not that Australians need it -- due to the high number of postwar Italian, Greek and Arab immigrants, Aussies know coffee. In fact, you can't even get regular filtered coffee in most coffee shops here, only espresso-based drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. Good ones. The one place where I can go to get a good ol' cup of joe is ... Starbucks. I march right in there and say, "I'd like a small cup of coffee, please." The American tourists behind me always seem to be ordering triple grande unleaded caramel macchiatos with wings but most people here seem to appreciate good coffee, not bad Italian.

-- James Magee

Dale Hrabi's article on Starbucks didn't mention a gem that is right in his lap in the Northeast: Dunkin' Donuts. I consider myself a bit of a coffee snob, and to my taste they've got the best coffee around. And unlike at Starbucks, you can have it with a cruller.


-- Matt Carter

Thank God someone took the initiative to comment on the Starbucks ordering guide. They were distributed with the Boston Globe one Sunday, which actually makes a fair amount of sense where Dunkin' Donuts dominates the market and people think its watered-down coffee is great.


One problem -- for all the ordering assistance, Starbucks still doesn't understand that a cappuccino should be light and airy, not a latte with foam on top.

Support your local coffee bar!

-- Matt G.

Dale Hrabi has obviously never worked in a cafe because if he had he would realize that, yes, some Americans need ordering instructions. Yes, some Americans are that stupid. They stand in line talking on their cell phones or daydreaming or picking their noses, who knows, anything but figuring out their drink order. Then when they get up to the counter they say ahhhh ... I'll have ... hmmm ... what is a frappe? ... oh, no wait, maybe something with chocolate ... no, hmm ... maybe vanilla ... no, make that a decaf ... oh, wait can you make it a double ... And all the while there are 10 people behind this loser, half of whom will do the same thing.


I guess it's just too easy to jump on the "let's bash Starbucks just because it's a big business" bandwagon. Get over the Starbucks hatred already. If they were so bad they wouldn't make the list of best companies to work for every year.

-- Megan Rosen

I can ignore all the bullshit that comes with Starbucks, because they simply make good coffee. I'd rather pay the $1.90 for a 16-oz coffee that I know is going to taste like coffee, than $.95-$1.25 for a cup in a diner/Dunkin' Donuts/street vendor cart, etc., that tastes like someone squeezed a dish rag into a cup and waved a coffee bean over it.


Of course, I only ever order just a coffee. No frills. No instruction necessary. But since it is always a good cup of coffee, they can publish as many stupid pamphlets as they want for all I care.

-- Glenn Raucher

[Read "The Mommy Mystique," by Amy Reiter.]

Making the assumption that mothers are incapable of discerning the difference between reality and the images presented on television and in print is an insult. The fact that simply giving birth does not provide you with a "SWAT team of nannies and personal assistants" may not be referenced whenever Catherine Zeta-Jones starts talking about motherhood, but any sensible person knows it to be so.


Just as marriage isn't endless days of walking on the beach at sunset hand in hand, motherhood isn't all nutritionally sound meals and helpful children who sleep through the night. If someone is confused by this, I suggest they turn off the TV and spend some time observing family and friends.

Writing a book decrying media, culture, government and celebrities may prove more lucrative, though.

-- Jen Philhower

Okay, I can say I agree with a lot of what this book is talking about. There is a lot of pressure on moms to be perfect mothers. But there is a lot of pressure on a lot people to be perfect in some way. I don't think high school basketball players are stupid enough to judge themselves based on the standards set forth by professional basketball players and I don't think mothers are stupid either.


The biggest obstacle that all women face in society these days is other women. Is it that we feel like we can't compete with men, so the only alternative is to compete with each other? What we should be saying is that celebrities are fortunate enough to have the kind of help and support we all want. Good for them. Now how can we help all the rest of the moms who do not?

-- Andee Steinman

I enjoyed reading Amy Reiter's interview with Susan J. Douglas, author of "The Mommy Myth." It has made me even more resolute in my decision to remain childfree.

All women -- not just mothers -- have been sold a bad bill of goods. We are expected to get up, get the kids off to school, work an 8-to-10-hour day at the office, come home, and produce dinner for the hungry family, get everybody popped off to bed, while still maintaining our glamour girl looks. It's ludicrous! Where are these glamorous working mothers? I have yet to see any on my train as I commute back and forth to New York. What I do see are a lot of exhausted women, grimly applying their lipstick as if they're putting on armor to face the rapacious hordes.


It's exactly these romanticized visions of Mommyhood that I have rejected wholesale. I don't have a career; I have a job, which is used to pay for gym memberships, cruises, and cat food. My energies are spent on my health, my boyfriend, and our cats. It's a pretty full life, and I love it.

-- Lara W.

Come off it. Anyone with half a brain knows better than to compare themselves to celebrities of any stripe, but especially celebrity mothers with a bevy of childcare professionals on call 24-7.

I work full-time. I do not home-school or bake blueberry muffins at 10 p.m., did not play Baby Einstein for my newborns or pipe Beethoven into my uterus during pregnancy, and never bought into the perfect-mommy rubbish. Still, somehow my 7-year-old attends a school for gifted children and is not only bright but affectionate and fun. His younger brother is a little rowdier but equally talented. I attribute that primarily to good genetic luck but I think my husband and I also get some credit. In our home we eat dinner together almost every night, and meal-time conversation topics include science, math or current events -- and often involve pulling a volume of the encyclopedia down from the shelf to check our facts or find pictures to explain things. Oh, and the TV stays off more often than not.

I don't claim to be a perfect parent -- my kids fight, play too many computer games and generally misbehave sometimes, and I certainly holler at them and occasionally want to pull my hair out -- but they also provide many moments of amazement and love. I have no intention of stressing myself any further by comparing myself to some nonexistent, unattainable standard.

-- Karen Kasper

I really appreciated this piece, especially the dialogue that skewers the myth of the "'50s mom." My mother (in the '60s) didn't work outside the home and few of my friends' moms did. Yet, they sure weren't baking brownies, chauffering us around town, or buying educational toys. To a child, on nice days when we came home from school we'd get a snack (and not a healthy one either!) ourselves and then would be tossed outside to play until dinnertime, lest we mess up the house. When I joined the soccer team, the coach would drop me off on his way home and I would walk the rest of the two miles to my house. My mother would have never considered driving around to support my soccer playing.

Now I have two children and I highly advise other moms to follow a path that's worked for me: Turn off the TV. Not just for kids, but everyone. We watch maybe an hour or two a week. The kids watch videos on the weekends. We unwind by reading, or talking, or watching a movie ourselves. My daughter doesn't ask for every toy in the world or beg to go to McDonald's. Turn the fountain of stereotypes and perceived expectations off!

-- Angela Allen

I just wanted to thank you for that great interview with Susan J. Douglas. This ridiculous idealization of perfect motherhood has been annoying me for some time. I have my own special list of celebrities who piss me off by pretending to be mother of the year (Madonna, Cindy Crawford, Shania Twain, and many more).

It starts before the child is even born. You didn't even broach any baby-related subjects -- such as childbirth, epidurals, and breastfeeding. I have had people ask me if I was "disappointed" that my two daughters were born by cesarean section. No! I am happy that we all made it through childbirth alive and healthy. This isn't about having some fulfilling "experience."

Debunk the myths!

-- Denise LeBlanc-Bock

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