Starbucks and Hipsterism
I often observe Polish people on the street, which as I have been living in the country for many years, is certainly a hard thing to avoid. One thing that has particularly grabbed my attention over the last few years is the way Poles – at least in Warsaw anyway – have fell in love with Starbucks and Costa Coffee and a plethora of other aptly named American-style cafes. Since the mid-2000s they have grown in popularity, and it is very common to see people buy their daily fix of caffeine from one of these sales points. Why, one may ask? Is it because the coffee’s of a far superior quality than anything sold in a traditional Polish cafe? Or maybe it’s because it’s more convenient? It could be that, yet I suspect the real reason has its route in the Polish middle-class’s narcissistic inclinations more than anything else. To walk around the street holding a paper cup with the Starbucks logo is a social statement of sorts. They want to be cool, at least seem it anyway, and the best way to do that is to go ‘po Amerykansku’ or in an ‘American style’. Going to McDonald’s is old hat. Wearing Levi’s, which during the Communist era was a real statement of coolness and rebellion, (and only if you were rich enough to have the dollars to pay for them in the Pewex store or lucky to have a family member living in Chicago), has no more meaning. So why not drink coffee instead in Starbucks? What better way to show people on the street how westernized you are, even if the coffee itself is relatively expensive and beyond the financial limits of, say, eighty percent of the population.
If you wander in to any Starbucks in Warsaw, you’ll find a mixture of business-types, tourists and hipsters. The word hipster, it turns out, is a new buzzword in big Polish cities. A hipster is a person who wears funky, branded clothes and spends their time in cafes, working freelance, eyes glued to their iBook or iPad through RayBan glasses while admiring their Vespa moped they’ve strategically parked outside in full view of the public. They’re children of rich parents – people working in television, celebrities, presidents of multinational companies. They can afford the lifestyle, which can’t be said for the rest of city’s population, the working poor, the unemployed and the homeless.
So, they’ve ordered their latte takeout, and now they’re on the street, looking cooler than cool with their recycled paper cup, going to where ever it is they’re going to. But these are hipsters, and maybe I’m being a little unfair to them: that’s what they’re all about, right? Looking the bee’s knees and all that. All’s forgiven.
But there are other people who make me laugh — these are your office workers, the ones who work nine to five, five days a week, 339 days a year give or take a few for national holidays and the 26 which count as statutory holiday. Now, these people love Starbucks too; however, they’re not hipsters, and never will be. They even ridicule their funkier brethren, but maybe the taunts are just a way to alleviate the huge complex they have about themselves, because they aren’t cool – they’re in suits and smart dresses, for Christ’s sake. But they still come to Starbucks for the coffee, even though in their own offices they have coffee machines that make some fine coffee. Yet no, they’re not interested. They want a bit of hipsterism in their lives, and drinking a latte on the street from a recycled paper cup with the Starbucks logo on it gives them a bit of that.
It that sense the Poles remind me of when I was living in Dublin in 2007. I hadn’t lived in the city since the early 1990s and it was strange to see all kinds of Irish people from every level of society walking down Grafton Street, holding a recycled paper cup with the Starbucks logo on it, drinking it with a face on them like they’d just licked the arse off a scabby tramp, trying to be cooler than cool with the cup in their hand that they’d only throw away if they hadn’t paid the five euros for the thing in the first place and exchange it for a cup of tea. Yes, they all looked gold-star gobshites, most of them anyway, particularly the Yuppies – only a year away from their own private hell. I felt like going up to them and saying: “You’re Irish, for fuck’s sake, drink your tea!”