Saturday, December 18, 2010

Don't Take "No" For an Answer

Asian culture is a funny one. On the one hand, they are extremely friendly and go above and beyond to help ignorant foreigners make their way in a strange land. On the other hand, they are rule-followers who are quite unable to think outside of the box. This is often frustrating for Americans who have learned that thinking outside of the box is usually a very admirable trait to have. One such frustration has occurred during our most recent trips to Starbucks.

If you recall, holiday season at Starbucks is an event that is marked on expat’s calendars across the peninsula. The snowflake cups and coffee-drinking penguins at the cash register create a sort of haven of Christmas cheer in no matter what corner of the globe you find yourself. This year’s holiday season has been made extra special by the addition of the peppermint mocha to the list of holiday offerings. In the absence of my mom’s sugar cookies, few things come closer to tasting like Christmas than this delicious beverage. Here is the downside. As I have lamented before, Starbucks in Korea does not offer decaf versions of their liquid Christmas cheer and as I am staying away from caffeine during pregnancy, this is very sad news indeed. However, there exists a suitable alternative to the peppermint mocha in such a time as this: the peppermint hot chocolate. It seems simple, right? No peppermint mocha, just order the peppermint hot chocolate. Here is the problem. The peppermint hot chocolate is not on the menu. “So what?” you scoff, “Starbucks takes great pride in customizing beverages for its high maintenance clientele.” While this is true in the outside-of-the-box part of the world, it is far from the case in the collectivist follow-the-rules part of the world. If it is not on the menu, it is impossible to create. End of story.

Though we knew what kind of trouble we might be getting ourselves into, I went ahead and tried to order a peppermint hot chocolate. The girl behind the cash register looked very confused. I clarified that I wanted a hot chocolate with one shot of peppermint syrup. “No,” she replied simply. We encouraged her that it was actually okay to do. Just make the hot chocolate and put in one shot of peppermint. She turned to the person making the drinks and confirmed her previous negation. “No, I’m sorry.” Still smiling and friendly, we continued to explain to her how to ring it up on the cash register. Put in one hot chocolate and then press the key that is labeled “extra flavor shot”, come on, you can do it! She turns to her manager, obviously in distress over the foreigners who don’t seem to be understanding her. Was she mispronouncing the word “no”?. The third “no” inspired us to pull out the big guns. Hands placed firmly on what remains of my waist, I accented my giant pregnant belly and explained that I am unable to consume their caffeinated drinks of choice. After quite a bit of hemming and hawing in Korean, they finally decided to grant the poor pregnant foreigner her Christmas wish. Goal achieved! Peppermint hot chocolate made. This exact scene is played out every single time I decide to torment the unfortunate barista and every single time we end up wearing down their resolve and getting the peppermint hot chocolate.

Most recently, I have tried a tactic that has cut down on the time between ordering and acceptance of the order significantly. Jumping straight to the big guns, I whip out the belly and order a peppermint mocha… without espresso (gesture to baby bulge). Confusion often melts into understanding without any of the middle men and I get my peppermint mocha without espresso. How’s that for thinking outside the box?

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