If she hadn’t knocked over her grande green tea, spilling it all over the table, her scarf, her purse, narrowly missing the women next to her…
If she hadn’t been speaking English…
If I hadn’t gotten up and offered to buy her a new drink when she returned with a fistful of napkins…
We would have never talked, and I would never have found out that the person at the table across from me was also a writer, who had just published her first novel.
It was my first visit to that particular Starbucks, on Boulevard des Capucines, just around the corner from the Palais Garnier, the historic Paris opera house. There are plenty of Starbucks in Paris, including one in a small shopping mall near our apartment. While the Paris café scene is lovely, I like that I can get a grande caffé Americano at Starbucks that gives me more coffee sipping time than three allongés at a typical café. One location I particularly like is just three stops down the métro, but after reading about a notable one near the opera, I decided to make a point of checking it out.
It’s still a thrill to emerge from the métro to see another stunning Parisian sight like the Palais Garnier, but when I approached the Starbucks I was looking for, it looked like a carbon copy of every other one on every other corner. Was this really the right place? The entry and coffee bar as well were unremarkable…
But then there’s the substantial–and definitely-non-standard-for-Starbucks–seating area:
I don’t think those are the traditional Starbucks colors, or columns, or chandeliers…! Definitely worth a few more stops on the métro.
It so happens that this was the second time I’d chanced to meet another writer at Starbucks in Paris. Coincidences in fiction are usually annoying, and yet they happen in real life.
In December, the first writer I met at Starbucks was a woman I thought looked familiar–and with reason. She turned out to be from my neighborhood in Seattle, our kids had gone to the same school, and she knew my sister! What are the odds? Since then we’ve done a bit of critiquing for each other, and all because I thought she looked familiar, she had a shopping bag I recognized from Seattle, she was speaking English with her friend and I got up to say hello.
This time, the other writer turned out to be from Denmark and was living in Paris after spending time in England and New York City. After getting her table cleaned up and a new drink, we talked writing for a while–editing, publishing, cutting, cutting, and more cutting. In the process of editing her novel she cut it down from 480 pages to 300; no joke, taking words out can be harder than putting them down in the first place.
I told her I’d love to read her book, but unfortunately, my Danish is dreadful. More precisely, it’s nonexistent. That’s okay, her English is excellent, so the great conversation we had was more than worth the price of a green tea (even at Starbucks).
Travel guru Rick Steves says extroverts have more fun. He’s right. I’m not always the biggest extrovert (on all the personality tests I’ve ever done, I’m always right in the middle of the introvert/extrovert spectrum); sometimes I just want to keep to myself. But in both these times at Starbucks, I’m glad I took the time to say hello to someone I didn’t know. Just think what I would have missed out on if I’d kept my nose buried in my laptop screen.
A visit to Starbucks in slides
Bonus feature: follow me from my apartment to the Starbucks on Boulevard des Capucines in slides.