Serendipity at Starbucks

Version 2If 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.




Where to write

If you’re going to write, you might as well find a beautiful place to do it. I’m happy to write at home, on the couch, on the floor, at the dining table, or even at a desk, but I also love to get out and find new places. It’s Paris, after all; time to make the most of it!

Coffee conundrum

Coffee shops here, sad to say, can’t really compete with what we’ve got going on in America. Expensive joe in small cups in places that aren’t terribly laptop friendly. And even most cafés that are good for setting up the computer don’t have the greatest coffee. So, while I never imagined it happening here, Starbucks has become my friend. I’ve found a few I like (and they’re just like you’d imagine), but I’ve got my sights on one that I just learned about that’s nothing like what’s back home in the States. Stay tuned.

One great coffee place that recently opened is run by the famed Shakespeare & Co. (which also has a room in the bookstore where you can read or write or hang out as well). Good coffee and views of Notre Dame? Absolutely!


Writing very quietly

If the coffee isn’t that great, why not just hit the library? Why not, indeed! We have a membership at the American Library in Paris, which is great for checking out books (I just picked up three by Ray Bradbury) and videos, but it’s a bit sterile as far as the writing environment goes. But this is Paris, so have no fear, an opulent library isn’t far.

Today I joined the Bibliothèque Mazarine, fifteen euros for a year’s access. If you’ve been to Paris, you’ve probably seen the dome of the building it’s housed in:


View from the Pont des arts (the Love Lock bridge–although the locks are gone now)

It’s full of old, rare books and is run with military precision. You must clear security, check in, and then are assigned a specific place to sit. Don’t even think about talking or eating or drinking or taking photographs unless you want to lose your visa and be on the next flight to wherever the French dump enemies of the state. But once settled inside, it’s a wonderful place to work. I think I’ll be spending more time at the library than ever before.


Don’t worry, I found these photos online. I didn’t want to lose my privileges on my first day!