Starbucks doesn’t exactly top my proverbial list of forgotten glories. There are multiple reasons for this, including the present availability of coffee and coffee drinks, my historical habitative distance from Starbucks and my general preference of less corporate caffeine and ambience sources.
Starbucks still represents a deep part of me, though, and is a lifestyle/pastime/indulgence that I engage when available. It is, in some small way, a microcosm of America—that land that disregards my willful distancing of myself from it to core my cultural self-awareness. That’s why I seek it out when available. It’s the home I experienced a little of back home.
That’s what made this gift so special. It wasn’t that I craved Starbucks, I hadn’t dropped hints, I hadn’t declared my passion for the absented watering hole. No, this gift was motivated by awareness. I’ve received plenty of gifts since coming to China—mostly tassels, terra cotta and the knick-knacks I hoped to collect. I’m so expectant of being endowed with them I rarely bother to gather them myself. And they are predictably massing themselves on various shelves, ledges and walls in my room. I love them.
If my student had arrived in Beijing planning to buy a little something for some people she was interacting with, she would have left with a distinctly Chinese welcoming gift. And I would have felt welcome and appreciated and grateful. No, she experienced a little bit of America in Beijing, remembered at least one person who might be missing it and procured him a piece.
I considered saving it for a rainy day. I contemplated receiving it like Bethlehem water. I visualized it sitting in my refrigerator while I mulled the decision. I sat in my office and drank it because I felt like it and it was handy.
It provided everything America does best: sugar, comfort, indulgence, fat, ease, energy, relaxation.
I hope to give such gifts.
I’m told some people buy things simply because they want to buy something. It doesn’t matter what, as long as it’s relatively appropriate. I’ve never understood that. I only buy something when it convinces me I need it—usually a fairly difficult process, I happily report. I gift the same way. Unfortunately, I’m often as hard to convince in that situation too.
Those of you most familiar with me are most aware of my gifting malaise. There’s a reason—I despise intentional gifting, the sense that a gift is owed and is accordingly proffered. It’s not that I find it bad or wrong. I envy those of you good at it. Because I’m terrible at it. An object informs me it belongs with someone I know. I acquire and accommodate it. It’s a special moment—the hair rises on the back of my neck and lays down on the side of my head, colors saturate, planes sharpen, a withdrawal thrills me.
So when my gifts are lame, don’t blame me—blame the objects’ poor communication skills.
Or my ability to interpret them.