Seizing on Starbucks' snub - because we're proud of bean Irish


GRRR. ARRGH. Can’t you see it? The red that infuses the green of our proud land, regardless of what Starbucks tried to do this week. Can you feel it? It wells up inside the most patriotic of us at the merest hint of a slur. It’s the anger, outrage, fury.

You didn’t feel it this week? Wrong. You just didn’t follow the right stories.

Starbucks made us angry with its tweet asking Irish people what made them proud to be British during jubilee week. A good response won you a frappuccino. Well, the company got a response. “You are clueless p****s and your coffee tastes like baby formula,” said Graham Linehan via Twitter. He may not have got a frappuccino, but it reflected a mass outrage that would have been more obvious if more people weren’t spending their time coming up with funny answers to the question. It’s how we deal with the pain.

Still, it made international news. The reports depicted us as a proud nation, sensitive to the memories of the land generations died for and, thankfully, not as an overly precious mob who had mistaken for the desecration of Irish history a clumsy tweet to 2,000 followers of a coffee chain. That would have looked bad.

All that media coverage made sure to remind us of other “greatest outrages”, most recently when Nike came out with Black and Tan runners. These were not sold in Ireland and were named after a tasty alcoholic drink rather than a murderous early 20th-century military outfit. But still. Nike has never quite recovered.

And the reporting of that Nike controversy featured an obligatory reference to the shock caused when Ben Jerry’s had, some years previously, produced a “Black Tan” ice cream. Rather than being another innovative scoop of deliciousness for the freezer market, it was instead a dreadful, if ultimately scrumptious, snub to Ireland’s bloody fight for independence.

And it all adds to the wrath displayed when Urban Outfitters this year earned column inches for selling a line of clothing that played on clearly outdated stereotypes of drunken Irish. It stocked a baseball cap with a stick figure on all fours, vomiting shamrocks, and the phrase “Irish Yoga”. Outdated and insensitive. (Did you see the Late Late Show anniversary special? My own outrage at the continuation of clearly outdated stereotypes of drunken Irish was clouded by confusion over how to feel about Sinéad O’Connor. When she first dressed as a priest, more than a decade ago, it was disturbing and worrying. Now it’s strangely comforting. That’s what too much Reeling in the Years will do to you, I suppose.)

All of which has taught us that we’re not a nation that will stomach the ham-fisted imposition of foreign brands and their cultural awkwardness onto the Irish high street. Not unless they at least pretend to care about us.

The Daily Mail followed pretty quickly on Starbucks’ heels. After the Olympic torch relay, it angered the nation (as represented by some people on the internet), and turned the clock back 800 years, with this headline: “If will.i.amirritated you when he carried the torch, look away now! Z-listers Jedward run with Olympic flame . . . and what is it doing in IRELAND?”

While a factor, the anger was not a result of its slighting of Jedward, who are now a joke that the rest of the world clearly needs to get very soon if we are to have any further dealings with it.

Instead, people seemed particularly livid at that headline. Not because it was exceedingly long: beginning with a rapper’s eye-jolting pseudonym; followed by a mid-headline exclamation mark; and throwing in an ellipsis, as if a sentence can be treated as a syntactic tasting menu. No, the fury was for its use of capital letters, which were clearly meant to indicate “Ireland!!!” or “seriously, Ireland??” or “Paddies?”

Would italics have soothed our patriotic anger? Unlikely. It would have required something far smarter, perhaps a reference to the beginning of that long headline. Say, “ . . . and what is it doing in Ire.l.and?”

Anyway, when I went into the College Green Starbucks in Dublin the day after the coffee giant’s PR furore, a great many customers filled the cafe.

It was hard to be certain, but on closer inspection it did seem that many had made their protest clear. Yes, they were buying expensive, ridiculously named coffees, but they were then completely ignoring those hard, dry biscuits Starbucks stocks. You don’t mess with the Irish.


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