A few weeks ago, I noticed certain posts popping up on Facebook that made me wax nostalgic for fall in America. They were all about the arrival of:
Ah, the memories of that delectable autumnal con-coction that has eluded me now for years! Living here in France and rarely traveling back to my homeland between September and December, I had resigned myself to the likelihood that I might never again savor this cinnamon- and nutmeg-laced libation to the gods of falling leaves. After all, I knew from firsthand experience that the French don’t quite understand the pumpkin … at least not a sweet, spiced one …
You see, on my very first Thanksgiving in France, I was psychologically scarred by my French family. Back in 2010, I decided to treat them to a real American Thanksgiving dinner. I even went to an American specialty store in the Marais (called Thanksgiving, by the way) to get all the necessary ingredients to make a real Thanksgiving feast. Now, my French family simply adored the stuffing and the homemade cranberry sauce. The pumpkin pie, on the other hand, well … it just confused them:
“Hmm. Interesting. It would make a good appetizer. You know, with a side salad,” was my sister-in-law’s reaction.
Alrighty then … no more pumpkin pies for the Frenchies.
So, you can imagine my surprise last week when I happened across a photo of a Pumpkin Spice Latte posted on the Facebook Wall of an American friend living here in Paris. “Wait, wait … there is pumpkin spice at Starbucks in France now? Oh happy day!” I exclaimed (in a virtual way). It seemed that Starbucks was about to make my self-imposed exile just a bit sweeter … and with notes of Thanksgiving spices! Oh joy!
I decided immediately that my next mission for je parle américain would be to hunt down my first Pumpkin Spice Latte on French soil. Despite the unseasonal warmth afforded by our Parisian Indian Summer, I embarked on my quest this afternoon. Now, we’re not Manhattan, so there aren’t two Starbucks locations on every street corner, but there’s no shortage of them either. I ventured down to the Starbucks at 118 rue Monge, situated sort of in the Mouffetard neighborhood not far from my classes. I walked in, snapped a photo of the Pumpkin Spice ad for the blog (of course), and ordered my drink. When I got the pick-up counter, though, the barrista apologized:
“I’m sorry, sir. We’re out of Pumpkin Spice.”
“What? You’re kidding, right?” I half-pleaded.
“No, I’m sorry. We can make something else … or give you a refund.”
“I’ll just take a refund,” I sighed. “See you next time.”
What a bummer! I was ready to hang it up, but then I glanced at the time and realized I had some time to kill. Craftily, I consulted my handy Starbucks iPhone app to find the next nearest location: “Starbucks Saint Michel Cluny“
A man on a mission, I hopped on the Métro and off I went. Arriving at the next location, I snapped the photographic evidence of that visit and placed my order. As if in some Seinfeld sketch, I found myself standing there in utter dejection as the cashier/drink caller apologetically informed me that they, too, were completely out of Pumpkin Spice!
“Really? That’s not possible! You’re the second Starbucks I’ve gone to to get one.”
“I’m sorry. It’s a victim of its own success.”
Indeed. Guess I was completely wrong about the French and pumpkins after all.
Not to be deterred, I headed on to the next location on the list: “Starbucks Saint Michel Seine” — just up the road a bit. I got in line, wondering how comic this was going to get, and forgot to take the requisite photo. What can I say? I was a bit frazzled by this point.
“Hello. Do you still have Pumpkin Spice?” I inquired hopefully.
“Oh, yes. Of course.”
My relief was apparent, and certainly quite surprising for French service staff, who probably aren’t accustomed to a chatty American making such a big deal about a latte in his heavily- but charmingly-accented French:
“Oh, GOOD! I’m SO happy! You are the THIRD Starbucks I’ve been to this afternoon looking for it! They’re out of it EVERYWHERE!” I exclaimed.
I probably sounded like someone starting a Depression-era bank run, and I probably looked like a junkie desperate for a fix … what with the beads of sweat popping out on my forehead from running all over town and my evident state of overexcitement.
When I finally sat down with my Pumpkin Spice Latte (to which I had added extra cinnamon and nutmeg, ’cause I’m spicy like that), I was truly content. I savored the first sip, and although the temp was bordering on tepid, the flavors were just right.
For a moment, I felt like I was back home in America … except for the price <shudder>:
So, what had threatened to become a wild goose chase all over Paris ended up being a successful outing. Plus, it’s nice to know now that when I get a craving for a taste of America in my coffee, I can just stop by a Starbucks … or two … or three.
Now I’m just wondering if the Eggnog Latte is going to make an appearance in December. Stay tuned to see how many Starbucks I have to hit the week before Christmas before I can find one of those in this town!
P.S. — If you come into a Paris Starbucks in costume on Halloween, you’ll get a free tall Pumpkin Spice Latte. Is it worth saving $6? Let me know what you think!
© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved