Daniel W. Drezner

Letter from Basel….er… Basle… er… you know what I mean [UPDATED]

Letter from Basel….er… Basle… er… you know what I mean [UPDATED]

For the past week, your humble blogger has not been blogging from home, but rather in the Swiss city of Basel (for those speaking German), also called Basle (for those speaking French), teaching a summer course on the global political economy.

[Ahem, weren’t you doing this in Barcelona a few weeks ago?–ed.  Um… well… yes.  I know, I know, my life really sucks right now.]

My students this time are a bit more homogenous — 85% Swiss, with a few Germans and the stray Russian thrown in. A few minor notes: 

1.  Maybe it’s because they’re Swiss, but the whole "Americans are manipulating the world" meme isn’t as powerful here as it was in Barcelona.  I’ve been asked the occasional question about the military-industrial complex causing the Iraq War, and one student asked me about whether central bankers timed certain moves to bail out rich bankers during the Great Depression. Those were outliers, however.

2.  Man, if you think the bank bailouts are unpopular in the United States, try the Swiss reaction to the Swiss federal government’s bailout of UBS.  It’s to the Voldamortian point where they asked me not to say "UBS" because it’s so embarrassing. We have compromised — I can now say "UBS," but must then spit three times over my right shoulder to ward off evil spirits.

3.  McDonald’s is the most ubiquitous U.S. multinational in Europe, but I must say I’m impressed at the expanding reach of Starbucks. They now have coffeehouses in 15 European countries. This is pretty surprising to me, because it’s not like they have a shortage of good coffee on this continent.  It’s not cheap, either — a tall latte goes for about $6.50 here. 

How can they do this? I don’t think it’s the superior quality of the coffee — I don’t dislike Starbucks, but speaking personally, I prefer Illy and/or Peet’s

Rather, I would chalk it up to two other reasons. First, the cafes themselves are quite friendly and open — chalk a victory for Virginia Postrel here. Second, local cafes don’t have anything that approximates the frappuccino. [Aha!!  The secret American plan to fatten up Europeans is working!!–ed.  Shhhh…….]

UPDATE:  A source based in Geneva e-mails an additional explanation for the European success of Starbucks: 

My strong sense of Starbuck’s success here is that they have wifi and cheesecake. Forget the coffee – the foreigners love it because it’s familiar, and young Swiss who’ve traveled, because it’s fun. But everyone I know goes there mainly because of the easy and free connection plus seats that work if you have a laptop. I often meet people there – Lausanne or Geneva – for informal business meetings.

So there.