View from Rue Saint-Georges

The Bitter Truth

A culture exemplified by an over-sweet cuppa joe

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | February 27, 2019
Flickr/39908901@N06
Flickr/39908901@N06

In line at the Dunkin Donuts on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I stood transfixed by a sign that read, “Try a Girl Scout Cookie™ Inspired Espresso Drink” (e.g. a Thin Mint Latte). Reading these words triggered in me something akin to the existential “nausea” Sartre evoked in his famous novel. I felt something like despair, even dread, and utterly alienated from my surroundings. I realized that I was disgusted less with this particular product than with the profound immaturity, silliness, and inauthenticity of American life.

Living outside of the United States has had a destabilizing effect on me. I feel deeply American while I’m in Europe, but, on my trips home I’ve come to see my country through the befuddled eyes of a stranger. While I appreciate Girl Scout Cookies and Dunkin Donuts coffee, for me their combination exemplifies something depressingly artificial about our larger culture, and just as troubling, a presumed lack of capacity on the part of Americans to handle something so basic as the bitter reality of coffee. Such a concoction would never be developed for the European market.

And as I stood there pondering the shallowness of it all, I became unbearably aware of how we came to have the president we do.

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