This is Journalism?

When I hear “Seattle Post Intelligencer” I think large newspaper with professional writers. Maybe I’m wrong.

I was reading Google News for the headlines, like I do every morning, and came upon this article about Starbucks opening a shop in the Amsterdam Central Station. Yippee! Finally a Starbucks outside of Schiphol Airport! Starbucks set up its European roasting and distribution center in NL, so why not shops?

This headline linked to the article in the SeattlePI. I went there are read the whole thing. It was written by someone named Andrea James, who, from the writing, I think must be about 17. The part that really annoyed me is this:

In Amsterdam, coffee shops are popular with tourists because people can gather in them to smoke marijuana, which appears alongside coffee on menus. Starbucks says it does not allow smoking at any of its locations worldwide.

This is obviously an article the writer didn’t bother to really research and she’s clearly never been to Amsterdam. AND I doubt she’s ever had experience with multiple languages using the same words to mean completely different things. No one in this country would ever call Starbucks, or the Coffee Company (the popular company that is Starbucks’ competition) a “coffee shop”. The Dutch have taken over an English term and turned it into something with its own meaning. Somewhere that you go to drink coffee and maybe have a croissant or a cup of tea or a sandwich would be a “coffee house” or “lunchroom”. Somewhere you would go to buy pot and possibly something to drink (not necessarily coffee) would be a “coffee shop”. That’s just the way the name evolved.

To make the comparison of a “coffee shop” and Starbucks, in the same paragraph, is just wrong, and silly, and misleading, and just bad journalism. Sorry Andrea, it just is.

Assuming that English words mean the same thing in every country can be a dangerous thing to do. Even between the English and Americans there are so many words that mean really different things. Don’t go to England and complain that your pants are too tight. You will be greeted with giggles. Pants in England are your underwear and the English always giggle when you mention underwear. You would do better to say that your trousers are too tight and you’d be directed to the nearest department store.

Speaking of languages, here’s a tip for tourists coming to NL. Always assume that everyone understands English. This will avoid the embarrassment of commenting in a normal tone of voice about someone’s clothes or hair or tattoos because you think they don’t understand you anyway and you can say what you like and not offend. Think again.

I’ll get off my soapbox now, before I really get going on Dutch and English comparisons.

3 thoughts on “This is Journalism?

  1. withsticks August 20, 2008 / 22:34

    *klein dansje voor de Starbucks in CS*
    Nu kan ik mijn verslaving ook in Nederland bij houden.

    “Always assume that everyone understands English. ”

    *high five*

  2. Lisa August 28, 2008 / 22:45

    It’s a US publication written for US readers, the online version of a print paper. Of course they’re going to use the US meaning of the term. If it were written for NL readers, one might care whether the term “coffee shop” meant the same thing everywhere, but it’s not. Your snark is unjustified.

  3. Laura August 29, 2008 / 16:22

    Not unjustified. A “coffeeshop” in Amsterdam is a pot-smoking place. A “koffiehuis” is a place like Starbucks. These are two totally different animals.

    The reporter could have equated a “coffieshop” with a candy store and been equally as accurate.

    The article, by referring to the wrong kind of establishment, just reinforces the stereotype that the Dutch are a bunch of potsmokers (I personally don’t know any who do)…whether it’s for an American audience is irrelevant; they deserve accurate reporting too, don’t they?

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