Navigating a Japanese Starbucks

The first time I walked into a Japanese Starbucks, I thought I was ready.  It’s pretty easy, really.  “Large” translates to “Grande,” in some bizarro Italian-English-Japanese-word hybrid, and “coffee” is just a bastardized pronunciation of the same:  “ko-hee.”  Even “Hot” is, well, “Hotto.”  So it’s not rocket science.  Coffee’s just about all they sell, so they’ll definitely figure it out.  Anyway, that’s what I thought.

It was a Starbucks in Ginza.  I remember it clearly because it was a sunny day and I was sweating like a Shiba, having just walked back from a sushi lunch in Tsukiji wearing a suit.  The moment I stepped through the door, a young lady in black and green greeted me.  I was ready.  “Hotto co . . .” I started to say.

But instead of saying “Welcome,” she blurted out, “Right now, all the seats are full,” in Japanese.  I understood the words all right, but why was she saying them?  I looked behind me, like maybe she was talking to someone else, but it was like the Sahara back there.  Whatever, once I make a plan, I stick with it.

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