Yesterday I went to Rosebank for coffee and donuts. I waited 40 minutes for two Krispy Kreme donuts and 90 minutes for a Starbucks frappucino.

Starbucks KK-5732At Starbucks with my donut and frappe. (Photo by Wimpie, one of the friends I made while waiting in line outside Starbucks.)

It was worth the wait. Not because I’ve never had a Krispy Kreme or a Starbucks coffee before, and not because I couldn’t wait another minute to sample these over-hyped, all-American treats now that they’ve finally arrived in South Africa. It was worth the wait because waiting in those lines was a fun way to spend my Sunday afternoon. Also, I learned something.

Krispy Kreme lineThe line at Krispy Kreme, which remains lengthy even though the shop arrived in November 2015.

The outdoor line at StarbucksThe line at Starbucks, which opened less than two weeks ago.

I’ve always made fun of South Africans who wait in long lines when American and European chains first arrive here. It’s happened a lot recently: Burger King, H&M, Krispy Kreme and now Starbucks. How silly, I’ve always thought, to freak out about such mediocre brands. I drove past the lines, laughing and shaking my head. I wrote snarky Facebook posts.

Yesterday, I was sitting at home without much to do. I saw a Facebook photo of the Starbucks line, the poster and commenters making snarky quips about the queuers in the same way I’ve done before.

Suddenly, I was compelled to drive to Rosebank and join the line, for both Starbucks and Krispy Kreme.

I told myself this queuing expedition was purely for research purposes. But if I must be honest, I was jonesing for a donut.

In Line at Krispy Kreme

I went to the Krispy Kreme line first and struck up conversations with my fellow queuers. The teenage girl behind me, whose name I never got, had been to Krispy Kreme before. She was already licking an ice cream cone from Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream (a local brand), but wanted some donuts to eat during the movie she was about to see with her mother. She seemed matter-of-fact about waiting in the line — she’d done it before and would do it again. She likes the Krispy Kreme original glazed donuts and to her, they’re worth waiting for.

Donut spread at Krispy KremeCan you blame her?

The man in front of me, Allistair, was buying Krispy Kremes for the first time. Coming here was his wife’s idea, he said. (Allistair’s wife and son were holding a table inside the shop.) Allistair seemed cool with waiting in a 40-minute line, simply for curiosity’s sake. I didn’t get to speak to him for long; Allistair’s son came over and informed his dad that if you order a full dozen donuts then you can skip the line. Allistair disappeared and I kept waiting.

Allistair and Santiago at Krispy KremeI ran into Allistair and his son, Santiago, on my way out. The donuts were good, Allistair said, but a bit sweet for him. Nonetheless they were disappearing fast.

I bit into my “Bar One” donut as I left the shop. I liked the idea of a South-African-candy-bar-flavored Krispy Kreme. Alas, I found it rather dry. But my original glazed Krispy Kreme was moist and perfectly sweet — just as I remembered from the days when I ate Krispy Kremes during road trips through the American South, when the “Hot Donuts Now” neon sign was blinking and you could buy donuts straight from the fryer.

Totally worth the wait, and my two donuts only cost about R20 ($1.40).

In Line at Starbucks

My wait outside Starbucks was more emotionally charged. There was a lot more excitement, a lot more anticipation, a lot more selfie-taking and snap-chatting. I fell into conversation with Beverly, the woman in front of me, who was waiting for her husband and two daughters to join her in line. Her older daughter, 16-year-old Michaela, was so excited to go to Starbucks that she burst into tears in the car when she found out her parents were taking her there as a surprise. Michaela told me she had been dreaming of her first Starbucks coffee for many years — at least three or four.

I asked Michaela what she planned to order, and she looked up at the sky. “I have no idea,” she murmured dreamily, as her seven-year-old sister Lenë scampered around us. “I guess I’ll decide when we get in there.”

Wimpie and Michaela outside StarbucksMichaela and her dad, Wimpie, peruse a miniature Starbucks menu while waiting in line.

Starbucks line insideInside, finally, and waiting in yet another line. I was surprised to see that Starbucks beans have been rebranded and no longer come in those signature green-and-white bags.

Starbucks Joburg mugMy favorite thing about Starbucks was this awesome Joburg mug. I wanted it so badly — it has a hadeda! — but I can’t justify spending R250 ($17.50) for a coffee mug. 

Micaela with cups in StarbucksMichaela with her personalized cups, waiting for them to be filled. Her parents let her buy two drinks — one hot and one cold — and also bought her a reusable cup.

Lene at StarbucksLenë, who couldn’t care less about Starbucks but was happy to go along for the ride.

Chatting with Michaela and her family, I thought back to my mid-20s when I first started drinking Starbucks. Perhaps I wasn’t exactly like Michaela, but Starbucks was exciting to me too because I’d never really drunk coffee before. Gradually, my taste for Starbucks lattés faded as I was introduced to smaller, more artisanal coffee shops serving single-origin coffees made from freshly roasted beans. I’m not a big fan of Starbucks coffee anymore — I think there’s much better coffee out there — but I can’t ignore Starbucks’ role in making me a coffee fan. Starbucks might very well do the same thing for Michaela.

I ordered a tall (small) java chip frappucino, which cost me R41 ($2.87). It was tasty, like every other frappucino I’ve ever had, and I enjoyed drinking it. Incidentally, my favorite Starbucks drink is the peppermint mocha but it’s not available yet at the Rosebank Starbucks. I hope that changes soon.

Pretty gives me my StarbucksMy personalized frappucino, 90 minutes in the making, handed over by a lovely lady named Pretty.

Just as I received my frappe, a woman named Rose received hers too. Rose had been one person removed from me in line at both Krispey Kreme and Starbucks — apparently she had the same idea I had on that quiet Sunday afternoon. “I reeeeaaaaallly hope this is worth the wait,” she said as she picked up the frappe. It also was Rose’s first time at Starbucks.

Rose StarbucksRose, ready to roll with her frappe and donuts. I hope you enjoyed it, Rose.

Here’s the thing I learned during my day of line-waiting: It’s easy for me to scoff at the queuers and bemoan the intrusion of global mega-chains like Starbucks into the local South African market. But who am I to complain? I don’t know what it was like to grow up South African, cut off from the world in a country burdened by apartheid and its after-effects, without exposure to Western retail outlets and fast-food chains. To many South Africans, the entry of companies like Starbucks into the country is a big deal; it feels like South Africa is finally being noticed and acknowledged on a global stage.

I’m rambling. What I really want to say is that I had fun watching Michaela and Beverly and Rose and Allistair (and everyone else) have fun. I hope that makes sense.

Family at StarbucksBeverly (left), Lenë, Wimpie, and Michaela, with a table full of Starbucks treats and merchandise. They had fun and so did I.

Starbucks was fun, and maybe I’ll be back for a peppermint mocha. But I’ll still buy the bulk of my coffee from Bean There and Motherland and Father Coffee — as I’m sure all the other serious coffee lovers in Joburg will continue to do — while not begrudging Starbucks their place in the country.

Krispy Kreme is a different story. I might be back tomorrow for a dozen original glazed.

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