But come closer and enter a world where Moroccans talk soccer scores, Egyptians discuss revolution and Somalis argue over politics, all in a coffee chain store that has become an unlikely hangout for immigrants seeking the flavor of home.
After long days working as cab drivers, construction workers, scientists and business owners, they fill the outdoor seats each evening, mimicking old world cafes where men unwind and catch up over backgammon, hookahs and endless cups of coffee.
“It’s really part of our culture, to come to the café and talk about the events that happen,” said Ellafdi, an energetic 31-year-old who works in construction and lives in Alexandria. “As Muslims we don’t drink, we don’t go to the bar and hang out; we do this.”
A burly man with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair walked up Thursday evening and waved. “Salaam Alaikum,” he said.
“Alaikum Salaam,” answered seven or eight guys sitting out front in metal chairs pulled around one table.
A younger man rose and offered his seat. He remained standing as he and his friends talked with gesticulating hands in a Moroccan blend of Arabic, French and Spanish and other languages. They passed around a Blackberry playing a trailer of a new reality TV show taking place in the deserts, beaches and mountains of their homeland.
“It’s going to be Americans competing over there,” said Moe Mouad, 29, a Fairfax salesman. He laughed as the trailer showed a tribal leader declaring that he wouldn’t want any of the American female participants as his wives.
“We’re all going to watch it.”
It’s a largely male scene, and the men have been gathering here since 1997, a year after the Starbucks opened. A handful of Moroccans, Somalis, and other African and Middle Eastern immigrants who lived or worked in the neighborhood began to trickle in. They told friends to meet them there, and their friends told more friends, who began coming each day to linger over coffee and cigarettes.
“It’s strategic. It’s close to our houses, close to our jobs, so a lot of people just show up,” said Mouad, whose drink of choice is a doppio macchiato. “It’s not about the coffee,” he added. “It’s about the people.”
That is what first drew Ahmed Abdullahi, 55, a cab driver from Somalia, in the late 1990s. “I had one friend from back home. He said, ‘Come, I’m taking you to introduce you to the community.’ ”
Now, Abdullahi lives across the street and comes sometimes two or three times a day. He sips coffee with other Somalis, and they chew on the problems of their homeland — the pirate problem, the fundamentalism problem. “Sometimes we talk loud. When we talk about politics, we get heated,” he said, grinning sheepishly. “When native Americans see people talking loudly in a language they don’t understand, they get scared.”