Chile Culture — 14 April 2011
There are all kinds of coffee shops here in Santiago. Of course Starbucks is as omnipresent here as it is in the USA. Patrons in upscale neighborhood of Providencia and the glitzy malls in Las Condes line up as they do in the USA for cappuccino-this or a frappucini-that whose price is as perplexing as the name.
Downtown in Central Santiago there is a chain of Café Haiti and other coffee bars with granite bars, brass rails, mirrored wainscoting with the flung door wide open to the air and passing pedestrians. Here you pay $2 or so for a cup of coffee or tea and the obligatory glass of sparking water which a handsomely dressed female will bring you. This is a bar in the traditional sense meaning there is no place to sit. You stand while sipping your coffee, reading the paper, or just watching the office workers walk by. The customers here are both male and female.
The next two types of coffee bars serve only men. At the first there is no smiling Starbucks barrista—there have other people on hand to do that—but the women working here manning the bar are indeed smiling and they give you a kiss when you come in the door. They wear clinging skirts, designed to entice, that show their ample hips and décolletage. Your are free to chat with these women as flirting and chatting is what they do in addition to bringing you the same $3 cup of coffee and glass of sparking water. If you tell them you are a writer they might even let you snap their picture with no flash of course. That would molest the clientele and owner.
Then there is the coffee with legs coffee shop or “café con piernas” as it is called in Spanish. Here it still costs $3 for coffee and a glass of water but the women are wearing not much at all. Alcohol is not sold yet the lights are dim and the music somewhat loud as if it were some kind of risqué bar. You pay the cashier when you enter; buy a ticket for a coffee, hot chocolate, or whatever; then sidle up to the bar and whichever female is free will attend you. Of course she gives you a kiss but here her g-string hardly covers her fanny–an appendage which she constantly wiggles like some lightning bug in heat. The women working here earn tips as well but some just might be hookers. If you don’t ask them to rendezvous for a date they might ask you. Going price: $100 USD.
Feminists and cultural critics of all kinds might condemn the very idea of men going to the coffee bars to flirt with paid coquettes. Isn`t this somehow demeaning to women? Isn’t that pathetic to the male?
As for the male, I think not. Men the world over are as Maureen Dowd wrote “as predictable as a pile of wood”. We long for the glance of the fleeting ankle, the swollen bust, the hips that enthrall us. All that visual stimulus of the telenovelas (soap operas) , office girls pressed together in the subway, Shakira and the nymphet Miley-Cyrus-child-turned-woman titillates and confuses us. It torments yet excites us and if you believe Sigmund Freud it fills every minute of our thinking. That one should drink coffee will leering at females is not at all extraordinary. Drinking coffee is ordinary. After all you can do that at Starbucks. But it’s the second half of the endeavor which adds to the excitement.
As for the female let’s look for a minute at to what women aspire. If you have read the Victorian age novels it is written there in black and white. Such and such countess marries such and such baron who together will add to their burgeoning income with an additional 5,000 pounds British Sterling. How is this any different than today? There are several ways a woman can earn a livelihood. She can marry money; as have done countless queens and lesser nobility before her; she can think and grow rich as have Marie Curie and a handful of other thinkers and scholars; or they can work. But what is more exciting? To plug away at the daily grind in the office or retail shope or serve coffee to men who admire you for your feminine graces. Doesn’t a women long to be flattered and appreciated for her beauty? Of course many women work as engineers and the culture would collapse without that. But need they all do the same? What would you prefer? A world in monochrome or one in vivid technicolor?
As for myself I go to the coffee with legs shop a couple of times per week with my mates in the office because to do otherwise I would not be part of the team and I enjoy the experience. But the truth is I prefer the less risqué bars where the lights are brighter and the music less loud as I think the darkened places with the nearly nude women a bit cheesy. Still the other type of bar can be uncomfortable as well. It was with embarrassment that I asked a friend to direct me to a bar where I could drink beer with a female friend from Canada who had flown down to visit her internet lover. He assumed my friend was a male and pointed me to the café con piernas albeit one where the women wear clothes. Thank goodness they were not naked as my friend might have though me some kind of demented pervert.