Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yes, I'll have my coffee with some legs

It's pretty clear that I am a proud resident of Santiago Centro and a morning like this one is exactly why. In under 45 minutes I cashed/deposited checks at two banks (NOT the norm for me), went to the supermarket next door, AND stopped by one of my favorite Santiago Centro cafes: Cafe Caribe. This incredible weather has a lot to do with it, but it's also the convenience of everything.

I have been thinking about Chilenidad since reading the past few posts over at Cachando Chile and talking it over with my students. Yesterday, we made a list of all the things that we think of when we think of Chilenidad and one of my students wrote Cafe con Piernas, which got me thinking about how much I love SOME of them and how much I would miss them outside of Chile.

I'm pretty confident that everyone living in Chile or even researching a trip to Chile knows about the famous Cafe con Piernas. I also think most newly arrived visitors hit one up within days of arriving here because they're written up in every guide book and even featured on the travel channel hit show Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.

I certainly visited Cafe Haiti my first week here and didn't plan on going back after my token tourist experience. I thought, "OK, weird and uncomfortable outfits, kinda skeezy men hitting on the servers, and I have to stand up--no thanks."

Now, I see Cafe con Piernas (the ones where you can SEE through the glass, not the strip club ones) in a whole different light. It's a place where you can get an espresso and soda water for about $1.25 in under a minute. Seriously, those women work FAST and they are equally nice to women as they are to men because everyone seems to tip prety well there. What I also love is that I can indulge in a cigarette as I drink my coffee (probably one of my favorite combinations in the world, as much as I try not to smoke) and feel blissfully at home among the groups of co-workers having a quick cigarette and coffee break together.

Don't get me wrong. There are things I don't like. I still hear some men saying gross things to the servers and watching as they laugh it off since this guy's a regular and he tips well. That part makes me skin crawl, but I'm also surprised at how ingenious the business idea is if you take out the skimpy outfits. I've always joked about starting a Cafe con Piernas for women, but I'd be happy with what they have now minus the dresses and heels because if you take that aspect out of it, it's a cheaper and faster alternative to Starbucks and it's just around the corner from me.

So, thanks to my student (who I hope was talking about the same cafe I'm talking about), I'm adding Cafe Caribe to my Chilenidad list. I love the place and will go more than usual this month.

Anyone else like them as much as I do? Anyone think it's horrible for a woman to go to a place like that? I'm interested to read what others think.


Annje said...

(gah, I had a comment almost written and I lost it)

I have mixed feelings about these places. I can totally see the convenience/price benefits-they are similar to those coffee bars in Italy-just a little racier. I think the sleazy comments are atrocious and I hate that women are often in jobs where that is just "part of the territory" and must be tolerated for tips, but in terms of what they wear, (short, right skirts, usually, from what I have seen, maybe a bikini type top--wiht the exception of Red Baron (does it exist anymore, I heard no) with its million dollar minute) really they are about as harmless as Hooters or cheerleaders. I think the fact you go is great... why should you pay more or walk farther? I wasn't as much of a coffee drinker when I lived there, but I think I went a few times.

I guess the hard part, for me personally, is the whole idea of "subjecting" women to job descriptions focused on what they look like and where they have to expect to be treated like sex objects. I don't know where the line is drawn between a seemingly harmless "cafe con piernas" and a full-on strip club (besides what you are drinking and the time of day)--which I do have issues with. I hate the whole stripping/porn/prostitution industries and having had family members involved in that kind of work (stripping), hearing what goes on, and seeing what happens to women's self-image and the way they relate to men and even to other women, I completely and fully reject the idea that some women just really want and love to do that and get that kind of attention and I hate that that is used as a justifcation.

I tend to be hyper-sensitive though... issues much? maybe...

Renée said...

When I lived in Chile I never went to a cafe con piernas, though I I always wanted to but never got enough courage to go alone.

Like Annje, I also have mixed feelings about them cause they're seedy and they do pretty much objectify women but on the other hand I've also had friends and family who have worked at strip clubs and have had different ideas about such places.

I think it depends on the person - a close relative of mine, who already had issues, worked at a place like that and made a TON of non-taxed money. Like ridiculous amounts. My best friend used to cocktail at a strip club and basically put it this way, "It's just women taking advantage of men and trying to see how much they can get out of them." Harsh, but true. In both situations, men and women allow themselves to be taken advantage of, so as long as everyone is a consenting adults, more power to them.

And if I had known coffee was that cheap and you could smoke ciggies (though I quit now back at home), I would have so picked a ccp over any over priced street nescafe anyday.

Isabel said...

Annje and Renee- yeah, the mixed feelings. That's why I never used to go to them, but then I thought, "hey! why can't I go?? At least I won't be hitting on the women" and then I really took a liking to them. And I was thinking about Hooters, too, Annje. It seems like the CCPs (didn't think of that abbreviation before) that are not also strip clubs are now more of a novelty than anything else, but then I do always think about the regulars there and how gross i think they are. There is a huge difference between the ones I go to and the ones I think should not exist and where the skeeziest, grossest men go.

Renee, your point about women taking advantage of the men is a tough one. I think in the U.S., women can make a KILLING in that industry and not pay taxes, but here I don't think most of the women make that much so I'm not sure they feel that same sense of empowerment. Have you read the book Half the Sky?? My conclusion based on that book is that unless it's a system like in Sweden where it's illegal for men to pay for a prostitute, but legal for women to prostitute themselves, it's a man's world.

OK, re-read my comment about prostitution and think I'm not clear. I hate it, but then I look at it in the U.S. and know people who strip and think it's their right and they can do whatever they want. I guess I just wish there were a bigger emphasis on the female's rights and healthcare. Apparently here in Chile (according to one of my students), women get charged all the time for prostituting but the men who pay for them don't. I guess the cops use the men paying the prostitutes to turn on the women so they don't get in trouble. That is just so sick to me, but I know much worse happens in other countries.

Heather said...

Isabel, it seems you are always giving me "hints" about coffee in this city. (which I am very happy about by the way!)
I wasn't sure what the feeling was about women just stopping in for a coffee, so I haven't ventured into one yet although I am very intrigued and really wanting a GOOD cup of coffee.
Today I did spend some time at a cafe literario, so I guess next on my list has to be a ccp. :)

KM said...

i love coffee from cafe caribe and cafe haiti...before i was working i used to meet my hubby down there for coffee (he worked at the big old banco de chile building where there is ALWAYS either a crazy bible beater yelling or some sort of street entertainer right out front that i'd watch until he'd meet me...meeeeemorieeeees)...Re: women's rights, prostitution, etc. - it's a bit like anythign else - if you can make money, people will do it. so either we have to hope (fight?) for people to stop wanting porn/strip clubs/prostitution OR (my preferred approach) we need to a) legalize it which means we can b) regulate it i.e. mandatory drug/HIV tests, i.e. you gotta pay taxes on those tips (all of a sudden it's not oh so lucrative so many will go do something that doesn't require dangling naked in front of a trucker in mid-Missouri) about a great way to get revenue for the gov't - move over Obama with your silly infrastructure program, legalize prostitution and then tax the sh*t out of strip/prostitution clubs - i peronsally believe that, fortunately or not, some form of sex stuff like this will always exist (though also believe it doesn't have to be dehumanizing/disgusting/degrading)and there will ALWAYS be some man or woman wanting to make money off of it by running a brothel or what-have-you and they will pay the tax premium to keep it going bc they'll always have a steady flow of customers. same way i feel about cigarette taxes - keep hiking them up - more revenue for public schools! and i also have similar feelings about legalizing drugs. all of them. do it. ok now i sound like a liberal freak. though perhaps that's just me and i ought to accept it.

Isabel said...

Heather- I guess my subconscious has coffee on the brain--I totally forgot I had just written a coffee post. I would definitely try a CCP, but don't expect GREAT coffee. It's better than Nescafe, of course, but I don't think it's great. Just good.

KM- I totally agree with you on a lot of things, but have you read about the results of legalizing prostitution in Amsterdam? Yes, women get health benefits and HIV/AIDS rates go down. It's safer, too. BUT trafficking of YOUNG women from other countries doesn't stop. In fact, the rate increases. The only thing that so far seems to stop trafficking is arresting men for paying prostitutes. I think it also depends a lot on the country.

I'm with you on legalizing drugs in light of everything that's going on near the US-Mexico border.

KM said...

i just came across this and thought you should read it. i'd suggest you read it very carefully - do lots of googling, talking to + lawyers and then eventually when i ahve time i'll email you back (this weekend = my goal). i have to say that i would agree with 99.9% of what this guy says:

Margaret said...

Hi Isa-
I think it's so cool that you talk about this stuff with your students... it's such a great way to learn about the culture... but did you ask them to really DEFINE the "CCP"? I don't think they're talking about Café Haití or Caribe,where the servers are skimpily clad, but that a real CCP is the type where you CAN'T see through the windows--like the famous Baron Rojo (the most famous of them all).
Time for more investigation, I guess!

Maeskizzle said...

wow, we have a lot to say about cafe con piernas. I love Cafe Haiti and Cafe Caribe, for the same reasons you do. It's cheap & quick. And ethical or not, I like the senoritas con "buena presencia". hehehe. I used to get coffee their often.

I agree with Margaret. I think that probably most Chilean men-I don't know about Chilean women-would not consider Cafe Haiti or Cafe Caribe to be Cafe con piernas. Perhaps we could say they are Cafe con piernas, rated pg. hehehe.

Yeah it sucks that the women have to work in prostitution and other jobs where they market their bodies and get exploited. But not everyone was born into the same privilege as we were.

Not all porn is the same, however. If you want to check out an empowered women in the porn industry, google Erika Lust. She's a Swede in Barcelona who directs her own movies. "The Clinic" interviewed her like a year or two ago. It was a great interview.

Oooh, and on the subject of coffee, oh my Lord I found the best coffee I've had in 10 years!!! At this coffee shop here in Portland where they roast their own beans. And they roast them lightly. Something NO ONE does in the U.S. or Chile. In Spain they had awesome coffee too, and when I came back to the states after living in Spain, the coffee always has tasted burnt to me. In Chile too. And finally, I found the not-burnt taste coffee again and looove it. Yay!