Starbucks has become my unofficial office…Two or three days of the week I have a full schedule of teaching in a suburb of Santiago called Nueve Las Condes (kind of like the Sandton CBD). My first lesson is bright and early at 7:45 and I finish around 7:30 in the evening. In between lessons there is no point in going all the way home, so the local Starbucks has become my “office”. I sit there for hours working on my laptop and watching the world go by and I also teach one of my lessons there.
Now you may be wondering why Starbucks and not some local Chilean cafe? I have never been a fan of global chains of generic coffee shops or restaurants which take over and often destroy many smaller, local competitors; but sadly there are not alot of other options in this fancy business neighbourhood of the city. And Starbucks has free wi-fi, you can sit there for hours and the staff are really friendly and now know me by name.
But going back to the topic of local cafes…for a while I have been wanting to write about a unique and rather different kind of coffeeshop in Santiago … “Cafe con piernas” or “Coffee with legs“.
When I first heard this name after arriving in Santiago, I thought it must mean something like “coffee on the go”…a really quick cup of coffee in between your busy day. In some ways, I was not far off the mark with this assumption. These coffee shops have no chairs or tables and don´t serve food. You simply order your coffee and drink it standing at the counters. Simple and quick…
This may sound pretty normal to you, but the unique factor about these cafes, is the women serving you…tall, slim, beautiful Latinas in stiletto heels and tight mini-dresses that leave almost nothing to the imagination. Well, this description is for the PG-rated cafes such as Cafe Haiti which have clear glass windows and everything is visible to passers-by. The more x-rated cafes could be mistaken for stripclubs with their blacked out windows, erotic silhouettes of naked women, suggestive names and inside the waitresses are wearing next to nothing…literally.
According to Wikipedia, these cafeterias exploded in the city centre of Santiago in the 90´s at a time when many coffee shops were suffering economically. Another idea is that they became popular at the end of the dictatorship when Chileans finally felt free of an oppressive regime and had the liberty to express themselves in what ever way they wanted. I am not sure what the exact origin is, but the idea of a quick coffee being served by sexy, scantily clad women became very popular, very quickly. The centre of Santiago has dozens of these cafes.
Chile to me is a country so full of contrasts and contradictions…the culture and people are considered to be the most conservative and reserved of all latinos…very Catholic and proper! But then you see another side of life… where the idea of “cafe con piernas” is only the tip of the iceberg. Many conservative Chileans hate the idea of these cafes (granted, mostly women), but that does not seem to stop thousands of business men enjoying their morning coffee while at the same time enjoying a bit of eye-candy…PG or X-Rated.
Definitely a little different to my local Starbucks….