December 17, 2011
HAVANA TIMES, Dec 17 — How ironic it is for them to go around
proclaiming here in Cuba: "Striving to achieve excellence in food
service and customer attention!"
This, among many others, is one of the inventions you have to listen to
daily in the iniquitous marketing attempts by our media to feign the
friendly treatment and quality that people deserve.
In the heart of Santiago de Cuba, at the busy corner of Aguilera and
Calvary, is the La Isabelica café. Many people go there given its
centric location, and it was there where I witnessed something that
could only be described as servility to hard currency.
I went in for some cigarettes — a place that's usually always packed,
even with customers standing in line waiting for tables — but it was
deserted. There was only one single table occupied by two tourists, who
were quietly sipping their coffee.
But, honestly, I didn't give the matter any importance because I was in
a hurry and had only gone in to satisfy my bad smoking habit.
But right behind me, a young man sat down at a table and asked the
clerk, "One coffee, please."
The clerk — with a somewhat upset voice — replied: "We're not serving
because there's no water."
To that the young guy replied, "But those foreigners are drinking coffee."
Almost sarcastically and in a conclusive manner, she responded, "But
that coffee is sold in hard currency, sonny."
I was almost at the door when the young man looked at me shocked,
shrugged his shoulders and thought aloud, "So there's water for coffee
in hard currency but not for coffee in national currency?"
I didn't have much time to discuss the issue with him; I only commented
that it wasn't unusual to get a response like that.
By virtue of having been mistreated for so long, you end up assuming
that things as ridiculous as these are to be expected in the lives of
any of us who pay in local currency.
If the coffee servers have no water to provide the service, they won't
make alternative efforts to fill their pots. It's not their business so
they don't care who gets the urge to drink coffee.
On the other hand, they're savvy enough to always maintain a "little
reserve" of the precious liquid for tourists who come in anxious for the
They are people who will leave tips for the waiters, who can use the
money to buy needed items for their homes from the hard currency store,
which doesn't accept our national currency.
Therefore the waiters and clerks don't go to a lot of trouble for
customers who don't benefit them. If one has to be helpful and
serviceable — sorry, I meant to say humble and servile — it has to be
for hard currency.