South Africa, one of the few countries in the world with a directional name and yet I still meet the odd person who dares to ask where in the world “south Africa” is. Land of so many interesting things that I’ll leave for you to go Google later. My favourite thing about the country is how one can go to any of its metropolitan areas and at the end of the day feel as though you’ve experienced two different worlds thanks to it’s cultural diversity. See, here there is no “average Joe” there’s an average [insert race/origin/social status] Joe. Which brings me to the “café”. Anywhere else in the world, a café refers to an informal eatery that offers a range of hot meals and sandwiches or an establishment that specialises in serving coffee, because technically café is Euro-speak for coffee, which makes sense.
Wait until you come to South Africa, where the average Joe could point you one of two places:
1. The Corner Café : an establishment that can be found – yep you guessed it – at the corner of any street and has nothing to do with serving coffee and hot meals, unless one counts the varieties of meals these places make with a type of sausage South Africans simply call “Russian” (post on this to come) and fries. These establishments are a cross between a small convenience store – the only convenience being it’s proximity to one’s abode – and general trader that sell miniature over-priced goods and the only coffee one will find there is in a tin and is either percolated or chicory. These establishments are identifiable by the signs outside which are sponsored by either a mobile network company or a soda company.
2. The franchise café: This establishment is known for it’s food but mostly for it’s cocktails (and cocktail specials), alcoholic beverage launches and alcoholic beverage sponsored parties complete with DJ’s and promo-gals. These places magically turn from a a semi-respectable breakfast meeting place to bar-type place by day, to a full club by night. Yes, there’s coffee but who drinks it when the waitress can slip you a cold one at 9am with your Eggs Benedict. These establishments are the hunting grounds of BEE-type characters (BEE – black economic empowerment, l-o-n-g story but basically proves that South Africa still has a long way to go) who sit with laptops, playing Solitaire, looking like they’re busy on a “deal” or talk to themselves on the phone – and forget to switch to “silent profile” because they look silly when the phone starts ringing “mid-conversation”.
If you’re looking for that cosy place with the smell of coffee in the air and real good croissants and pastries , you know that type of place one would expect to see Hemmingway, Wilde, Van Gogh and even Sartre sipping on coffee and smoking a cigarette, you’re going to have to be specific when speaking to the average South African Joe and ask for a coffee shop. If they don’t get it, ask for a directory or look in your traveller’s guide and any place that got something to do with coffee in it’s title is your best bet… just avoid NewsCafe.