Janis Hernández

coppelia-santiagoHAVANA TIMES — Here’s the story about the “technical norm,” the one I promised to share in my last post, the one I heard one of my compatriots tell while we were waiting outside the household appliances repair shop.

My fellow Cuban told us that, one day after work she went to the Santiago de Cuba Coppelia ice-cream parlor with a friend to have an ice-cream and cool off a bit. After standing in the usual line of people and waiting at the table for the habitually long period of time, the waitress finally came over.

“May I take your order?” the waitress asked.

“Bring us three Full Moons and three Big Rocks, all chocolate,” they said.

“I can’t do that. You have to mix flavors for those combinations. We have chocolate and banana, you have to order those two flavors,” she replied.

“But, miss, we don’t want banana. Besides, that’s a pretty explosive combination,” they retorted.

“That’s what’s established. If we don’t do that, then only one flavor is used and the other isn’t sold,” she answered.

“Please, you can’t decide what we want to eat,” they snapped back.

“What do you want me to do? That’s the “technical norm.” Decide what you want to do while I take another table’s order,” she said, heading towards the customers at the next table.

The young man telling us that absurd story had theatrical skills and narrated the story so well that it felt as though we were right in the middle of the action. We asked him, impatiently:

“And what did you do?”

“We asked for the Complaints and Suggestions book. She went off and came back with the manager, who brought the book and said to us: ‘I’ve already spoken about this at several meetings, but, understand, that technical norm is an instruction that comes straight down from the Party leadership.’ ”

The great story-telling skills of this stranger, who had become somewhat familiar after two hours of waiting and sharing anecdotes, was met with a burst of laughter. I, on the other hand, got very upset hearing about that stupid norm.

The story ended as everyone expected. They got up and left without ordering any ice-cream, not without first leaving a lengthy comment in the complaints book and suggesting the Party ought not to decide what ice-cream flavor people should have – as well as demanding, in exercise of their rights as citizens, that the ridiculous “technical norm” be eliminated.

I don’t know, but I have the impression that, even in North Korea, people can choose what ice-cream flavor they want.


Janis Hernández

Janis Hernandez: I don’t seek to change the world, much less give recipes on how it should or shouldn’t be. I don’t have the gift of oratory or that of the letters. I’m not an analyst or a philosopher. I am just an observer of the things that happen around me and I feel obligated to speak about my country without a muzzle, just write and that’s what I do in my diary.

5 thoughts on “The Cuban Communist Party and Ice-Cream Flavors

  • “You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need!” Wasn’t this a HIGHER POWER telling you that you don’t really need (i.e. shouldn’t have) all those calories?! And since, in Cuba, at least, this higher power is The Party (or perhaps “Dr. Woland”, was causing some mischief by paying a visit to Santiago, as he did to Moscow in the mid-1930’s), perhaps it is best to go with the flavors offered. Since you ordered chocolate, one of the flavors on hand, why wouldn’t the waitress place your orders?! Perhaps with an additional gratuity she would have placed your order. (This was my experience when I indulged myself at the same Santiago establishment in 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2012). Reminds me of the diner scene in “Five Easy Pieces,” where Jack Nicholson orders the breakfast special, but with certain substitutions, and the waitress says he can’t make substitutions. I wonder what happen if you and your party reacted in the same manner as Nicholson’s character?! Alas! Coppelia has gone downhill since its heydays in the 1960’s–1980’s, (i.e. pre-Special Period) when they offered more flavors than Howard Johnson’s, and more exotic, too. I enjoyed the Habana Coppelia in those days. Unlike Copelia, which is a shadow of its former self, Howard Johnson’s is completely gone. Perhaps Coppelia should partner with our own progressive Vermont duo, Ben & Jerry’s, and bring in Gordon Ramsey to supervise the makeover. Coppelia (and other state restaurants) are counterbalancing the expression up here that “The customer is always right!” In Cuba, it seems, the customer is always wrong! Instead of too many opportunities to buy pizza, there should be more independent ice cream parlors opening. Of course the rub is that they would have to charge more than Copelia. Not all is lost, however. I have had good experiences at some state restaurants. It seems like any restaurant run by the Palmares Group knows how to please customers: in the culinary skill of its chefs, in its presentation, and in its service. Also, the waitress in the restaurant at the Mariposa Hotel, in Novia de Mediodia, all by herself, managed to quickly and efficiently serve a party of 30 to 40 people. These places are doing something right.

  • Hilarious, but sadly, rings true compared to other similar stories I’ve heard in Cuba.

  • Os, this story has an excellent title and the narrative is pretty good. I couldn’t put it down. This is a winning post. You should encourage Janis to go on this way.

  • It’s Cuba under the Castro family regime and it’s tool the Communist Party of Cuba. The old Socialist claim was that they would look after the people from “the cradle to the grave.” This article demonstrates that the individual’s choice is of no significance – the Party decides the flavour not the individual. It would be funny if it were not serious – but it is serious! People have to live under the BIG BROTHER regime decisions.
    We who are privileged to live in free societies in democratic countries do not fully comprehend what life is like for those over whom the Castro family regime exerts its power and control.
    For those who mull over this whilst sipping a coffee, just consider, you choose he type of coffee you wanted to drink – and you unlike Cubans who live in a country where coffee is produced, are always able to purchase the product – but not in Cuba!
    We who know Cuba well, joke about the choice of bocadillo (sandwich) available in cafes and restaurants, the restaurant at Jose Marti International Airport will serve as an example-choice of bocadillo is ham and cheese – no not ham or cheese, but ham and cheese and you only pay $3.60 almost half a months pension for a senior citizen in Cuba.
    Oddly, there are contributors to pages like these, who approve the Castro family regime and who try to produce reasons justifying such control. To them, I can only suggest that they eat only ham and cheese sandwiches and only banana and chocolate ice-cream. No caviar, no frozen vodka. Nada!

  • In any other blog, this humorous story would have to be an exaggeration. After all, in the largest ice cream parlor in a country’s second-largest city is it even remotely imaginable that there are only two flavors of ice cream. But this is Havana Times and this is Cuba.

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