Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Tale of Two Ice Creams

A Tale of Two Ice Creams
04/13/2016 02:43 pm ET
Janice S. Lintz

Consultant, Consumer Advocate, Foodie and Traveler
The ice cream shop Coppelia is practically a landmark in Cuba. Owned by
the Cuban government, the Havana-based parlor has sold the dessert since
the 1960s. It is now an iconic place for both Cubans and visitors.

On my recent trip to Cuba, my tour group was scheduled to try Coppelia's
ice cream. At last minute, though, we were informed that this stop was
going to be skipped. Why? Our escort advised us the line at this place
was simply too long However, as an American long-stricken with an
incredible case of 'FOMO,' I felt compelled to visit for 'Fear of
Missing Out' on visiting this widely known ice cream parlor. As I exited
the taxi, I quickly noticed the long line. It seemed to me that people
had been waiting their turn for at least an hour to get their scoop of
ice cream.

As I tried to assess which direction would lead me to the back of the
line, I was told by one customer to go to the left. However, the next
thing I knew, I was ordering ice cream: I did not have to wait! Surely,
there was an error.

My white skin and blonde hair, quickly identified me as a foreigner who
had access to CUCs. The locals used the Cuban Peso (CUP). There was no
line for people like me who were paying with Cuban Convertible Pesos
(CUCs). Cuba bewilderingly has two currencies. Locals use the Cuban Peso
(CUP), while foreigners uses the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). The
latter is worth about 0.87-0.90 USD. Since most Cubans are paid in CUPs,
this currency is frequently used by the locals to buy staples at their
bodegas. Meanwhile, the CUC is used generally for the purchase of
"luxury" goods. Notably, some tourists seeking better pricing for basics
choose to convert their CUCs into CUPs. One CUC is worth about 25 CUPs.
I stuck to CUCs as I did not want to get left with two currencies that
are not exchangeable outside Cuba

Ultimately, there is a distinct contrast between those with access to
CUCs and those forced to use CUPs. For me, this experience at the ice
cream shop truly highlighted this stark contrast.

People with CUCs don't stand in queues. They get to walk right up to the
ice cream counter and are immediately offered a variety of ice cream
flavors, including chocolate and vanilla. However, people with CUPs have
to lineup. The only choice was vanilla ice cream with cookie crumbs on
top. And, while the ice cream on the CUC side was served in a lovely old
fashioned glass laced with caramel syrup, the ice cream on the CUP side
was presented in a non-descript plastic oval bowl. The CUCs got to
choose the number of scoops that they wanted, but the CUPs did not get
that choice. They could only decide how many bowls of four scoops of ice
cream they wanted. The people I shared a table with ordered 2-3 bowls
each or 8-12 scoops of ice cream each. This was clearly a big outing for

Eating only one of the 4 scoops of ice cream made me feel awful. I was
wasting what was precious to them. After all, the average wage for a
Cuban government worker is about $25 a month, and this ice cream cost at
least 5 CUP or .19 US versus about 4 CUC or about $3.48 US. Calorie
counting was a first world problem.

Interestingly, the ice cream's texture tasted to me to be about the same
on both sides. The only difference was the flavor and topping. Instead,
what was distinguishable between the CUP and the CUC ice cream was the
customers: Who had access to hard currency and who did not? It was truly
a situation between the 'Haves versus the Have-Nots.' While I loved my
time in Cuba, I wondered should the government cater just to
foreigners—leaving their citizens with just the next best. The
government's stance towards its currency is clearly creating a highly
polarized society economically.

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Source: A Tale of Two Ice Creams -

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