Imagine traveling to Latin America for the first time ever.
A region you hardly know.
A culture that is completely different to you.
So much opportunity to learn, connect with people from different backgrounds and have some cool fucking moments living life abroad.
When you arrive to your destination, you find yourself going to some hostal though full of other backpackers.
They all speak English.
The staff at the hostal speaks English.
With the hostal itself located in a very touristy part of town where you’ll find plenty of locals accomdiating to your English when needed.
Those who can point you in the right direction when looking for something.
The employees at different bars, restaurants and cafes that also speak English.
Want me to do you one better?
The menus at the cafes themselves are in English!
With music from The Beatles and Pink Floyd playing as you take nice gals with you to dates to this café.
They are local Latina gals who happen to speak just enough English (or maybe very good English) to work with on a date.
And, as you two sit down at this café, you notice how everyone else in the café is a foreigner.
Or most of them anyhow.
All speaking English.
A few freelancers who have to speak in English with their clients to make that sweet 1,250 a month.
For a moment, it almost feels like you aren’t even in Latin America.
Where are you?
The Gringo Cafes of Latin America
It’s a small but funny topic about life in Latin America.
The broader theme being the gringos who come to Latin America who primarily live a life that doesn’t resemble Latin America very well.
Only living in select communities.
Only hanging out with mostly other foreigners or a few locals who speak English.
Only going to establishments that have English speakers.
Only going to touristy spots with English accommodation recommended on Lonely Planet.
We get that.
But, part of this lifestyle, for those who don’t know, also can include “gringo cafes.”
These are cafes that, as you can guess, primarily appeal to gringos.
Usually the young backpacker crowd if we’re being honest but I imagine that certain areas with more a “retirement” community have some spots accommodating their tastes also.
This type of café can usually be found recommended on Lonely Planet.
The menus are in English and the staff usually speaks English pretty damn well.
Always found in touristy spots of nicer areas in Latin America.
Though not a requirement, many of these spots usually have a certain “social theme” associated with them like being eco-friendly, vegan, using fair trade products, etc.
They might even employee a few “gringo workers” who, oddly enough, tend to have cunt like attitudes in my experience but the local employees usually are quite nice.
Furthermore, you can usually find pamphlets and booklets offered in English regarding the broader city itself.
They are usually free to take from what I remember and include the latest details on local businesses to try out, cool touristy things to do, some socially themed topics, etc.
More often than not, these places tend to be run by other gringos and, in my experience, the owners always tend to be nicer than any gringo employees they might have.
They don’t always have foreign music though (The Beatles, Pink Floyd, etc).
Sometimes it might involve local music too.
Prices tend to be a little more expensive than what you’ll find at other cafes.
When it comes to what to purchase, you can usually find fair trade or sustainable coffee and typical food includes stuff like some desserts, bagels, maybe a few local foods, pizza, etc.
Overall, in my experience, the environment actually isn’t bad at all at these places.
And, though I don’t frequent them ever these days (especially given I don’t even live in a touristy part of CDMX), I have been to a few over the years.
Let’s bring up a few examples.
Time at the Gringo Cafes
There’s a few that I can think of.
As I wrote here in one of my first articles ever, I recalled going to a café in Xela, Guatemala numerous times.
I always sat down at the sofa in the side of the establishment where another older American named Jeffrey would often sit down by as well.
We’d talk about whatever.
Sometimes I went to this café because other folks I worked with at this NGO in Xela held mini meetings there.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad café.
Good food, decent atmosphere, friendly staff, decent prices and plenty of pamphlets letting you know the latest in the city.
Recommending certain hiking tours to take or other businesses to check out.
When your new to a place, you appreciate having some recommendations for new places to check out.
All around, it was a fine café.
Second, there was a café I went to at Buenos Aires of Argentina a few times with another American with the same name of me as Matt.
We only went there a few times.
It was basically the same thing as the first one though a little bit pricier.
They also held local band events there sometimes – which is something you sometimes see among some of these cafes if they happen to be big enough to host a local band.
Personally, I found the place to be a little bit boring and not really my cup of tea but it wasn’t a bad place to check out.
Next, there was some gringo café I found in Bogota of Colombia one time when I travelled there with an ex-girlfriend of mine named Marcela.
To keep it short, I didn’t like the place very much.
I tend not to vibe well with folks that are overly “social justice minded.”
Not that I disagree with some of their political ideas but there’s a certain type that is intolerable.
They get offended at everything and have an extreme cunt like personality.
Not at all enjoyable to be around.
This café, with its staff, had some weird antagonistic vibe about them.
Almost made me feel unwelcomed.
Mixed in with a “we don’t care about our clients, we care about the values of the café” type of vibe.
Weird as shit.
Finally, the last “gringo café” that I remember going to was one in a Mexican city called Pachuca.
I hesitate to call this one a “gringo café” because Pachuca is a city of few foreigners.
It’s not at all touristy.
Though, from what I found out later, apparently it had some gringo owner or co-owner?
And it had some of the same characteristics you see in other gringo cafes – centrically located, sustainable coffee stuff, a certain vibe, more “hipster” in some respect, pamphlets in English about what to see in or near the city, etc.
Anyway, let’s wrap this up.
So what are my thoughts on these cafes?
Let’s break down the main things to mention.
First, is it bad for a gringo to go to one of these places?
After all, shouldn’t he be going to cafes run by locals for that full immersion experience?
Eh, I’d say that’s horseshit.
Go tell a Mexican living in the US that he should stop hanging out with other Mexicans and only do gringo things.
Look – in any country on the planet, you have foreigners who assimilate a little bit but they aren’t leaving behind all over their roots.
You don’t forget where you came from.
And we all like to hang out with folks who are like us.
While I agree that it’d be a waste for any gringo to mimic the life of the gringo described in the intro of this article, I don’t see anything wrong with making time for “gringo like establishments” and local ones.
I get why some gringos choose to spend some time with other gringos and see nothing wrong with it.
I’d only say it becomes a waste if they only hang out with other gringos in gringo like establishments and never learning about the local culture but, if they’re happy doing that, then whatever.
Their life, not mine.
Second, as I said before, these establishments can be useful in offering some information for how to enjoy the local city with their pamphlets. Some offer updated info on local events or local band performances.
Others give tips on what tourism agencies to work with for local things to see.
Third, outside of the few gringo cafes that give bad vibes, most seem to have better customer service standards than local cafes in my brief experience.
Fourth, as I said, some of these cafes are decent for hosting their own local events like some local band show or whatever.
Fifth, despite the name of “gringo café,” don’t be misled into thinking that only gringos going to these establishments. Plenty of young and more hipster locals of a little more financial means go to them also.
Sixth, some might argue that these places encourage “gentrification” and all that.
Well, if someone has a good business idea like a café that can be more appealing to foreigners, why not have one around?
They tend to stick to mostly touristy areas of big cities anyway that would naturally be a little bit less affordable for the average local anyhow.
Of course, we can bring up arguments about how they hire locals and bring jobs and money into the community and all else.
Either way, it’s an argument that should at least be recognized as it is out there about places like these.
Seventh, one complaint I’d have about these places is all of the weird art they have on their walls. You see the same thing in apartments marketed for foreigners in Mexico city with art of Paris, London, Madonna, Rolling Stones and whatever else on the walls.
It looks silly.
Eighth, are they overpriced? You could argue so. Not all of them feel that way because, in the location you find some of these places, their prices might align well with the prices of other venues in the same touristy areas.
But when compared to prices in establishments outside of the touristy areas, the argument of these places being overpriced is easy to make.
Still, if we’re being honest, the price difference might not be that much for some foreigners of more comfortable means anyhow and still might look relatively cheap compared to back home.
Ninth, one thing to be mentioned is that, from what I remember, it was possible to organize actual tours in these cafes like the one in Xela. It’s not just that they have pamphlets but some do have either their own tours or have a service available to put you on the list for a tour associated with another company of whatever spot you want too see.
Which, especially for the new gringo in town, can be convenient.
Anything to Add?
These are the main things that come to mind.
If you have anything to add, drop a comment below in the comment section.
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Thanks for reading.