Last month Vivek Wadhwa delivered a talk to Start-Up Chile (SUC) at the San Francisco Hotel, an event organized and sponsored by the government of Chile, in which no alcohol was served. Wadhwa, who lived most of his life in Australia and the United States, suggested that alcohol was essential to a technology meeting and should always be served.
Until last night, the government ignored his advice; meetings were usually held in a government library that closed 90 minutes after the meeting started, people did not mingle afterwards and discuss their businesses. Chile believes that it is an isolated nation and the purpose of SUC is to foster relationships with the rest of the world, so the government has a dilemma because like Utah in the United States, it wants to discourage alcohol consumption.
A bottle of the cheapest beer in Chilean restaurants costs $4, double the price of Mendoza, Argentina 120 miles away. The government is clearly using punitive taxes to reduce alcohol consumption.
New Meeting at the California Cantina
As an experiment, the government convened the meeting last night at the California Cantina, a restaurant and bar whose owner is from the United States, and where many of the waitresses are from California or other states. Although the attitude of Chile towards foreigners offends me in many ways, the presence of foreign waitresses is impressive because I have not seen the same in Mexico, where the tourist industry is controlled by a government agency called Fonatur (Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo). It is illegal for a Mexican restaurant to hire a waitress from the United States even though there are at least ten times as many Mexicans living in the United States as Estadounidenses living in Mexico.
I have not spoken with the owner of the California Cantina, but my experience in Mexico informs me that the waitresses were probably hired not to show California authenticity, but because they are better workers. The restaurant and bar owners in Mexico prefer to hire employees who have worked in the United States, too.
Tyranny Slaps Me on a Bike Tour
The Chilean government attitude towards alcohol also manifested itself on a bike tour I took last year to the wineries in the Maipo Valley. We left at 9:00 AM on a weekend from the west side of the city; as I live in the east, I awoke two hours prior, skipped breakfast, and pedaled my bike for an hour to the tour company. The government refused to allow us to eat lunch until the tour was over at 2:00 PM because they feared that we would be ride our bicycles in a drunken state.
This ruined the trip for me because I prefer to burn my calories after eating; 2:00 PM is too late for a first meal. I have not signed up for any bike trips since that day.