In Tunisia, coffee shops are divided between men only, women only and then the more expensive mixed gender, which is geared towards tourists. Most nights we visit a men’s only café to get as our companion said, “An authentic Tunisian experience.”
The Tulip Café, a funny choice of names for a man’s world, is an open-air coffee shop and looks not all that different from the numerous other cafes along the street. At 11:30pm, early by Tunisian standards, the cafés are all full of men playing checkers and cards. Some men are watching the flat screen TVs and pretend to not notice that two girls have just encroached on their territory. Instead the crowd for the most part is transfixed on a live a soccer match between the home team from Sousse and their archrivals, Tunis.
It’s Ramadan so there is no drinking. In all of my travels though Latin America one of the noticeable differences is the lack overt public drinking, not to say that they don’t, they do. But for these two weeks it is forbidden. Instead this coffee shop is a haven for cups of espresso and cappuccinos.
The light sweet air of shisha hangs over the multitude of plastic chairs and small round tables. Men relax with their hookahs and discuss … what? The game? Politics? Perhaps now the men in Tunisia could talk about politics openly in this café, but they do not. The culture as conditioned by dictatorship for the last quarter of a century precludes such behavior. What is a national past time in the United States has been an elusive privilege here in Tunisia.
So what do the men talk about? Sex – who’s having sex, how, and with whom. Talk of sex by men is something not confined to the private sphere, but rather is freely discussed. Perhaps the women do this to. I don’t know. My instinct is that if it is discussed it’s done more discreetly. Locker room talk out in the open over cups of coffee…