Icons of our time

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 July, 1996, 12:00am

NAME: Il Pretentioso OR: The overpriced corner shop selling coffee at inflated prices, bagels at inflated prices and banana cake by the tonne.

AGE: In Hong Kong, at least, a year or two at the most.

BRIEF HISTORY: Back in the days of yore, a cup of coffee and a sandwich were regarded as staples of a good old working man or woman's diet. You fixed your sandwich at home, you made your coffee at home and stuck it in a thermos flask, or made it in the office (if you were lucky, the office had a coffee maker). They still are staples of the working diet, but everything else has changed. Now, we wait for someone to bring our sandwiches to us in a nice little basket. Rather than paying a few dollars for a loaf of bread, some butter and a slice of ham and cheese, we part with $40-plus for chicken tikka in a sarnie, or a teeny scrap of ham and cheese in an unhappy-looking croissant.

As for the coffee, well, we have somehow promised ourselves that it's okay to splash out every now and then (observe how quickly it becomes every morning) on a half-empty paper cup which contains some froth sprinkled with cinnamon. It goes by a daft Italian name and costs more than your receptionist's entire food intake for the day.

BEST-SELLERS: Cafe Extortionate, Cafe Late (it's pronounced lah-tay, but by the time it arrives it's cold), there are even Viennese places getting in on the act and chuckling as they sell you cups of Schplatt.

SIDE-LINES: Water, water everywhere and not a drop under $14. That's for water. Remember that stuff you used to drink out of the tap? Well now we've become so utterly brain-washed by this food-as-art nonsense that we stock up on our coffee and bagel and decide it would be tremendously healthy to shell out even more cash on a bottle of San Tarantino or something French with the letter 'v' in it.

STAFF: Because of the enormous overheads involved in renting a louche little hole-in-the-wall in a commercial centre, and because the sales of coffee and water won't recoup capital investment for, say, six months, owners of these little gold mines choose to further cut costs by employing the sort of people who can't afford these little luxuries and therefore can't quite believe that anyone else can. Consequently, the young man who delivers your $84 mid-morning refreshments rarely does so without a broad, disbelieving grin.

WHERE WILL IT ALL END? Well, the rich will keep getting richer, the poor will get richer and the poor old sandwich class (now you know why it's called that) will keep on getting poorer. Please add coffee and sandwiches to that long list of things (owning a car, watching a movie, having a beer and eating out) that just ain't worth it any more. Oh, and while you're at it, order me a double espresso with a cinammon and a lime twist, please. I've just come into some money.