I’ve had many wonderful adventures so far, and traveled to Santiago de Cuba, Matanzas and Viñales most recently, as well as taken up salsa lessons and made friends with gen-u-ine Cubans, which has been a great accomplishment in itself. Tomorrow we all depart for Trinidad Province just in time for Good Friday and Easter, both of which are cause for massive celebrations (this is unique to Trinidad however, because the rest of the country still operates on a secular calendar where even Christmas is absent). Though I’ve fallen into a bit of a routine now that our classes and research project is well underway, there are still many of exciting moments and cultural revelations on the casual Tuesdays which I’ve been recording to share with you. Below is a list of all the things that I’ve seen with me own eyes that are radically different from the United States.
1. Calling a perfect stranger “my love”, “my life” or “light of my soul” is completely normal.
2. The only people wearing Toms here are very elderly women.
3. Though there are a lot of lines for the basics like wifi cards and busses it is rare to see people reading books out in public or on their phones. Few people walk around with headphones in, but what really draws attention is reading a book, because they are in such short supply. This is a weird finding however because book fairs at the El Moro fort in Havana Vieja sell countless books for very cheap, and with the intention of feeding a highly literate public. The outlet to fill downtime then, is either conversation or watching the countless music videos playing in loop, filled with shots of the malecón, sexy doctors, and old cars, painting a much blingy-er version of Havana than I have seen yet. It is interesting seeing these Cuban musicians flaunting their gold chains and dollar bills just in the same way as the celebrities in the US for a country that prided itself in looking past material wealth.
4. Just dance. It will be okay.
5. You always kiss someone on their right cheek when you meet them or see them or anything- Americans have a reputation of being awkward and shy, so don’t hesitate to dive in there and pucker up.
6. “A American” means that each person pays for their own meal, drinks, whatever. This phraseology suggests that such behavior is not couth in Cuban social settings and here there is a strong belief that Americans are hesitant to be generous; I have yet to be in a situation where folks expected me to pay for them, though it is of course graciously appreciated. However, the whole act of paying people for a service though, like the dueños of your casa particular or a waiter you have developed a friendly rapport with is always somewhat awkward, and any monetary transaction is done discreetly. Just handing someone cash in a restaurant or on the street corner with the maní in causes uncomfortableness, and there is always a hurried exchange. Never hold money out in the open or leave it on a table. Not because you are going to get robbed, but because it’s rude.
7. I have yet to see more than one taxi or Botero driver who is a woman.
8. Who needs toilet seats? Or lids? My question is, where did they all go? Is it actually a thing to sell toilets without these?
9. Religious colloquialisms here like “¡AY DIOS MIO!” Or anything referring to God are largely absent from the lexicon here; at most references to Mother Mary can occasionally be heard by some of the older members of society.
10. For the countless chickens running wild around here, and an abundance of eggs, we have yet to see any chicken coops.
11. School busses here are the exact same ones we rode in as kids-everything is printed in English with a very American stop sign on the side. It’s quite surreal to see hem driving around the neighborhoods every morning; you almost forget where you are.
12. As an extranjero/Yuma/gringo whatever, things will magically disappear from menus or shelves and only the more expensive versions will be left behind to buy
13. During rainstorms, everything stops, even school.
14. By the way, you cut grass with machetes, obviously.
15. If you have a thermos, you are instantly the coolest person on the block. They are always filled with sweet Cuban coffee, and anyone will sell you a shot for one peso.
16. Everyone knows a seamstress here, and after people buy clothes from homes where someone has procured a large shipment from a visa wielding family member, they can get these clothes modified and turned into completely customized garments.
17. The infamous paquete is a flash drive that for 1-5 moneda nacional can get you any foreign song or movie, illegally downloaded by some hip computer wizzes in theses little store fronts all around. The tv always shows pirated films.
18. There are NO COMMERCIALS. WHAT. CAN WE AMERICANS EVEN FATHOM WHAT THAT MEANS?!
19. Napkins are a rare commodity here, so at restaurants you will typically get a thin cut out price of a napkin that is more a suggestion of napkin than anything else. It’s too flimsy to serve any purpose.
20. I have yet to pass an entire day without seeing someone carrying a cake around out in the open with only a small piece of cardboard below it to hold things in place. They walk everywhere with this cake. I don’t know how people could possibly need that much cake in their lives but hey, if they want cake, let them eat cake.
21. If you choose to go running or partake in any exercise out in public that is not soccer, basketball or baseball that can be played with other Cubans, be prepared for peeved stares and the occasional cry of “Bougie!” There are certain areas and times of day that are more acceptable to work out, specifically in the early evening on Paseo after the work day is over (a main road subdivided by park blocks). Still the view of people having the time and energy to work out is a little negative, and it can be interpreted as intrusive to run through neighborhoods. It’s becoming increasingly more popular here, but it’s certainly a cultural quirk that certainly takes a degree of tact to navigate tastefully