Living in Cuba

Exploring and Living in Cuba

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With Cuba opening up, Cubans and Americans will have increasingly more contact with each other. There is nothing worse than the "Ugly American Syndrome." By following the advice below you won't wear out your welcome in Cuba or any other country in Latin America. Relations between Cuba and the U.S. have been strained enough over the last 50 years. What we don't need is a bunch of Americans insulting the country.

For better or worse, when you live as a foreigner in Cuba or visit the country, you act as a representative for your entire country. Your actions, both good and bad, help to shape the reputation of your fellow countrymen.

Here are 10 tips that foreigners can embrace to correct bad behavior and be a more positive representative of their country.

  1. Quit complaining that not everyone speaks English

One does not know where expats (particularly Americans) got the idea that when you move to a country where English is not the native language, that everyone should speak English on top of their local language. When you move to a foreign country, you should not expect everyone to adapt around you. Some Cubans do speak English, but expecting everyone to is unreasonable, and should not be used as a reason to disparage a country.

  1. Make every effort to speak Spanish

This one is obviously related to point number one, but even for expats who do not expect everyone to speak English, it is still another step to get some of us to speak Spanish. This is not to say everyone has to become fluent. Learning a second language is hard (which is another reason why we shouldn’t expect every Cuban to naturally be able to do it), but everyone should make an effort to learn at least basic Spanish to communicate when out at restaurants, in cabs, at the store, etc. Using even basic broken Spanish will leave a better impression than speaking loudly in English and pointing at things when trying to communicate in English to help you get around.

  1. In the States we do it this way

Stop trying to import U.S. customs to Cuba. The people won't adapt to your way of doing things. You have to adapt to their ways.

  1. Don’t insult Cuban’s intelligence

This is another one that seems to go along with lazy because some expats criticize Cubans as “uneducated”, which is really just code for “stupid.” This is another surefire way to appear condescending. In any country, you are sure to meet people who are not too well educated or are ignorant. This is true in your home country, just as it is in Cuba. There are many Cubans who can run mental gymnastics around most of the expats. So don’t take one bad experience you may have and use it to make generalizations against an entire nation. Particularly if you are making your comments about other’s intelligence in a poorly spelled and punctuated Facebook post.

  1. Understand your wealth privilege

If you are an expat resident or tourist in Cuba, you have much more money than the average Cuban. Because of this, take care when making comments about how “broke” you are, or how expensive things are. If you do so, make sure to do so in such a way that doesn’t make you appear out of touch to someone who is trying to make it by on much less than you are.

Since you do have much more wealth than the average Cuban, then definitely do not be a cheapskate. Do not overpay for things or allow yourself to get ripped off. It is actually detrimental to Cubans in the long run. But you should be on the generous side of normal, particularly when it comes to tipping, and should not be pinching pennies at the expense of others.

  1. Don’t lose your mind over the service

Cuban service leaves something to be desired. But there is a difference between having a complaint or two about the service at restaurants and acting like it’s the end of the world every time it takes a little longer for somebody to take your order. If the worst thing that happens to you is it takes you a while to get your food, then your life is pretty blessed, and you should put things in perspective. Nobody likes a serial complainer, so try to be tranquilo about as much as possible.

  1. Be respectful of Cubans

Don not be the “gross gringo” who comes to Cuba and acts in a way that is demeaning to Cuban women and treats them as objects instead of people. But in general, treat everyone as your equal and never think you are above anyone else. This goes for anyone you interact with, whether they are your maid or the President of the Republic. You’d be amazed that if you treat others with kindness and respect what you will get back.

  1. Learn Cuban social customs

This is an easy one to do and will go a long way to making people have a good impression of you. It’s easy for an expat to come off as rude because they don’t know the basics of how it is appropriate to interact with people.. Say please and thank you. Hold the door open for people. If you see an elderly person or pregnant woman, offer them your seat or allow them to go ahead of you in the line.

  1. Respect Cuban history

Want to know a quick way to piss off a Cuban? Say something derogatory about the country or its history. Cubans are proud of their country, and like to celebrate their accomplishments. If you are not familiar with Cuba's rich history, then study it. Because of this, there are certain subjects that may be sensitive for some Cubans. Always take extra care to be respectful of this, and never say anything that is derogatory about Cuban’s history or its accomplishments.

  1. Go easy on the alcohol

 You can drink and go out and have a good time without being obnoxiuos. What I am saying is that if getting wasted is going to make you more likely to violate any of the first 9 rules in this article, then consider moderating. “I was drunk” won’t buy you an excuse if you engage in bad behavior.

These are 10 tips for being a better gringo in any country in Latin America, especially a country like Cuba that has not had much contact with Americans over the last 50 years. We all should take a moment for self-reflection, we will realize that we can improve on one of more of these points. Nobody is every going to be perfect, but we should all set a high standard for ourselves and strive to reach it. If we do that, not only will we give off a better impression of ourselves and our country but we will have a more enjoyable experience in Cuba as well.


Official Guide to
Cuban Spanish

Official Guide to Cuban Spanish

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