Things I Miss about the U.S.A.

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I like living abroad for so many reasons – being obligated to become bilingual, the different values, and the required self-reliance among them. But Havana is wholly unique, entirely distinct from other Third World capitals like Guatemala City or Bamako. Here, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, there are simply things you cannot buy. Toilet paper today, butter and flour tomorrow, but other items are unattainable any day like print cartridges, razor blades, high speed Internet. The big, bad Bloqueo strikes again.

But living in Cuba isn’t just living abroad, it’s living in exile – for us Americans anyway. We have no access to our bank accounts for example and getting back on US soil is an expensive, hoop-jumping production with lots of paperwork (thanks to Congress, not the Castros). And that’s without any swine flu or other wrench in the works. To give you an idea, my upcoming flight to NY (home once, but not for many years now and feeling less so each infrequent visit I make) will be a 13 hour affair with a couple of plane changes. This, mind you, for what is a 3-1/2 hour flight as the crow flies. And the price for the privilege?1 We’re talking in the $750 range for a distance that’s like flying New York to New Orleans. To put it in traveler’s perspective, with that same $750 it will take me to travel from one island “home” to another, I could go from New York to Tokyo. Welcome to my world…

I’ve adapted as foreigners must if they’re to survive here. I remember when I first arrived, a Cuban American guy who has lived on Long Island for decades told me, ‘only New Yorkers can live in Cuba – they already know how hard life can be.’ Of course, not all five of us living here are from New York, but I do think we share cravings and miss some of the stuff that makes the USA great in its way.

In no particular order, here is a list of Things I Miss; stay tuned for another list of Things I Don’t in a future post.

 Bathtubs
 Jon Stewart
 Mushrooms, artichokes, and tofu
 Anonymity
 English (especially my extensive repertoire of curse words and the phrase ‘I don’t know’2)
 Wireless
 Being able to pick up the phone and call my best friend, or any friend
 NBA & USTA
 Ginger ale
 Magazines
 Netflix
 Rock ‘n roll (hoochie koo, thankfully, is not a problem)
 Mail delivery
 Gay bars, parades, and queer PDAs
 Cafés
 Seasons
 Indian, Thai, sushi, and good Chinese
 Central Park
 Hiking
 Customer service
 People who can multitask
 Toilet seats
 Garlic cloves of a reasonable size3

Notes

1. In another weird twist of antiquated Cold War policy on the part of the United States, traveling to Cuba is a privilege, not a right for that country’s citizens.

2. While Latin Americans throughout the hemisphere are famous for not uttering ‘yo no sé’, Cubans are over-the-top anti I-don’t-know. I have several theories why this may be so, but the bottom line? It’s a country of know-it-alls. Compulsory education will do that…

3. In Cuba, garlic cloves are the size of a child’s fingernail and cause for anxiety, if not outright insanity. The Hero/ine of any household is the person that peels garlic. In my case, that would be me (although the man of the house is a fabulous and enthusiastic cook).

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “Things I Miss about the U.S.A.

  1. singao

    How is it the blockades fault; when i can buy US made White Rose peanut butter in January in Epoca, but it’s no where to be found in following months.

    It’s a system logistics-accounts payable problem that goes along with your customer service sentiments.

    • Yes, Singao (nice handle), you are (partly) right in that it’s a whole hornet’s nest of problems tangled up with the blockade. For example, accounts payabe is tricky when it comes to dealing with US suppliers – since it’s cash on the barrel head, a condition very few (if any) other countries have to contend with. Still, Cuba is something like #5 trading partner with US and US products do appear in stores here.

      And logistics are a nightmare, as you mention. Not only due to the blockade, but due to internal snafus. Witness the tons of tomatoes that rotted for lack of transport to point of sale. Tears well up I think about that, seeing as summer tomatoes (good ones) are a real scarcity around here.

      For my readers out there – would you like to comment on HOW MUCH that small jar of White Rost peanut butter cost?

      • singao

        The price of White Rose varied, earlier in 2008 it was 3.45 CUC for both creamy and chunky. It wasn’t selling so the price move down to 1.95.
        All the creamy sold out, and there was chunky jars available. When the chunky sold out nothing was restocked

        Fruit juices in the box, large and small, made in Cuba, were available in 2008, in 2009 none were on the shelf of Epoca downstairs.

        Jars and jars of olives from Spain are always in stock.

      • For those of you reading off the island, that 3.45 CUC translates into $4.15 USD for a small jar of peanut butter. no wonder it wasn’t moving!

  2. The USA misses you right back, chica.

    Down with the blockade! Down with the travel ban crapola!

    The US misses the trade opportunities, the cultural exchange, the travel permissions and those impossibly delicious Cuban sammiches.

    xox
    WAM

    • Hiya WAMmy! Yes, yes. I also neglected to mention Trader Joe’s…..oh, it’s the small things in life. Hope to see you here sometime soon!

      Keep on keepin on

  3. Anonymity.
    number 1 on my list.
    keep up the good work on the blog!
    Anon.

  4. David

    If they don’t have Glaric Cloves of a Reasonable Size, (GCOFARS), do not Cubanos at least have Rats of Unusual Size (RUS’s) a la TPB?

    No? Inconceivable!

    • Rodents of Unusual Size mi amigo…RODENTS. Thankfully, I have not seen any. Though I am preparing a post on the packs of feral cats that come out at night to feast on piles of garbage. Feline Dumpster Divers. Im a cat lover, but it’s downright nasty to see a hissing, mangy mob of cats swarming over old congris and banana peels.

      Keep cool brah!

  5. Claudia

    Something not to miss here in the NE. . . maybe its August? everyone is super on-edge and quick to shout, curse, start trouble. Empire crumbling around the edges has everyone really nervous.

    But just subscribed so you’re right in my mailbox. Miss you & WAM

    Claudia

    • Hola chica!! yeah, the heat here, there and everywhere melts people’s patience (and whatever tolerance/empathy/solidarity they ever had for their fellow man/woman/wildlife). Hang in there and thanks for reading (and writing)

      besos

  6. Pingback: Things I Don’t Miss about the U.S.A. « Here is Havana

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  9. Maria

    Most of those things *were* available to most Cubans in Havana in before 1959. I have the photos to prove it.

    • That’s nice, but you’ve missed the point, methinks.

      • Maria

        It was nice. Nice enough that Europeans immigrated TO Cuba. The point? That living in Cuba is more difficult due to US trade restrictions? Cuba has no means of generating foreign exchange. Command economies don’t produce goods of exchangeable value. It would be far too risky to extend them credit.

      • Maria: I gave you a pass but you’re cogiendo lucha (not surprising). You said: “most of these things were available to most Cubans in Havana before 1959”

        So, lets parse that:

        1. “Most” by definition, means 50%+. Of my list, a scant handful may have been avaialable pre 1959, I’ll grant you that but only because it’s Sunday, it’s father’s day and Im about to go on an early morning Harley ride and I feel for you (I await your pre-1959 photos of mushrooms and tofu, not to mention Jon Stewart in the womb, by the way)

        2. “most Cubans in Havana” – a small portion of upper middle class Cubans DID have access to the high life before the revolution, hence, um, the revolution (and why that sector of the diaspora just can’t seem to adjust to the revolutionary reality. 50 years on, you’d think it would sink in)

        3. “US trade restrictions” – would be one thing. A complete economic, financial and trade embargo, with extraterritorial reach and teeth, like has been applied to Cuba for over 50 years, is something completely else.

        4. Are you arguing that the Cuban economy is in shambles? If so, I’ll pass on some of my mother’s advice: it’s poor taste to remark the obvious. Im here, I know precisely how dire the situation is.

        Now, you’ve read other posts on this blog, yes? Then you know that this isn’t the forum for this type of dialogue. I welcome you to click about, read, and enjoy (or not), but if you want to get into a political-economic discussion, there are other blogs that would love to have you.

        Ciao pescao

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