Cuba: Independent Republic of Los Sabelotodo

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Last night in a fit of exasperation my husband chuffed: ‘yeah, ok. Whatever you say sabe lo todo.’ A Cuban labeling someone as a know-it-all is ironic, not to mention a clear cut case of the pot calling the kettle black. In this instance, applying the sabe lo todo label was especially illustrative since a) my significant other is a shameless (and sometimes tiresome, truth be told) know-it-all and b) he was telling me where to pitch what stories – in essence, telling me how to do my job. He’s annoyingly right most of the time, but this wasn’t one of them.

After nine years of marriage, this isn’t my first experience with him waxing expert on themes about which he’s largely clueless. In the US, we call this talking out your ass. The most hilarious (or heinous, depending on your POV) of his sabe-lo-todo/ass talking was after I’d had an explosive multiple orgasm. As I lay there in that delicious free floating state of petit morte, he came back for more, making a beeline for my clitoris. When I begged him to stop, explaining it was painful like when someone tickle tortures you, he actually said: ‘No! This is the best part!’ A man professing to know how a clitoris feels post-orgasm: this is how deep Cuban sabe lo todo runs.

If you know Cubans, you know people like this. Alternatively, if you’ve been to Cuba, you’ve likely met the street sweeper (or taxi driver or bartender) who knows more than a foreign neurosurgeon. These folks will tell you the best way to prepare lobster even if they’ve only tasted one in their life or expound on the safety of New York City streets though they’ve never been on a plane.

Let me be clear: not all Cubans suffer from this affliction and it definitely strikes men more often and acutely than women. Male vegetable sellers, for instance, are notorious know-it-alls, forever proclaiming their flaccid or small, close-to-rotting or not ripe produce is top quality. I recently let loose on a burly guy selling the typical selection of Havana fruit and veggies (i.e. flaccid, small, and pre- or post-prime) who tried to convince me his bruised, mushy tomatoes were perfect for tonight’s salad.

“Do you cook at home?” I asked him, my smile turning nasty.

“Do you do the shopping for your house?”

“Do you know what I’m buying these tomatoes for?”

“No, no, and no, so shut the fuck up.” That’s what I wanted to say but didn’t. Instead I walked away, costing him a sale, which in this wacky system is of no consequence whatsoever (yet).

Having a touch of the strident, know-it-all myself (when I was 8 my mother told me I was too dogmatic; it goes that far back, runs that deep), I chafe when I come up against it here, I admit. This has forced me to think about the causes of sabe lo todo and taught me to better appreciate the Socratic Method. It has also underscored the importance of being open to learning from all walks of life á la Popular Education.

So why are Cubans such know-it-alls?

First and foremost, Cubans on the whole are ingenious, smart, and educated, so they do know a hell of a lot. Over 50 years of free education (including in remote areas and all post-graduate and advanced studies) means the average Cuban knows more about the history of the Western Hemisphere, for example, than me or you. I’ve been embarrassed more than once by Cubans correcting me about a Civil War battle or US electoral processes. ¡Que pena!

Such erudition may be eroding among the younger generations however, as Cuban education (especially primary and secondary) becomes increasingly mired in resource scarcity, low teacher and student morale, and slackening standards – not unlike what’s happening in public schools up North, I gather. But Cubans 40 and over? Like the IRS, they are all-knowing and spell trouble when they’ve set their sights on you.

Another, more complex reason for the sabe-lo-todo tendency is the success the Cuban Revolution – capital C, capital R – has had sticking it to The Man Uncle Sam. No country so close, so small has ever resisted the US drag towards globalization, neo-liberalism (AKA contemporary colonialism), and all the inequities and contradictions these constructs imply. To say nothing of Cuba’s resounding defeat of US-backed invaders at the Bay of Pigs or the wedge it jammed between the super powers during the Missile Crisis.

Sometimes when I sit back and look at Cuba in the big picture, even I have trouble believing this little country has so consistently and successfully flipped the proverbial bird to the USA. Not since the Haitian slave rebellion of 1791 has a small island been such a game changer. Despite all the errors and imperfections of the Cuban system, having such chutzpah and success must affect the collective psyche some how, imprinting a tacit superiority on the hearts and minds of the people.

However, underlying this singular triumph and its attendant feelings of superiority – modest and unconscious as they might be – is, I suspect, a niggling feeling of inferiority. Let’s face it: Cuba is an island, small and isolated, which has never been given its rightful place on the world stage.

Underestimated and undervalued, Cuba’s contributions to the global dialectic in science, medicine, literacy, human rights broadly defined, and disaster prevention are minimized, criticized and questioned – often by people and media unqualified to level such judgments. This has to rankle, contributing to an inferiority complex which, in a textbook example of over compensation, manifests itself as sabe lo todo.

Lastly, many Cubans confuse opinion with fact. A slippery concept, opinion is a confluence of knowledge, experience, emotion, bias, even upbringing and culture. Facts, meanwhile, are evidence-based, provable and documented. Facts can inform opinion, but not the other way around (FoxNews notwithstanding). Presenting opinion as fact is one of the first, most obvious signs that you’re up against a sabe lo todo.

Although I’m often ruffled by this posturing which can feel belittling as it negates my experience and knowledge, Cubans have taught me that no one is all-knowing. Certainly not me. Slowly, this wondrous Havana journey is making me less of a know-it-all and more of a question-it-all.

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64 Comments

Filed under Americans in cuba, Communications, cuban cooking, Cuban customs, Cuban idiosyncracies, Cuban phrases, Cuban Revolution, Expat life, Living Abroad

64 responses to “Cuba: Independent Republic of Los Sabelotodo

  1. Ole

    Hahaha, Conner! You are so right. My wife pretty much knows all there is to know about every single thing. I called her out one time, saying “You never read the newspaper or a book- how could you possibly Know That”
    “Hmmph”, says she- “I must have known it in a previous Life”.

    How do you argue with Logic such as that?

    I liked the visiting neurosurgeon vs. the streetsweeper analogy- it is the exact one which I use!

    Great post, girl.

    Ole

    • Knowledge carried over from a previous life – classic!

      (I copped the visiting neurosurgeon from one of your previous comments – that’s where the link goes. Thanks!)

    • What is actually not funny is that the Cuban bar tender may actually be a Cuban neurosurgeon trying to get some supplementary income and he may in fact not be talking out of his ass!
      There was a time that you could see doctor driving a cab or working as bar tenders. Not sure if that is still the case.
      Is that true Conny?

      • No, not at all funny. As a journalist covering the Cuban health system and someone who has participated in the national debate about the new “regulations”, I can tell you equitable, fair salaries are a high priority – especially for professionals like doctors, engineers, etc. As is fixing the two currency problem. On the other hand – this nearly mythical “doctor as taxi driver” seems to have exploded into a super exaggerated urban myth: In 9 years living here, Ive met/know very few doctors who are working as cab drivers, bartenders and the like.

  2. dhaxall

    Hi Conner,

    So, notwithstanding the fact that you’re using your blog to take out your frustrations with your husband (ho boy! marriage counselor in your future??), this is a hilarious blog entry.

    A couple thoughts:

    Fidel Castro always strikes me as the perfect example of a sabe-lo-tudo, no? Is this why it may be so predominant in Cuban culture? This behavior has been encouraged from the top, ha ha!

    Regarding human rights, that is of course one of the thorniest issues of contention that often comes up between pro- and anti- Castro forces wherever. I have heard many bad things about the rights of gay people in Cuba. And of course there are the political dissidents in jails. I would certainly love to read a blog post from you on your experience with these thorny issues, if you’re ever willing or able to do so.

    Thanks,

    Doug

    • Hiya Doug! Not to worry: frustrations w/ hubby are discussed in detail with him first (and the therapist thereafter hahahaha!)

      On Fidel: the man has a brilliant intellect. Have you seen the documentary about 653 ways to assesinate Fidel (I forget the actual title and internet to slow to search; its about all the ways the CIA tried and failed to asesinate him)? One of the reasons he and the revolution have survived is because he’s smart as a whip and a deft poltician. Not perfect (yes, mistakes were made) but super, almost all-knowing smart. People may hate him (and many do), but underestimate his intelligence and that’s when the schooling begins. I think he has set an example for his people in this regard.?

      Yes, very thorny that human rights thing. First step: we must agree on what constitutes a human right. Unless everyone is on the same page as far as that goes, the conversation is counterproductive, its conclusions moot. Free speech vs right to health. Freedom of assembly vs barrier-free education. Too often folks begin from different starting points in this debate and it just unravels from there. The ideal would be for all peoples to enjoy the entire bundle of rights, but until this is a perfect world….

      On the gay rights issue: again, what is the definition to work from? I’m very involved with the LGBT community here and have published extensively on HIV, homophobia, transgender health, among other related issues in MEDICC Review. I’m sure you have heard many bad things about the sitch here regards LGBT, but I always have two stock questions when people come at me with the ‘Cuba is hell’ argument: 1) when was the last time you were in Cuba? There are many people with a completely outdated perception. This society is evolving and even 5 years makes a big difference. The work camps of the 60s were indefensible, but also a long time ago. Stonewall was also indefensible, but again, a long time ago. Do people even remember Stonewall up there? People sure do remember the UMAP camps here – and talk about it. 2) does this person have an axe to grind and if so, what is it? Whenever talking to anyone about Cuba, it’s always good to consider the source.

      But the most important thing is that you (and all my readers) don’t take my word for it. Come see this wild place for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

      Peace out and thanks for reading and writing in!

  3. John Abbotsford

    “Alternatively, if you’ve been to Cuba, you’ve likely met the street sweeper (or taxi driver or bartender) who knows more than a foreign neurosurgeon. These folks will tell you the best way to prepare lobster even if they’ve only tasted one in their life or expound on the safety of New York City streets though they’ve never been on a plane. ”

    I just screamed after reading this “yes yes yes!”. (This is not to be confused with Conner’s
    perhaps similar exclamation in regard to the activities described in para 2).

    And do have to concede that the males are worse. Within 5 minutes of arrival here in Australia they ‘know’ more about EVERYTHING than anyone who has lived their whole life here – LOL!

    • As John says: testosterone does weird things to the brain, no matter where in the world.

      And this brings up a very good point on which Id love to hear from readers: are the Cubans in YOUR city/town like this? Ive written so much about my acculturation experience here, Im almost ready to move over (metaphorically) and explore the Cuban immigrant experience to the US, Canada or Australia say….

  4. I hate to be a “sabe lo todo” myself, but I think you misuse neoliberal. I am not sure how it is referred to in Cuba, but while many of the founders of the neoconservative movement were at some point in their youth liberals, they are the first to decry any form of liberalism today. While contemporary American colonialism is often excused by the colonialists as “spreading democracy and liberty”, that is merely a talking point and not an actual motivation. The actual motivations can be found by reading the work that came out of an organization called “The Project for A New American Century” (PNAC) in the early 90s. This self-described and unabashedly neoconservative “think tank” became better known eight years after it presented its ideas for contemporary colonialism to Clinton (who rejected it – duh), when it changed its name to the Bush administration (Feith, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld wrote the PNAC strategy, and it was presented to Clinton under the signature of Dick Cheney).

    I can also see how having a Democratic president continue these policies can tempt one to use the term neoliberal, but again it would not apply. Barack Obama is not (and has never called himself) a liberal to begin with. He has always been a moderate in domestic policy. For example, he had not once used the words “the poor” in his Presidential campaign until John Edwards made discussing the poor a condition of anyone getting his endorsement after he dropped out of the race. And while being decidedly anti- Iraq war in rhetoric when he was in no position to do anything about it, his behavior in terms of the (mis)use of American power overseas and in terms of our own police state has been surprisingly neoconservative, and his being a Democrat does not change that.

    Collins English dictionary defines neoliberalism as “a modern politico-economic theory favouring free trade, privatization, minimal government intervention in business, reduced public expenditure on social services, etc” With the exception of what has become the American Mantra of Free trade I would have to say that none of thse fit a fair definition of current middle-to-left policy but rather is coming from the neoconservative movement.

    As for your response to Doug on human rights, I do not feel the “Vs” comparisons you sue are fair. While you are correct that Cuba GUARANTEES certain human rights (i.e. health care and education) that the US does not, it also jails those who practice those human rights not guaranteed by the government. No one in the US has been jailed for receiving health care or an education. It is this fundamental concept of freedom from government repression that is the basis of every international Human Rights organization, and a context under which the argument can always be productive.

    Yeah, I know, “sabe lo todo”. What else is new? P-)

    • Wow. this is why I don’t do politics much on this blog.

      Im talking about the Washington Consensus (aka neoliberalism), restructuring packages, IMF, World Bank etc. May be out of vogue in USA, but very much in use here in the Global South. Also, Im a litte confused: are you saying that “privatization, minimal government intervention in business, reduced public expenditure on social services” is NOT happening in the US? Then why was Mom so bullshit over the proposed privatization of her social security and why does Steven Colbert have to mount an aggressive fund raising campaign for art programs in public schools?

      On the human rights issues: isn’t there a woman in connecticut who has been arrested for enrolling her kid in a school district in which she didn’t live? Also: please let’s not forget that those in jail (and almost all have been released – changes are afoot) receive funding from an enemy state and are therefore considered enemy agents. the US is not immune to these types of actions on its own soil, I believe.

      I would argue that US folks are also under government repression w the Patriot Act and the Cuban Travel Ban, to cite 2 examples.

      Thanks for your interesting comment Normy.

      • I think I have been misunderstood, or unclear. I am arguing terminology, not behavior.

        I am not arguing that the United States is innocent of Human Rights violations, and yes the Patriot Act and travel bans are perfect examples. I was arguing that human rights violations are not relative, that there is consensus among those of conscience as to what constitutes human rights violations, and thus a discussion on human rights is not “counterproductive”.

        The so-called “neoliberal” direction in the US is driven entirely by the right and resisted by the middle and the left. The US has just shifted so far to the right over the last 30 years that what passes for the middle is frankly pretty far right itself. Neoliberalism and neoconservatism are just marketing strategies used to ‘rebrand’ economic despotism by Objectivists (Ayn Randians and Libertarians), to make it palatable to the left and the right. These words are meant to imply the death of true liberals and true conservatives so as to marginalizing them. Hello Orwell.

        The only place I disagree with you factually is that political prisoners in Cuba are few in number or agents of foreign states. Every nation’s people are falsely led to believe that. Many Cuban-Americans can tell you stories of relatives in Cuba held for resisting the government that were not foreign operatives. However, I also think it is fair to call a great deal of those imprisoned in the US Wars on “drugs” and “terror” as political prisoners as well.

      • Dave, I think you’re thinking neo liberalism in terms of domestic policy. Im talking neo liberalism as foreign policy – which dates back to the late 80s, early 90s and still prevails today, Hopefully the Seoul Consensus, reached to replace the Washington Consensus, will help straighten things out a bit.

        On your last point: give me some facts (not “stories of relatives”) and then we can start disagreeing on facts. Nearly 100 political prisoners have been released in the past year. Mistakes were made, moves are being made to correct them: that has to count for something right?

        Now I will respectfully request – as I have throughout the 2 years of this blog, but have only had to do one other time – that if we continue this conversation, we take it out of the comment fora. (Note to self: never mention Cuba and human rights again).

      • dhaxall

        Hi Dave and Conner,

        OK, I’m going to go after both of you a little bit here…

        Conner: As for “does anyone remember Stonewall?” well, why don’t we start with the fact that it’s Gay Pride weekend here in L.A. and tomorrow’s Pride Parade will probably have an attendance of 250,000? The entire Gay Pride movement is an outgrowth of Stonewall and in fact the organizing committee here in L.A. is called “Christopher Street West” in reference to the location where the Stonewall riot occurred. So, in short, the answer is a strong “yes”.

        Dave: “Neoliberalism” is as the dictionary defines it. It comes out of the classical definition of “liberalism” which was used pre-20th century meaning economic and political liberty, and refers to free trade and free enterprise. The modern American usage of the word “liberal” is a complete distortion of the original word and bears absolutely no resemblance to it. Much the same with “conservative”. After all, “conservativism” typically means a respect for tradition and status quo. But there is nothing “conservative” about today’s crop of so-called “conservatives”. Are they respecting today’s status quo of legal abortion rights, affirmative action, medicare and social security? Hardly. They are reactionaries who want to throw the clock back pre-FDR. And many of them harbor ideas that (as we’ve discussed on facebook and elsewhere) hearken more to traditional fascism than anything that would be found in a modern democracy. I’ve been thinking about writing a blog myself on this very topic! Anyway, Conner’s use of the word was correct.

        Conner: Just because there are political dissidents who have been jailed in America does not make it OK that there are political dissidents jailed in Cuba. I volunteer for a non-profit here that fights deportations against LGBT bi-national couples who are denied the right to live together because of the Defense of Marriage Act. This is a human rights abuse and occurs thousands of times every year in the USA because of anti-gay animus here. But even while discrimination against gays is too high in the USA, it is nowhere near the level of outright violence that occurs in Brazil where my hubby is from. Brazil has the highest hate crimes rate against LGBT people in the world. It is a violent place where gay children are ostracized from their families and parents who kill their gay children are not prosecuted. And yet Brazil also has the world’s largest gay pride parade in Sao Paolo and a burgeoning set of legal rights.

        So, why do I bring these things up? To emphasize that the struggle for LGBT human rights should NOT be considered as part of the “antipathy context” in which Americans and Cubans typically talk to each other, i.e. “my country is better than yours”. The LGBT struggle is a world-wide struggle with ups and downs in every country. The Latin American countries with which I am reasonably familiar now struggle with a background of Catholicism and machismo and a permissive attitude towards violence against LGBT folk. I have read that Castro has apologized for violence against gays in the past and I accept that, but if there are still LGBT activists in jail there who do not have the right to organize, then I would protest that as much as I would protest someone in an immigration detention center here. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

        I am particularly concerned by your throwing around of the “enemy” term as an apologism for heavy-handed jailings of dissidents. If Cuban LGBT rights activists received funds from American supporters are they therefore enemies and deserve jail sentences? Sounds pretty fascist to me. Yes, in America, people who have accepted funds from so-called terrorist organizations have been jailed and deported. But again, I’m not defending the USA. I’m simply pointing out that accepting money from someone does not suddenly make your actions in defense of human rights an act of treason. This “accepting money from foreigners” argument has been Castro’s favorite meme whenever he wants to jail someone and throw away the key. It’s an excuse.

        And as for Castro’s brilliance, I guess what you are saying is, he is a sabe-lo-tudo but he has the right to be because he actually does sabe-lo-tudo?

        Sorry for writing a book, ha ha!!

      • Doug – that’s fantastic that the memory of Stonewall lives on! Refreshing to learn it’s not all cock rings and grindr.

        I agree that LGBT rights are a global struggle. Anyone who is interested in what Cuba is doing to advance that struggle, here are some great resources:
        CENESEX – National Center for Sex Education (director: Mariela Castro)
        :Paquito el de Cuba – Out gay journalist and activist blogging from Cuba (in Spanish)
        IPS Cuba – reporting on LGBT themes from Cuba

        Throughout nine years here, I know of no LGBT person in jail for organizing or for being LGBT in Cuba. Doug, do you have a source for this or do you know if there are?

        As for all the other points. I wont say much since the purpose of this blog isn’t to defend Cuba. What I will say however, is that Cuba has the right, just like any sovereign nation, to organize itself and defend itself as it sees fit without foreign interference. Until the US lets them do that: yes, enemy agents, terrorists attacks, assassination attempts, etc will be taken as threats to the country.

        I respectfully request that any political discussion migrate to email.

        PS – I repeat: everyone should come to Cuba and experience it for themselves.

      • A request I will gladly honor.

  5. I really liked this post. 🙂 I was talking about your blog the other day to one of my friends. We stayed up all night talking about this and that and came onto the subject of the media and how it portrays certain countries. I immediately told my friend all about your blog and said that you provide such clear insight that most ignorant journalists (who’ve never been to Cuba, haven’t done their history and are already affected by bias that’s previously been created) or any of the media doesn’t have. I love that you post about the things you see with your own eyes and give us such a clear idea of Cuba. 🙂 (I guess this turned more into a love letter than a comment.)

    • Can’t see this video on dial up but Pupy is well, Pupy. Enjoy!

      (Milestone: first video comment posted on Here is Havana and first comment by Caney not correcting my Spanish! Hoorah!)

      • Caney

        Oops! Sorry for posting a youtube video… in fact the important part is the lyrics, directly related to the topic:

        LA BOMBA SOY YO

        Yo sÉ que tÚ eres aprendiz te todo
        yo sÉ que no eres titular de nada
        que has discutido sobre muchos temas,
        pero mi socio ninguno ganabas;
        porque no sabes nada de pintura
        tÚ no conoces nada de fútbol
        y mucho menos de literatura
        pa’que te haces.

        Si están hablando de fotografía,
        de medicina o de carpintería
        y si de música se trata el tema
        tú lo discutes sin ninguna pena,
        que si el merengue no es dominicano
        que si la salsa no es la música cubana,
        que si Frank Sinatra era americano,
        pa’que te haces (bis).

        De todo Pancho, lo que más me asombra,
        es que te falta lo que a un buen cubano
        porque en la música no tienes bomba
        y en el deporte te vas de la mano,
        porque no sabes nada de pelota
        y no has estado nunca en un bembé
        y no conoces a Manuel Mendive
        entonces qué (bis)

        coro1:
        anda Mayito dale
        de tu bomba un poquito

        coro2:
        aé, aé para los que saben
        ae, yo traigo mi clave

      • fuerte. ?El Pancho referido – quien es?

  6. Jane

    On not so serious a level, this drives me crazy. Now, I may not be Cordon Bleu chef, but I reckon I know how to cook a fried egg, or make a pasta sauce from scratch. And I definitely know that certain fruit need to be kept in the fridge to maintain freshness. Yet the frustration of my man hanging over my shoulder telling me “No” in the kitchen drives me to distraction. That’s not a sexist kitchen/cooking comment. I’m following a well-tried and tested Italian recipe to make a sauce I know well, and suddenly he knows it better……..having never made it before, of course. And just how difficult is it to make a fried egg? No, it doesn’t have to be tipped into a cup first……….and I’m sorry, but yes, melon WILL last longer in the fridge. When we don’t put it in the fridge, it’s bad in 24 hours, and then I get shouted at for not eating it in time ( he hates the stuff) – so it’s all my problem, whichever way I play it.

  7. Candysita

    Jajajajajaja. With all due respects to my Cuban friends and family, “sabe de todo” hit the proverbial nail on the head. Following a recent visit to Canada, a Cuban family member was bound and determined to watch t.v. without asking how to use the remote. She kept insisting she knew how it worked (this from a person who has never seen a satellite dish and has only two channels in the Oriente). Took me two days to re-program the thing. She “knew” how to use the washing machine, which, because of using half a bottle of detergent, resulted in suds a foot deep in the laundry room. She “knew” how to use a gas barbecue and proceeded to burn the steaks to a crisp and then had the audacity to tell me out Canadian beef was no good. (I cannot remember ever eating carne in Cuba). While in Cuba, I have pretty much learned to pick my battles and just agree with everything everyone says, even if it could not be farther from the truth.

    • jajaja! hilarious experiences Candy. My entire family in the States learned quickly: do not let the Cuban near the BBQ if you want something edible to come off it. On a related point: don’t let them carve the turkey.

      Thanks for writing in with tales from the other side. Damn, I should write a book already….

  8. viajera

    Conner
    Great post, as always. Gotta tell you – although I’m sure it won’t be news at all: sabelotodismo (now THERE’S a word and a philosophy to live by, jejejejje) survives just as well – in fact with even MORE vigous – in specimens of Cubans transplanted to other shores.

    It might just have been him (there’s a reason why we separated), but my Cuban ex, once installed in the UK, would very regularly argue the toss with me over matters of UK law, British policing, English grammar, my career choices, how the UK’s taxation system works, how British rental leases are worded, UK insurance policies, and a million other things which he just couldn’t admit that I (born and bred in the UK and working in a sector where finding out reliable information quickly is the whole game) MIIIIIGHT have a better idea of than him (recently arrived from Cuba and a lifetime’s work in a band.)

    Luis Aguilar de Leon said it best in his classic text “El profeta habla de los cubanos”, in which a fictional Prophet explains to his acolytes just WHY they are indeed sabelotodisimos, but right to be so:

    “Nunca subestiméis a los cubanos. El brazo derecho de San Pedro es cubano, y el mejor consejero del Diablo es también cubano….

    “No discutáis con ellos jamás. Los cubanos nacen con sabiduría inmanente. No necesitan leer, todo lo saben. No necesitan viajar, todo lo han visto. Los cubanos son el pueblo elegido … de ellos mismos. […]

    Cada uno de ellos lleva la chispa del genio, y los genios no se llevan bien entre sí. De ahí que reunir a los cubanos es fácil, unirlos imposible. Un cubano es capaz de lograr todo en este mundo menos el aplauso de otro cubano.” […]

    “Los cubanos intuyen las soluciones aún antes de conocer los problemas. De ahí que para ellos “nunca hay problema”. Y se sienten tan grandes que a todo el mundo le dicen “chico”. Pero ellos no se achican ante nadie. Si se les lleva al estudio de un famoso pintor, se limitan a comentar “a mí no me dio por pintar”. Y van a los médicos, no a preguntarles, sino a decirles lo que tienen.” […]

    “Cuando visité su isla me admiraba su sabiduría instantánea y colectiva. Cualquier cubano se consideraba capaz de liquidar al comunismo o al capitalismo, enderezar a la América Latina, erradicar el hambre en África y enseñar a los Estados Unidos a ser potencial mundial. Y se asombran de que las demás gentes no comprendan cuan sencillas y evidentes son sus fórmulas.”

    It got kind of amusing after a while. Kind of.

    • Oye Viajera: thanks for the insightful comment and for shining a light on the dark recesses of my imagination: if ever my husband did a 180 and wanted to emigrate to yuma-ward, ojo! It would only aggravate this already aggravating tendency. Sorry you had to go through this. Pesao!

      (pick your battles, find the funniness in it, move on….lessons to live by?)

    • quepasa

      Hello Viajera! ….I loved the text from Luis Aguilar de Leon, so to the point!!! This text can come in handy at several occasions. 😉

      (Sorry to hear about your marriage, didn’t know that )

      Saludos

  9. bita

    Hi Conner,
    So I just discovered your blog and have been enjoying reading it (and wondering why you don’t have more entries though you probably have other things going on besides blogging!). The other day I was reading some of your posts aloud to my Cuban boyfriend and his sister and they were cracking up at some of your descriptions and observations of Cuban life. I know you and others have commented on how you gripe about life there…but I get that while you love it, it’s also simultaneously hard at times. Perhaps more often than not (can’t imagine living with the unbearable humidity for starters). I think you wouldn’t be real or human if you just loved every aspect of a land and culture that are not your own, however intimately you might know it after so many years. I very much appreciate your honesty and humor.

    I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba, though reading your blog makes me that much more eager to visit, and yet totally freaked out at the same time. 🙂 But don’t worry, I *will* make it there! Oh, and I haven’t read your medical writings yet but I plan to. My boyfriend and his sister were both trained as doctors in Cuba (I’m in health care too) so I know a bit about that. And thankfully, my bf is no sabelotodo…but he does say he’s an atypical Cuban. Looking forward to reading more!

    • Bienvenida!!! (This is my favorite type of comment: informed praise from a new reader, and with a Cuban involved no less!)

      For bita and others who wonder why Í don’t post more – it’s very simple: I have to make a living. Here is Havana has no advertising, no annoying pitches for hotels you would never stay at or bunk Cuba websites with out of date info. So I have to write for pay while the blog languishes. Wanna help out? Buy (and REVIEW – very important!) my Havana Good Time iapp, or my Guatemala guide or Best Womens Travel Writing.

      Griping? You betcha: it took me over ONE HOUR to open this comment and response field and I still haven’t been able to open any email. Such is the internet over here and it makes my job that much harder. I can take the heat, it’s the tech stress that’s killing me.

      Thanks for writing in and big ups to your bf (love those atypical cubans!)

  10. dany

    as a Cuban) think you are right. My husband(also Cuban) does this and it drives me crazy. He’ll talk about anything that he has absolutely no knowledge of, stating his opinions as facts,getting heated and upset, en fin tremendo!!
    I have some cuban friends here in Canada and sometimes it gets tiresome, and yes, even women. Example,my mother-in-law visited us last year for 6 months (!!). She was here for the winter and coming back to Cuba my mom tells me she was saying that winter in El Cotorro, Havana is even worse than winter in Alberta,Canada! (-30 Celsius and less).
    When we go to parties with other cubans there is always a heated argument that dissolves in smiles of course but the things they say presenting them as facts!OMG
    Maybe it is as you say due to the ocuntry being an island, due to the Revolution, I think we’ve always been like this lol. A mix of Spanish and Africans (and I’ve met so many africans here and we do share so many traits!) is good for many things but not so good for others 🙂 but what can we do,it’s part of being Cuban 🙂

  11. dany

    (sorry, me again!)
    on the other hand it also makes my blood boil to hear or read some comments (not you Conner!) made by non cubans about cubans, like that when travelling to other provinces a Canadian woman was horrified to see cuban women peeing on the bushes, or the floor of the bathroom (and you have seen those interprovinciales bathrooms!(shudder). Do they think we like that? we love taking our trip break on a smelly bathroom covered in feces with no water?. Or in a forum (cubaamor) saying that cuban men have done animal sex (as in fucking goats or cows) in their lives (really?!! the entire cuban population?). So many things, like all cubans are liars, all cubans cheat, those generalizations absolutely kill me. and (tongue firmly planted in cheek) so many foreigners act condescendinlgy (what a word) and in patronizing way about Cubans, as if we are somehow inferior, not civilized etc.
    Rant over 🙂

    • Thanks for not lumping me in with those folks Dany! Another pet peeve: folks who come here for a two week vacation and have it all figured out – the why of the problems, the how to solve them, the future here etc. Ive been here full time for 9 years and I still haven’t figured it out! Conner’s rule of thumb for Cuba #629: It’s complex. None of the answers are simple and regardless, you likely don’t have them.

      BTW readers: I have never seen a Cuban peeing on the floor, though I am confounded why people dont flush when there’s water. I get it when “no hay agua” but I can’t tell you how many times Ive had to flush a perfectly flush-able toilet. Maybe folks just assume there’s no water/the toilet’s broken after so many “special” years?

  12. Leonardo Rafael

    Jajaa! soo true and funny! I enjoyed Conner’s post and most of the replies..

    I also enjoyed Viajera’s post!! I already printed so I can take it to my friends in Cuba.:)

    I have a friend who swears that Naomi Campbell is Cuban! ….plus one of the black Victoria Secret is Habanera! (not true) had to walk away from that one

    Lets see, another friend who said that Cuba has 1 nuclear missile (left over from missile crisis) ready and directed to D.C… and can travel in 5 seconds…..hmm

    Another friend who is convinced that there is gold in Pinar del rio, the largest gold reserve in the world! ..

    plus many more, at first I I thought it was Beer/Ron talk but I later realized that they are convinced!! I used to agrue til the cows came home but there is no way that that you can argue with a convinced Cuban!!

    I guess I am not the ony one who encountered a Cuban Borg! Resistance is Futile at times…..so I resort to ..”oh yeah? non sabia” cucha pa ka! jeje

    “The draft is white people sending black people to fight yellow people to protect the country they stole from red people.”
    James Rado.

  13. Leonardo Rafael

    Sorry for double posting ..but I did see Cubanas peeing on the bushes! (after heay drinking at rapido) they are also very good at i might say! (maybe it has to do with the micro skirts)! jeje

    but same here in Canada! when you have to go you gotta go! no matter where you live…..

    • Thanks for reading and writing in Leonardo. Even I’ve peed in a few bushes and alleyways when nature calls!! Something about peeing on a bathroom floor is more asqueroso – as I said, I’ve never seen it in Cuba and hope not to!! Happy travels

  14. Caney

    “Something about peeing on a bathroom floor is more asqueroso – as I said, I’ve never seen it in Cuba and hope not to!!”

    Do not go then to the toilets of the anfiteatro de La Habana Vieja orLas Vegas or El Palermo, or…

  15. the philisten

    jajaja que ironia! hablas de que mal te caen las conversaciones sobre periodos o menstruaciones entre los cubanos y por otro lado no tienes ninguna verguenza en hablar de lo que haces en privado jajajaja me haces reir tanto !!!! como dirian, te peinas o te haces papelillos?

    • Que bien – la risa salva. Ya estoy ‘aplatanada’ – hable de ‘la regla,’ sexo, mierda y mas. Tambien, acompano los enfermos, comparto que lo tengo (no que sobra), y toca gente todo el tiempo. Por eso (y miles otras razones), la gente me llama Americana-Cubana.

  16. Stephanie Wildes

    Hey Conner, I just discovered your blog and have been devouring it. (Great work evasion tool!) I also found you linked to some of the IPS stories we translated on Cuba (like the one on education linked in this post). That was extra fun :-). A friend/colleague of mine, a Canadian who spent 10 years in Cuba before coming here (to Uruguay, where I’ve lived for the last 20 years with my Uruguayan husband and kids) figured out she met you once at a party. Small world. Some of the things you mention about Cuba are similar to Uruguay; most are obviously very different! But I loved your description in Re-entry’s a Bitch, about no longer being a total gringa while you’ll never be really Cuban. Perfect description of how I feel when I visit my hometown of Minneapolis.

    Thanks for the best (and most entertaining) insights about Cuba I’ve found yet.

    Abz,
    Stephanie

    • Sweet! It is a small world after all. Im wracking my brain as to who your friend might be, but with no luck. READERS: IPS is one of the most consistently reliable sources for news from the Global South. If you’re tired of mainstream, corporate media, I highly rec’d visiting IPS and IPS Cuba – dedicated to all things Cuban (this is particularly fabulous, in English & Spanish).

      I have been thinking a lot about the expat, outsider state of mind, which seems to evolve and change no matter how long Im here – which is interesting: I thought it would plateau at some point, but it hasn’t. I wonder what your experience has been with 2 decades in Uruguay (a country near and dear to my heart, a proposito)?

      So glad you like the blog!

  17. Stephanie Wildes

    No, you’re right, it doesn’t plateau. In fact now I’ve got a group of fellow bicultural/bilingual translator friends and am speaking more English than ever (I have always spoken English to the kids but they respond in Spanish – other than that I didn’t speak – or hear – much English here for years).

    One thing that’s different about Uruguay is that I think it’s fairly easy to blend in. No one ever takes me for a foreigner, and that includes when I have short conversations (if the conversation is longer or I get nervous – like at the doctor – my accent starts to crop up). So that’s definitely a perk. (Well that doesn’t happen with other gringos I know – I guess it’s relative. Still, it’s quite different from what you describe in Cuba, or from different countries I’ve been to.)

    On the other hand, when we go to my favorite thrift store in Mpls (we visit every year or two – and I am totally with you on the “new-to-me” clothes thing!), the employees who are from Mexico and Central America or shoppers’ kids (from the same part of the world) say things like “mirá mamá, que bien habla español ese gringo!” about my husband or about the kids jaja; it takes a while to break the ice with them – and to get them to speak Spanish with my husband and the kids, who all have an obvious accent when they speak English.

    I’m glad to hear you love Uruguay, I’m constantly defending it from Uruguayans! (Well they love their paísito but they can be overly self-critical.) I love this country and would never want to live anywhere else.

    • Ha! I have a similar experience in NY (my hometown) where I speak Spanish at every opportunity when Im visiting. Its amazing the doors a little espanol opens.

      Yes, lack of English speaking opportunities in Havana has sometimes compelled me to watch Friends reruns and Fast & Furious movies (both regular fodder on Cuban TV) just to hear my native tongue. The horror!

  18. Stephanie Wildes

    Here everything on TV is dubbed – except some BBC programs on the state channel (which has excellent programming actually). We’ll get cable someday but none of us even have time to watch it now so it’ll have to wait. In the meantime, I download movies and watch them on the computer with the kids.

    The first few years were pretty hard in that sense – there were no programs to watch in English at all. And with the kids so little I was pretty desperate for anything to watch – I even got hooked on a couple of Brazilian telenovelas, and a Japanese one…ER (dubbed) was a lifesaver, but then they took it off from one day to the next – I’m still getting over the shock and it was years ago! I cannot stomach the programming from Argentina, which vies with Hollywood fare here. I heard Poné a Francella used to be popular in Cuba – here too. UGH.

    • ER is still shown in Cuba – 5 nights a week! – and not dubbed, but subtitled.

      Telenovelas (soaps) are very important in Cuba – as barometers of what folks are thinking, for lingo, and as a tool for popular education even. I hate soap operas (Grey’s Anatomy notwithstanding!) but was hooked on an Argentinean one here years ago and the Cuban soaps are a must watch just to keep abreast of what the TV and Radio Institute is up to.

      That Francella is posioning the gene pool. Awful! Im so glad they took this off the air some years ago. (for those not in America Latina: Francella is an Argentinean of a certain age [read: Viagra-popping] who has a variety show featuring lots of scantily clad, stacked women interacting with him in all sorts of machista ways. Nauseating, de verdad)

    • BTW – thanks for subscribing! This way, you’ll never miss out on new content. Coming soon: Occupy Wall Street in Cuba Solidarity & Surprise; Supersititious Cubans; and How to Know Your Cuban Lover is Lying….

      Someone else wanna subscribe? It’s easy here.

  19. ER is showing five nights a week???? Subtitled? Can’t wait to get back -which channel? ER kept me (in)sane when I was living in Jordan……

    But seriously folks – thanks for showing me a different way of looking at things that totally confused me in Stgo this year. Like, why I couldn’t have a beer when I had a sore throat (and that said to an Australian, for heaven’s sake). Or the fact that I, a woman of +60 years, often felt like I had returned to the primary school playground and was being told by the older kids. And why there are so many battlegrounds; I often wondered how the chessboard survived the emphatic – and triumphant – placement of even a pawn.

    It is just so, so fascinating, this globe, with all the differences to explore. If only there were enough time 🙂

  20. Cubarhythms – OK now you got my curiousity, why couldn’t you have a beer when you were in Santiago???

    Conner – Also out of curiousity, how does American programming like ER get to Cuba? Isn’t it subject like everything else to the embargo/blockade?

    Hugs from Stateside!

    Doug

    • Hiya Doug! Cuban TV is wall-to-wall US programming (ok, maybe about 40%. Cuban and various Latin American making up the other 60%), from series and movies to shows like Dog Whisperer. All the US programming is….repurposed, shall we say. A friend of mine likes to comment: when the blockade ends, so will Television Cubana since much of the content is “repurposed.”

  21. Basically? If I had a beer it would undo all the good work that had been done to fix my sore throat (like salvia leaves chewed and spit out, now that’s an experience). It was the only time that I’ve actually seen him angry, and for such a preposterous reason. Thankfully the sore throat eased quickly and I was allowed back to my beer. But a salutary lesson in how science – a beer cannot have that much impact – has no power against sabelotodo. Next time I’ll be taking lots of preventive Vitamin C and hopefully avoid the sore throat 🙂

  22. I really enjoy your blog! Thank you so much. Your language skills and your humor is great!

    • Thanks FP, I do try. Not sure about my language skills (search on Caney’s comments – she keeps me honest in that department!) but I do appreciate your appreciation of my humor. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and Im still honing my humor-in-Spanish skills, but I do admit I can make people laugh and enjoy doing so!

  23. Pingback: Crystal Balling Cuba | Here is Havana

  24. If only.....

    It’s good to laugh about this. I love Cuban culture, but this is one aspect that drives me up one side of the wall and down the other. I’ve spent a lot of time in Cuba, was married to a Cuban and engaged to another. And my family is African, so I have a certain tolerance for BIG inaccurate talk. But Cuban big talk renders me dazed and exhausted. Case in point, my ex-fiance insisted that blind spots didn’t exist when driving. I realized that perhaps there aren’t enough cars or car lanes in Cuba’s smaller cities for drivers to realize the blind spot does in fact exist. He was soooooo certain that I too began to doubt whether it existed… that is until he arrived in the US and still insisted that there was no such thing as the blind spot (or angulo muerto in Spanish – a telling expression) and that he would not look over his shoulder before changing lanes on a freeway. I imagined him driving alone with the baby in the car (which I couldn’t let him do) and suddenly it just wasn’t funny anymore. I wonder if Cubans use sabe-lo-todos with other Cubans. Maybe they just try to out-sabe each other, and the one who is the most confident prevails. I wish I didn’t have the desire to make sense of this. I wish it didn’t bother me and I could just laugh it off. But oh well, there you have it. It’s funny because I realize that I would just write off an American who behaved that way as a BIG talker who I can avoid. But somehow when a Cuban does it, I find it simultaneously brain scrambling and attractive. Maybe the attraction is the absolute confidence Cubans have when saying something that cannot possibly be true. Confidence is beautiful.

    • REAL confidence is beautiful and admirable. False confidence or that based on lack of knowldege is ugly and slightly pathetic (plus, it can be deadly. To wit: the story of the blind spot).

      I know Cubans who are sabe lo todo’s with their compatriots and these may be the most dangerous since they are so very often right. Which reinforces that know-it-all perspective. Its slightly maddening and Ive tried to instill in certain friends and family suffering from this affliction an appreciation for the Socractic method. In this. Ive failed miserably!

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  25. Pingback: Cuba: The Eternal Education | Here is Havana

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  27. iz

    Ño mija, que criticona eres.

  28. Ok… i’ve spent the last two days doing (almost) nothing else but reading your blog. 3 weeks ago i came back from a – too short – 2 weeks trip to Cuba – a childhood/teenage years’ wish, and i’m lovesick ever since :)). After falling in love with this country and its painful, elegant, gritty, “lust-for life”-ish, confused, deep, frivolous, proud-of-itself-but-longing-for-alterity, desperate fighting, and/or simply beautiful “ethos” of it – as little as i could feel and perceive of it beyond the “tourist way” i mostly refused to address in relating to it, since i’ve returned, i find myself thinking “crazy”, more or less seriously (the pragmatic issues – like what i could do over there for a living as decent as i have right now – are the biggest issues to start with, and the psychological, personal ones are yet too unclear to me), about.. moving to Havana.
    But i must say everything i’ve read about Cuba in those past 3 weeks (your blog being the most detailed and insightful, so far) is perfectly coherent with the little i get to sense/see/infer in my ridiculously 2 weeks short of an encounter with this special geographic, social, economic, historic and human space. this post is, so far, one of my favorite. i guess because it channels a deeper “sociological-ish” approach to the roots of the “ethos” above-mentioned.
    thank you, Connie! i will keep reading “you”. btw, i think i might have ignorantly passed in front of the cuba libro place… for the next time (whenever will that be – hopefully, soon), now i know where it is :).

    • later edit: i have no idea where i got the “Connie” from, instead of “Conner”. sorry for that. i might have felt too familiar and my fingers listened, blindly, to my subconscious :))

      • No worries! Having lived in Cuaba so long, Ive been called everything from Konyet to Karen. Ive always hated Connie, except when my stepson started using it as a term of carino for me. Once again giving thanks to my Cuban family for expanding my perspective!

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