Conner’s Cuba Rules

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Since I’m from the Estados Unidos (more fittingly known as ‘Estamos Jodidos,’ or the independent republic of ‘We’re Screwed’), very few friends have visited me here on the “wrong side” of the Straits (see note 1). The lengths the US goes to keep Cuba down makes me indignant, but also sad since my peeps haven’t been able to experience this place for themselves and draw their own conclusions as to how good (or not so) things are in my world.

Last week however, the friend blockade was broken by some dear old amigos who finally made the leap and turned up for a visit.

As you might expect, they had lots of questions about governance and control, salaries and employment, the burgeoning private sector, tourism, race relations, emigration and myriad other aspects of Cuban life. Their curiosity and desire to better understand the sometimes unfathomable reality that is Cuba, forced me into a thoughtful analysis of the mundane, germane, and slightly insane features of life here.

Since the contemporary Cuban reality is so complex and different from what most people know, I’ve developed several rules of thumb for travelers wanting to maximize their Cuba visit. Part philosophical, part practical, the following complement Trip Tips: Havana Independently, posted in these pages some time ago.

– 8 out of 10 people approaching you on the street want something. ‘Do you have the time?’ ‘Where you from?’ and ‘Hello, my fren! Francia?! Italia?!’ are the most common lines used on new arrivals by jineteros. These are always asked with a good dose of charm in some of the best English you’re likely to hear in Cuba and it usually takes a couple of days before visitors get clued in to the hustle.

Conner’s Rule of Thumb #1: Deny hustlers an easy opening by eschewing clothing or accessories that identify your nationality and learn a few deterring phrases. These might include ‘déjame en paz’ (leave me alone) or for those who won’t take no for an answer: ‘no te metes conmigo, coño’ (don’t mess with me damn it). If you’re a hustler magnet (or hater), consider steering clear of tourist hot spots in Habana Vieja and Centro Habana altogether. In the end, all foreigners are seen as rubes and marks regardless of station, education, or experience.

– Cubans tell you what they think you want to hear. As a rule, foreigners receive the ‘poor oppressed us’ line first. A sympathy ploy laced with political assumption, this tactic is tiresome for its banality and blatant disregard for facts. You’ll be told, for example, about the stiff penalties incurred for killing a cow, but this ‘woe’s me’ contingent will conveniently leave out the part about the government guaranteeing milk for all children under 7, pregnant women, and other vulnerable groups – the reason cows are protected property. Cubans renting rooms in their houses are notorious for this type of incomplete picture peddling, complaining to clients about the taxes levied upon their business. What they neglect to mention is that their income-earning homes are provided by the government virtually rent-free. Wanting a rent-free property to run a business and be tax exempt? That’s chutzpah.

But this cuts both ways. If, for instance, you evidence respect and awe for the Cuban Revolution, you’re likely to hear about free education and the wonders of organic farming. What you won’t necessarily hear about are the overcrowded dormitories with shitty food and water shortages or the country’s experiments with genetically-modified crops.

Conner’s Rule of Thumb #2: Cubans tend to see things as black and white, when the truth more often resides in the gray. When picking a Cuban’s brain, always consider the source and listen to the complainers very closely: you’ll likely hear the axe they’re grinding loud and clear.

– You can’t ‘fix’ Cuba. There’s an especially annoying type of tourist who after two weeks here is convinced they’ve got it all figured, that they know precisely how to fix what’s broken (see note 2). Their simplistic ideas often disregard the complexities of Cuban society and illustrate a woeful ignorance of history, geo-politics, even the weather. For example, if you think hurricanes have little connection to health and housing in Cuba, you might be this type of visitor. Even after living here for 9 years, I can’t figure it all out and while it’s possible some tourist is better positioned to analyze Cuba, it’s not likely.

Conner’s Rule of Thumb #3: The more you know about Cuba, the less you understand. Remember: it’s better to remain silent and appear a fool than open your mouth and prove it. If you’re truly keen to learn, read widely before your trip, ask lots of questions once here, and avoid declarations.

– The more things change, the more they stay the same. Huge, watershed changes are taking place here, but at its core, Cuba is still Cuba. It’s a cultural constancy that may be drawing to a close as market forces gather momentum, but I’m not so sure. Consider this quote:

 It is plain there is a good deal to be learned here…Things which we cannot do without, we must go out of the house to find, and those which we can do without we must dispense with. This is odd and strange, but not uninteresting and affords scope for contrivance and the exercise of influence and other administrative powers…I must inform myself on the subject of this strange development of capital over labor.”

– Richard Henry Dana, Jr.

 What’s so interesting about this observation is that it could have easily been made yesterday, but dates from 1859.

Conner’s Rule of Thumb #4: Cuba is evolving, but not necessarily in the direction or way you or I might think (or want). Though the steps people take to maintain balance might change, the fact that the ground is always moving never does. Do like Cubans and roll with it.

No coge lucha. Threats to national sovereignty notwithstanding, Cubans don’t take too much too seriously, preferring to get and go along over fussing and fighting. I’m convinced it has something to do with the weather – this heat is enough to wither anyone’s defenses – but is probably also related to the fact that there is so little housing and employment movement here, if you piss a neighbor or co-worker off, you’re in for a lifetime of problems.

Conner’s Rule of Thumb #5: Don’t get your knickers in a twist if things don’t go as planned or a government drone isn’t cooperating. Have a sense of humor, laugh it off and follow the old axiom: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Writing all this, I realize I’d be wise to take my own advice!

Notes

1. For anyone new to this blog +/o US-Cuba relations, the freedom for US citizens and residents to travel to the island has been restricted for 50 years. As I type this, the House Appropriations Committee has just voted to reverse the small opening Obama offered US travelers wanting to travel to Cuba.

2. These types really chap my ass, almost as much as the Cuban émigré who hasn’t been here in 20 years or worse, the person sitting at their computer who has never been here.

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57 Comments

Filed under Americans in cuba, Cuban customs, Cuban idiosyncracies, Cuban Revolution, dream destinations, Expat life, Living Abroad, Travel to Cuba, Uncategorized

57 responses to “Conner’s Cuba Rules

  1. johnabbotsford

    “Conner’s Rule of Thumb #3: The more you know about Cuba, the less you understand. ”

    Coincidentally I recently came across a report i wrote some years ago following my first visit to Cuba.
    This was roughly the first paragaraph:
    “The first few days were extremely confusing but after a week I felt I was really starting to understand how things worked. By the end of the five weeks I realised that I understood less than when I arrived in Cuba!”

    • Exactly! I wrote pretty much the same thing after 5 years. Also: this is a good opportunity for me to rec’d what I always do: if you’re coming to cuba for the first time, write down everything you expect o find/see/smell experience once you get here. Then keep a journal while here and see how expectations measure up to the reality….happy travels!

  2. Another good post Conner. Re jinteros, I’ve stayed in Centro Habana every year since 2002 and almost never bumped into one there in that time. Could be that the folks there know to leave me alone by now, or maybe it’s a specific part of Centro you’re thinking of. Habana vieja is such a nightmare on the other hand, that I rarely go there at all. Also will never go to the Malecon – from Vieja through Vedado – for the same reason (although it isn’t so bad if you walk on the side opposite the sea wall).

  3. Great article. One quick observation: Rule of thumb #2 ironically enough can be said to be true in the good old U.S. of A these days as well.

  4. sam

    OK..I’ll jump in here as the first comment. The #2 and #3 really get to me. Maybe people aren’t commenting because they are seeing a part of themselves in your “rules”. I know for sure I should listen to rule #2 and # 5 more often. The #3’s that bug me are people who fall on both sides of the spectrum. Either they went to Cuba once and decided it was a oppressive police state or they paid 4,000 bucks to go on a 2 week global exchange guided tour and now they think the entire island is eating organic veggies singing kumbaya. Either way…yeah..the truth always lies in the grey. #5 gets me every time someone tries to charge me 1CUC for bottled water or soda that I know costs 50cents…I can argue and argue all I want…but eventually I just end up paying the 1CUC because I’m thirsty and arguing with them is just making me more dehydrated. 🙂

  5. pat

    How expectations live up to reality? Looking back at some journal entries before my first trip I am daydreaming about having political discussions and having every detail of the revolution explained (course I guess this was in English too since my Spanish is so bad – just to stretch the imagination even further)… Anyway, agree with Sam about the #3’s – soooo tiresome! I know one American woman who interrupts Cubans to tell them how great the revolution is! Where did I see it written lately that just because they/we have huge problems doesn’t make us/them perfect? I want my Kumbaya!

    • Pat, you are so right. There are those visitors (I’ll call them Super Communists) who are more Cuban than the Cubans, more red than the PCC. Also tiresome! Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Ivan

    I am Cuban and I did not like this post. Sounds like it was written in Hialeah. But, hey it’s your opinion. I will continue to read your blog though.

    • Im sorry to hear that Ivan – you’ve read my blog enough to know that kind of comment hurts! What exactly sounded like Hialeah? If you could be more specific, it would be more helpful to me. Feel free to contact me privately if you wish.

      • Ivan

        Oh, I REALLY didn’t mean to hurt you. Sorry. I read your reply today. I had lost track of your blog. It was just my opinion of what you wrote. “8 out of 10 people approaching you on the street want something”? I don’t know what kinds of Cubans you’re refering to or how you can say that. Someone who’s never been to Cuba might get the wrong idea of Cubans. It’s as though I said 8 out 10 Americans are stupid, arrogant, shallow, materialistic (I don’t know if that word even exists in English). I can’t say that. Some are, some are nice, intelligent, giving, honest. That is one thing I did not like about your post. There are others, but …

      • Ivan, that’s your opinion, and you have a right to it. However, what I wrote here about the 8 out of 10 cubans is not based on my personal opinion, but rather on my personal experience.

        Im not sure as a Cuban of color (more on that later) you can fully appreciate what it’s like for an obvious yuma like me (eg blond hair, blue eyes) to try and do errands around La Rampa/Capitolio/anywhere in Habana Vieja. It is oppressive, the people coming up to me to part me from $$, get me into a paladar or taxi or offering other “services.” Ask other foreign visitors here: the hustle in these areas of Havana, by a certain sector of society is REAL and a growing problem if you ask me. People getting the wrong idea? Any visitor to Havana has experienced this – even if they don’t realize they’re being hustled, which in that case, no harm, no foul I guess.

        On the color thing: Ive had a lot of experience walking these areas of Havana w my husband, who though from Pogolotti, is white and mistaken for a foreigner all the time when he’s with me (people love their stereotypes!) and it has led to some not pleasant encounters. Have you ever walked in Habana Vieja with a blond haired, blue eyed friend? (hembra o varon no importa) You might be surprised. Give it a try and report back!!

  7. Dan

    I agree completely with the notion about trying to wear stuff that blends in a bit (under Rule #1- escew clothing and accessories that {mark you for a sucker}): my time in Cuba has become much easier since I (by mistake) learned to wear a bright blue nylon rain jacket and to carry with me, instead of my beat up old back pack, a spiffy-looking brief case which I will give to a cuban friend when I leave. Comfy shoes I can not give up since walking is the best way to visit cuba, but the rest can at least TRY not to look too foreign… Also agree that Habana Centro is pretty much free of bother on the streets, and as such is a great place to stay when in la habana. Great Rules and we all hope that your friends will come back many more times!

  8. Jane

    Re: Rule #1 – I think I’ve finally escaped the street hustlers (hasslers?). I now totally change my wardrobe when in Cuba to look more local (NB this does NOT include wearing orange “short” shorts with matching top!!! Or a frilly skirt that wiggles just below my bum with 6 inch heels). I also don a pair of dark sunglasses to avoid eye-contact, and walk with an attitude that I know exactly where I’m going and what I’m doing, and I find I rarely get approached anymore, despite being blonde.
    Re: Rule #2 I spent about 5 years in an Asian country, which is fairly obtuse but whose language I speak, and spent many a time smiling to myself at those 1 month visitors who said they were confused at first, but after a month, they now understood it. Believe me, if they understand it, please could they explain it to me, coz after 5 years, I sure still don’t get it!

    • Jane – you’re a traveler after my own heart.

      So right about the walk: a friend of mine pointed out how different yuma women walk from cuban women. check it out some time – it’s a dead giveaway.

      I hear you on the sunglasses thing but Ive tried a different approach lately which is netting some positive/surprising results (maybe a future post on this) which is to make eye contact, smile, and say in my best cubano: good morning! how are you? catches them completely off guard, usually makes them smile and everyone is feeling good.

    • sam

      To or to not make eye contact..that is the eternal question 🙂

      I’ve been lucky(ish) to grow up in fairly large sized US cities with their own brand of hustlers and annoyances on the street. So I generally behave the same way in Havana. A brisk walk, sunglasses and avoid eye contact. This backfired on me once when my boyfriend’s (I’m dating someone in Havana) friend was tying to get my attention on the street. I just kept walking for more than a block totally ignoring him…until he stopped me and I realized that I knew him 🙂

      I’ll never try and walk like a Cubana…totally impossible for me to pull off.

      Although, I do enjoy the occasional banter/flirtation etc…I think getting cat called/flirted with on the street is different from someone following you and trying to sell you some crap or bring you to a Casa. Thankfully I’ve only experienced this a handful of times. I haven’t really had anyone try and pull the Casa/Restaurant/Cigar buying thing on me. If I’m in a good mood and someone calls to me on the street I try and smile or make some flirty/snarky comment back and keep walking. Usually that ends the interaction. I can’t say I’ve ever had any real problems on the street in Cuba with men or hustlers (fingers crossed).

      • Thanks for your POV Sam. I agree: the piropos and flirting are different from the paladar/cigar/casa/boy and girl peddlers. I, too, have spent most of my time in big cities (born and raised in NY; 7+ years in SF) so Id say my street smarts and armor are pretty well honed. Regardless, I’ve been physically assaulted twice: once in Monterey California and once on Calle 23 y 26 here in Havana. Very random, both times.

  9. Charlie Uslander

    Super article!! It stimulated me with even more desire to visit Cuba and experience firsthand what so many of my native Cuban friends here in the states have tried to express!!

  10. Ro

    I don’t know why Ivan thinks the post was written in Hialeah — al contrario, Ivan.
    “Remember: it’s better to remain silent and appear a fool than open your mouth and prove it. If you’re truly keen to learn, read widely before your trip, ask lots of questions once here, and avoid declarations.”
    If anything, this is the kind of respect that is lacking in most Florida-based writing about Cuba, period, and that lack of respect is what puts the “ugly” in “the ugly American,” to say nothing of the “ugly Cuban-American.”
    If we respect, we hear more, see more, learn more… maybe even re-learn what we thought we knew….

    • Ivan

      In other words, I just have to shut up and accept Conner’s opinion that 80% of Cubans only approah tourists to beg for something, right? I’m a Cuban, who’s lived in Cuba all my life and that is NOT the case. 80% of Cubans DON’T do that.

      • 1. I didn’t say beg; I said they want something – not the same.
        2. Regular Cubans (ie those who DON’T want something) do not approach strangers on the street, in my experience. Wouldn’t you agree Ivan? Do YOU walk up to foreigners on the street to strike up conversation? Does your mom or cousin?
        3. I repeat: this has been my experience. Any other foreigners who have been to Cuba want to weigh in with theirs?
        4. See my other comment about taking a tour around Habana Vieja w a Yuma (if they’re wearing an all inclusive wrist band, even better!)

      • I thin you are talking past each other a bit. It is all a matter of perspective. I think most people who “stick out” in a situation and thus are or are mistaken for tourists have similar experiences. As a proud American and even prouder New Yorker, I know that most New Yorkers are pretty incredible people. I have also watched what happens around me enough that if a tourist told me that “8 out of 10 people approaching me want something” on a NY street I would believe them.

        Major cities are magnets for tourists and those who prey on tourists. I would hazard a guess that Conner’s experience is every bit as real as she says, but not particularly unique to Havana at all.

      • Fernando Rodriguez

        Just got back from Havana and Trinidad. Out of all the people we had interactions with, about eighty percent wanted something, and out of those, 90% tried to purposefully lure us into bad deals, swindle us out of money, lie to or faces, or get over on us in any way that was harmful to us,and of benefit to their gypsie lifestyle,rather than earning money from us rightfully. The restaurants and bars participate in this too,by paying these Chicos 50% commission. They drive the market to rip off hard working people like my wife and I. Unless I show up alone looking and sounding like more of a local ( I’m Hispanic), and they give me the other menu at 1/3 the cost. From hotels to cheap souvenir stands, it’s a corrupt business culture, where cheating Americans out of money is honored. They’re mostly all swindlers. Maybe more than ninety percent. We found two good people in each town, who helped us out, gave us stuff, made sure we were taken care of, and told us the truth about the hustle. So we made sure to take good care of them too. The rest of them, can all FUCK off. I’ll be exposing them all, next time

  11. shane

    Personally, I enjoy your reports,…just got back from Spain, where I had no internet (don’t ask;-)),….always looking forward to the next installment;-)
    Keep up the good work.
    -best
    Shane

  12. Sandfa

    I found your blog a few months ago, and I look forward to them every week. Thank you so much!!!
    Sandra

  13. Reginald Spassy

    These rules seem really helpful for my Cuba trip this christmas, I’m going to live in Havana for a week and some days in a “Casa Particular” and then i’m gonna go to Viñales, María La Gorda, Soroa, Santa Clara, Trinidad and Cienfuegos. Gonna travel with Gap Adventures for the other cities than Havana. I am in love with Cuba and this is one of my biggest interests. But I’m going to travel with Gap Adventures not because I am affraid, but because I dont know the Island that well.

    For the past two years I have been reading about Cuba almost everyday and renewing information, history and facts about Cuban life and Cuba. And recently I saw the film “Before night falls” about the Poet Reinaldo Arenas, his life of persecution from the state because of his homosexuality and his time at Isla de La Juventud. I love to drink some Havana Club and smoke a Cohiba Corona Especial. Can’t wait until I visit Pinar del Rio!

    • My advice to all first timers: write down everything you expect to find/see/smell/experience in Cuba before getting here. Keep a journal while here noting everything you find/see/smell/experience in Cuba. Compare. You might be surprised!

      Also, for anyone else out there pondering a trip here: it’s very easy to get around and extraordinarily safe (esp when compared with other Latin american/Global South capital cities). While group travel is a great option for some, it’s not the only one for folks unfamiliar with la isla. Hey! Let your group know about Havana Good Time won’t ya?

      Have a great trip.

  14. quepasa

    I agree with your rules Conner. And to underline some of the most important to me : Lots of patience ( which I do not have ) , a well developed sense of humour and a quick comment ( do have ).

  15. mickey

    hi conner enjoyed reading your posts ,very informative,, buena suerte mickey

  16. Gabriel Grenot

    Once again you get my attention Conner: it’s amusement to me to see how easy is for people to judge or think they got figured everything out about my country and ours people.
    (1)I really don’t understand. What is the expectation of tourist when they travel to a 3 world country ? in this case ( Cuba ) .
    (2) Do you really think when people try to use your five rules they will be safe from hustlers ?.
    thanks
    Gabriel

    • Hey G. Not sure I understand your question re #1. I’ve traveled pretty extensively in the so-called Third World and Cuba hustlers are different. For one, they’re educated and present themselves with pride, being coiffed, perfumed and the like. They usually have rudimentary foreign language skills in English, Italian, French and German (in fact, they are among the best English speakers Ive encountered here, save for directors at the Polo Cientifico) and can be incredibly sexy and so smooth, many times people don’t even realize they’re being hustled. I don’t think this is what people expect in hustlers in other contexts.

      2 – Not all my rules apply to hustlers, so your question isn’t really relevant. For those rules that DO apply to hustlers, I think visitors will be better off with these tips than without them.

  17. Hi Conner, I came across your blog while investigating an upcoming Cuba trip. One thing that caught my attention are deterring phrases you mention. I’m a native spanish speaker, and IMHO I wouldn’t recommend using such aggresive phrases as “dejame en paz” or (worse) “no te metas conmigo coño”. A “No gracias” (No, thanks) or “No necesito nada, gracias” (I need nothing, thanks) would be a much more polite way of stopping the harrasment without being rude. Why would you like to sound like a rude gringo?

    Just my opinion. Thanks for sharing your cuban experiences!

    • Hi Billy. You’re right – those are strong phrases, but a) you sometimes need them here and b) cubans are potty mouths. This isn’t Spain: you’ll here coño everywhere you go (mostly in a good way) or the abbreviated ÑO! Im not sure where you’re from as a native spanish speaker, but it’s about context. Here we “coger” the guagua/lucha, pinga! rings in the streets, and men tell me on the street that I have a tremendo culo.

      Rude gringa? Hardly. Im the yuma con la mecanica!

      Id be interested to hear your impressions on this once you get back from Cuba. Have a great trip.

      • Thanks for your follow up. I’m from Montevideo, Uruguay. At least here that kind of language would be considered rude, and a foreigner that addressed people that way would not find many friends, heheheh…

        You’re right. Its probably about context. But in any case i guess your readers should know that those phrases have some “weight” to them, if you know what i mean…

        Thanks again…i’ll keep on reading your blog!

      • Quite right! Readers please note: these phrases have weight to them!

        As I was making my way to a meeting today, I was thinking about your comment and two other “weighty” phrases/words that I hear daily here are: “cojones!!” and “no jodas” (used when you don’t believe something)..

  18. Julio

    Connergo,
    Just discovered your blog. I was born in Cuba 66 years ago, moved to the US 55 years ago, but still consider myself “Cuban”.
    I understand why Ivan was offended but, you are right, that when people approach you in Cuba is because they assume they want to sell you “something”.
    But when I travel to other countries, is it very different?
    But in general, I love your blog and look forward to reading more of it.
    Btw, when you have a few extra CUC’s check this new paladar http://www.cafeajiaco.com

    • Hey Julio. Glad to have you here. YEs, different from other countries in one very especially Cuban way: the people approaching you are usually some combination of good looking, well spoken/educated, cultured, charming, funny, and clever (a huge percentage of visitors here never even know they’re being scammed – up until their dumped on the other side of US/Canadian/UK immigration, jajajaja!).

      Ive heard a lot about this paladar but have no transport, so Cojimar is difficult for me. Pero voy a resolver algun dia!

  19. Julio

    What???? You live in LH and you haven’t mastered the art of “la botella”?

    With a good smile, a thumb up by the side of the road, you should be able to master transportation issues!!!!
    ;-))
    Seriously, what part of LH do you live?

  20. Pingback: Conner’s Cuba Rules Part II | Here is Havana

  21. Richard Tayte

    Thank you, Conner, for this excellent blog. I linked to it from your app (also excellent) I’m going to Havana in a couple weeks with my Cuban (soon to be Canadian fiancé) – I met her here. We’ll also be spending a couple of days in her hometown, San Antonio de los Baños. Reading your blog and app are a nice preparation for this one, my first, and the many that I hope will follow.

    Richard Tayte
    Vancouver, BC, Canada

    • Hola Richard

      Thanks for writing in and congratualtions (and good luck!) on your upcoming nuptials. I know San Antonio well – best $5 lobster dinner outside of Puerto Esperanza and location of the wonderful “island within an island” Intl School of Film & TV (EICTV).

      Wow! Your first trip (popping the Cuban cherry so to speak!). Please feel free to visit Here is Havana again to share your impressions.

      Also feel free to post a review of Havana Good Time on iTunes – I get by with a little help from my friends.

      Happy travels

      • Richard Tayte

        Conner:
        Post an iTunes review? Check.
        Cuban cherry poppin’? Any cherry I may have had left was dealt with, a few years back,
        during a trip through Morocco.
        $5 Lobster? Could you please share the name of the place? You know, impress the new in-laws with culinary savoir faire and all . . .
        Thanks

      • Thanks Richard!
        Im checking with my folks in San Antonio about the $5 lobster dinner (did I mention that includes home delivery?! The “new” Cuba has some fabulous perks, must say) – I’ll let you know.

  22. rule #1 – as a tall, white, scandinavian looking canadian boy, this article reminds me so much of my time living in rio de janeiro in brazil. i am heading to cuba next month and this is the part i am least looking forward to…

    • I sympathize Matty and I predict this part of your trip will be very tiresome. Are you traveling alone? Makes it worse, I think, since you have no buffer and Cubans instinctively pity anyone who is alone since they don’t understand how anyone would choose to do anything solo. Do you speak Spanish or Portuguese? This is also a tool for survival. good luck and have a great trip!

  23. Pingback: Here is Havana | Croissants & Cigars

  24. All these rules are dead on. I have been going down to Camaguey for long periods of time be with the love of my life. Other tourists ask for my advice and such and the only thing I can come up with besides practical measures, is ‘your asking the wrong guy,’ to which they say, ‘but people say you’re here all the time,’ and the only answer to that is, ‘yup that’s why I know nothing.’
    The complications of Cuba are so frustrating but you’re right there is no point in getting upset. Because of my love’s job (big shot in a bank) she was given a very, very hard time for dating me (no permisso), you can cry you can rail against such injustices, you can scream at the top of your lungs or you can laugh your guts out. The later is the wisest road to travel.

  25. Pingback: Series #1: A Visitor’s Practicum | Here is Havana

  26. Pingback: Series #1: A Visitor’s Practicum | connergo's Blog

  27. acanuck

    Conner I have tried many times to convince Cuban friends what it is like to be a Yuma in Cuba. They don’t understand. I pass by a group of Cubans heavily in conversation and when one notices me, conversation stops and they all turn around and stare at me until I walk by and they carry on with what they are doing. It is almost like a celebrity status. Getting this every day gets to me. I wish I could blend in. Most of my clothes were bought in Cuba. They always know a Yuma. I appreciate the ones who totally ignore me.
    I can definitely confirm your axiom that 90% of Cubans who approach you are looking for something from you.
    I understand the reasons and that helps me cope.

  28. cubanito407

    I taught a very white American friend of mine this phrase:
    “Chico, yo soy de Guanabacoa!”.
    They don’t buy it for a second but it gets a good laugh out of the Cubans … and they stop bothering you.

  29. Nick

    I am usually pretty good at blending in. I have traveled all over Latin America and have lived in Mexico and Ecuador. I am white but with a Mediterranean background (darkish hair, not very tall) and in any other country, people assume I am a light-skinned Latin American. I hardly ever receive any kind of attention, from Nicaragua to Bolivia. But in Cuba it is different. Even though I wear cheap jeans and non-brand name t-shirts, people somehow know I am foreigner and constantly hassle me. I have no idea how they can tell I am foreign when people in every other Latin America cannot, but I really wish I could blend in like everywhere else so that I could enjoy Cuba more.

    • Hey Nick. I envy you – Ive never blended in. Not even in NY, so I don’t know why Im surprised when I travel. Aside from the very obvious like language (even native Spanish speakers have trouble here understanding Cubans), and footwear, there are more subtle “yuma” signs which tip off Cubans: they way you walk, mannerisms, and even things like eye contact (ie making it or not, holding it, etc).

      And of course, if you really want to blend in, you have to ditch the generic tshirt for a cheesy knockoff brand name (better, still, if its bedazzled or somehow sparkly)

      (by the way: Ive traveled all over Latin America for decades and no where have I found a general populace as observant, educated and eloquent as Cubans. They also see foreigners as easy $$ so the combination of observation/cleverness and desire/need to resolve means they’re better practiced/more motivated to peg the yuma in their midst

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