‘To Don’t List’ for Emigrating Cubans

Amaya; Otto; Giulietta; Jonas; Alejandro El Mesero, Alejandro El Informático: all these friends (and more) have left these shores in the past six months in search of something bigger, better, brighter or simply different.

We always send friends and family off with well wishes and congratulations (yes: getting a coveted work visa or bewitching a foreign spouse is still celebrated here the way I imagine prisoners celebrate an Early Release Date), but it’s sad too, despairing even. Tears are shed – in private or at the airport, before during or after. Yet once they dry, Cubans face leave-taking the way they face bureaucratic absurdities, violent hurricanes, chronic shortages and all-day blackouts (yes: we still have them. We’re in the thick of one as I write this, in fact, beads of sweat pooling between breasts). Mal tiempo, buena cara.

Living in Cuba is a lesson in constants: constant contradictions, constant challenges, constant rupture. And I’m still learning. I mourn the loss of my friends who, once they leave, get sucked into a dimension of fast food and FaceBook, big box stores and demanding bosses. It’s wonderful for them to have experiences they’ve only dreamt of and deserve, but it still feels like abandonment to me. Cubans seems to be less ‘trágica’ about it. I guess they have to be. It makes sense – intellectually. I know (too) many Cubans who’ve flown the coop, so to speak; the nostalgia and longing can be crippling, painfully so. As an immigrant myself, I know this feeing intimately. Mal tiempo, buena cara.

But emotionally? It sucks to have your social structure stirred up like a stamped on ant hill. Then there’s brain drain, the negative birth rate (many émigrés are women of child-bearing age), dearth of eligible bachelors, and all the other practical implications of immigration.

Rather than wallow however, I try to be of service. It helps me work through the missing. Not ready for my medicine? Tough luck.

For all my Cuban friends considering or in the process of leaving, I offer this check list of things you’re used to doing in Cuba that you cannot do once you arrive at your foreign destination of choice or default. This should be especially helpful for those moving to La Yuma.

launch snot rockets (AKA the Farmer Hanky)
– pop your lover’s zits in public
– have an open container in a car
– toss cans and other garbage out of a moving car/bus/train
– tssst tssst to get the waiter’s attention
– shoot birds with a sling shot
– pick your neighbors flowers or poison your neighbor’s dog (yes: this is pretty common here)
– saunter away from a steaming pile of your dog’s shit on the sidewalk
– flaunt your mistresses
– smoke cigarettes – anywhere (unless you enjoy pariah status)
– believe everything you read on the Internet
– steal the toilet paper
– throw soiled toilet paper in the garbage
masturbate in movie theaters
– use cooking oil as sexual lubricant
– wear stilettos to the beach
– wear shorts so short your ass cheeks hang out
– forget to write. We miss you!



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

10 responses to “‘To Don’t List’ for Emigrating Cubans

  1. Love your blog entries. Your Interview was wonderful: http://mtpr.org/post/conner-gorry-life-cuba-american and your Havana Street Style book is amazing.

    • Gracias Patricia. Havana Street Style will soon (August) be joined by Cuban Harleys, Mi Amor – a trilingual (English/Spanish/German) coffee-table book with stunning photos by Max Cucchi of vintage Harley Davidsons, their riders and families. co-written by me. I’ll let ya’ll know when it’s available.

  2. Ole

    So You kept the Snot Rocket reference in your file! It was always one of my favorites.
    Yes, arrival en la Yuma can be quite an awakening for most Cubanos. The endless hours of lounging around, chateando el Chisme is long gone and sorely missed by most emigres one they get here.
    Good column. Wish you could find time to write more. suerte.

    • Thanks Ole. I wish I had more time to write too! Especially things about what is REALLY happening on the ground here. Alas, the mainstream (read: paying) press is not so hot on realities; they seem more keen to publish cliches about Cuba.

  3. marito

    Jejeje! Very funny Sarah.
    What about, walk into your neighbours or friends house (without knocking) whenever you feel like it.
    Playing music full blast 24/7
    Shouting a greeting at the top of your voice, wherever you may be ( supermarket, restaurant, the street ect) , at anyone you vaguely know.
    Turning up between 10 minutes and an hour late for just about any appointment.

    • Liyen Coffey

      When I read the title of the article, I though it was going to be about everything you just said. Things that we can’t do outside Cuba even if we wanted to, just because the culture doesn’t allow it.
      Sitting in rocking chairs outside your house at night, taking to your neighbors, making coffee one hundred times a day for every visitor that shows up. Laughing for no reason, just because you can, and life is not super stressful (like in capitalist countries) Walking everywhere, going to El Malecon to sit and relax and talk to friends. The list is huge, about all the thing that we did in Cuba that we just don’t do here anymore.
      Most Cubans don’t realize how serious life can be here, once you get involve in consumerism, then it’s all about things instead of human relations.

      • Ay Liyen. Thank you so much for writing in and getting to the ‘grano’ of the great differences between here and there. I often say what I love most about Cuba is that people make time to take time with the people they love (the visita; lingering over coffee; chismeando on the porch). Im afraid we’re losing this little by little here in havana as economic reforms take hold and US-type values (time is money; live to work; keeping up with the joneses) creep in.

  4. John corbett

    You really nail the Cuban experience in you’re writing . My friend Dashiel emigrated to Canada a year or so ago . I get regular movie reviews on Facebook complete with a selfie next to a huge heart attack on a plate burger and fries . Cooking oil , really ?

  5. Dany

    Do not clean the balcony on your 3rd floor rental apartment with water and detergent and music blaring through the open balcony door. it happened to a friend, and to a friend’s visiting mom. Of course, landlord knocked on their door lol, and they didn’t understand why…
    Do not make noise after 10 or early in the morning
    Do not kiss strangers on the cheek while being introduced
    Do not ask strangers personal questions

    Oh I love my people! and I miss Cuba

  6. Jake

    Some hilarious observation Conner, spot on lol.

    My list of ‘Don’ts For Emiigrating Cubans’

    Use a tissue when you want to blow your nose, snot rockets are not appreciated in other countries.

    Landing a long line of ghostbuster green slimey phlem alongside swimmers when you want to relieve yourself of your catarh in a pool or when bathing in the sea is a disgusting habit and very unhygenic.

    Stuffing your shopping bag with left overs from a buffet is so uncool, do you really need all those cold greasy burgers/pizzas/french fries, when even your cat would turn her nose up at that heart attack on a polystrene plate.

    Belching loudly while scrunching up your empty beer can and chucking it next to the pool amongst the mountain of cigarette butts is a disgusting habit as is standing in the pool all day while consuming vast amounts of warm beer and pissing in the pool leaving it with a dayglo yellow film in which no one wants to swim after you have stepped out,

    Shouting at the top of your voice will not win you the argument nor is it the way to put your point across.

    The vile smelling cologne reminicent of cat’s p…ss will not make you a woman magnet it might make them run in the opposite direction.

    Coveting my shirt, my sneakers and dropping heavy hints on how much you like them will not encourage me to hand them over to you. I like them too and do not wish to part with them, not right now anyway.

    Flirting with a yuma’s husband and slipping him your cellphone no is not professional when you are employed as a hotel public relations officer, and no it is not part of your job description.

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