Stupid Shit People Ask Me About Cuba

Judging from the number of people who walk into Cuba Libro saying: ‘Hi! I’m [insert random name here]; I sent you an email!,’ people are unclear about the volume of correspondence I receive related to my journalistic, writing, and community-building activities. Suffice to say: I receive way too many emails for me to remember each one; your missive has to be extraordinarily clever or interesting or funny if it’s going to imprint itself on my overworked brain. Nevertheless, there’s another type of correspondence that, lamentably, gets stuck in my head, rolling around like a cheesy song I just can’t shake – Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, Ob-la-di Ob-la-da and the like. These requests fall under the rubric of the outrageous, misinformed, misguided, disrespectful, and just downright dumb.

Then there are the idiotic search terms people use to reach my blog. To take one of the most recent examples: ‘do Cuban men masturbate?’ I’m sure (or rather, I hope) most of my readers don’t need an explanation as to why these may be the stupidest search terms ever. Maybe if they had searched on ‘do Cuban dogs masturbate?’ I might be willing to help – especially because a friend taught her shih tzu, proudly, to jack off yesterday. True story.


One of the wisest young men I know recently opined that it’s okay to name the crime, but not the criminal. I’m still mulling over the ethics of this principle. For instance, in certain cases, simply naming the crime fingers the criminal; it’s that grey area which troubles me, ethically speaking. And this post swims in those grey waters: I’m naming the crimes, not the criminals here, but some readers may recognize themselves. Accept my apologies in advance, but I do feel strongly that when you’re traveling to a foreign culture or context – regardless of whether it’s within your national borders or not, regardless of whether it’s actual or armchair travel – you have the responsibility to learn about that culture and context before you go. I’m not talking about thesis-level research here people, but rather educating yourself a bit about where you’re traveling so as not to say or ask stupid shit like:

Given all the African immigration here, do Cubans practice female genital mutilation?
This question, fielded in a group Q&A (after the group had spent a week in Cuba already), left me speechless, literally. I’m not sure if the person asking was blind – you need just look out your tour bus window at all the empowered, professional, libidinous Cuban women to realize this would be impossible in this context – or just plain stupid. With all the elegance I could muster, I explained: what you call ‘immigration’ is known as slavery. It happened hundreds of years ago. And I don’t think the slaves were cutting cane by day and clitorises by night.

Can I yarn bomb the tank in front of the Museo de la Revolución?

I’m not clear exactly what a yarn bomb is – and I didn’t care to clarify with the lovely San Franciscan vegan asking. No, sweetie, I don’t think you should try something ‘artsy’ on the tank used to defeat the USA at Playa Girón (the only ‘military defeat of Yankee imperialism in the hemisphere’), which by the way, features a 24-hour guard by Cuban soldiers – unless you want to become intimate with the inside of a Cuban jail, where things are decidedly not vegan.

I live in (insert any town USA) and want to retire in Cuba. Can you help me?

In a word: no. For anyone harboring such a fantasy, let me just say: this is illegal with both the US and Cuban governments. Interestingly, most of these requests come from people who have been to Cuba once or only on vacation or 30 something years ago. Sorry to be a bubble-buster but 99% of you couldn’t handle Cuba. Seriously limited internet and burdensome bureaucracy, water/electricity/gas outages (I haven’t had water in my building going on two days now), shortages of whatever at any given moment (currently we’re having trouble procuring sponges, light bulbs, diapers, nail polish remover), dodgy transportation, hurricanes, and the cultural and practical requirement that you speak Spanish, are our daily reality in Cuba. Still want to retire here? Buckle up. You’re in for a wild ride…

I want to hold internet publishing workshops with Cuban youth. Can you help me?

For folks who want to help educate the poor, digitally-challenged Cubans (a fallacy, by the way), I have two words for you: Alan Gross. Remember him? He snuck in satellite and technological equipment – illegally – to do something similar and was given a 5-year stay in a Cuban jail. Even if you were to do everything completely legally, with the approval of and collaboration with local authorities, consider these two words: dial up. My millennial readers don’t even know what this is, but in a nutshell: it allows you to connect to the internet (when the phone call actually goes through and the remote computer and server are actually doing their job) at a whopping 40kbps. This translates into a 30-minute battle just to get to your inbox – not open an email mind you, but just to see what lurks therein. There’s no video or audio streaming, no up or downloading of documents larger than 300k without losing your youth, and inaccessibility to any sites full of Flash, plug-ins and the like.

We’re a widely-read/famous/well-financed publication. Would you write some original Cuba content for us? We can’t pay but…
I rarely finish reading such requests, because there are some openers for which nothing good ever comes after the “but” (think: ‘I’m not a racist/homophobe, but…’ or ‘I’m not attracted to you, but…’). And ‘we can’t pay, but…’ falls squarely within this paradigm. Typically, they offer linking to my blog for “exposure” and promise to cite me as an “expert.” You’d be surprised how many editors contact me with this vapid attempt to stroke my ego.

For those wondering about my needs for exposure, the expert moniker, or ego-stroking, let’s review: I’ve written close to 20 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, including the Cuba guide back in the day; I’ve been an accredited journalist in Havana for a dozen years, covering everything from the health system to antique Harley-Davidsons for all manner of media; I’m the only foreign journalist to have been embedded with Cuba’s Henry Reeve Medical Disaster Team, twice; I’ve been writing this Cuba-specific blog for over 6 years; I wrote the majority of the content for the Cuba Travel Network; I’ve been featured on Democracy Now, PRI’s The World, the Travel Channel, TeleSur’s From Havana and Dossier programs, and in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Islands Magazine, Drift and others. Furthermore, my writing is included in numerous anthologies and I’m the primary author of Havana Street Style and Cuban Harleys, Mi Amor. I’ve got thousands of followers on social media. And you want me to write for free?! I’m not sure what these editors are smoking, but I’ll take a double dose.

This is just a sample of the stupid shit people have asked me recently. Stay tuned for more (for there will be more, I’m willing to bet on it) – including repeated requests by House Hunters International trolling for ‘Americans moving to Cuba and restoring their new homes to their previous grandeur.’ Díos mío. Can someone stop the ride? If things continue this way, I’m going to have to get off.



Filed under Americans in cuba, bureacracy, Communications, Cuban customs, Cuban economy, Cuban idiosyncracies, Cuban Revolution, Expat life, health system, Living Abroad, Travel to Cuba

31 responses to “Stupid Shit People Ask Me About Cuba

  1. Kara Freedman

    Stupidity is inevitable. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great piece. I have a maybe-stupid question. Is Fidel alive?

  3. Katie

    I know I’m getting really technical here, but we millennials are actually the ones who grew up on dial-up, so we are all too familiar with it!

  4. Kelly and Rocket

    Hey Connor, hilarious post. Hope you remember us! (I won’t bother to say how we know each other in case someone get’s the crazy idea that you are Havana’s Mother)! Rocket and Kelly

    • Of course I remember you guys! Hope to see you pedaling around these parts soon.

      • Kelly and Rocket

        Doubtful we’ll go to Havana again. It was crazy when we were there and now I think we would find it too frustrating. We prefer our casa in the barrio in Varadero where it feels like home, no English spoken and cycling to small towns that are off the tourist trail! In October we had no water in our apartment for 4 days but we were flooding from the rain, no problem for us we made do, showered in the rain, washed dishes in the rain, buckets for the toilet. Our Cuban friends were surprised we were so resourceful like them!

        I get so frustrated when people say to me “oh, I love Cuban culture, the dancing and music”. My response is always to say that is totally not the real Cuban culture, the culture is trying to make life work with what you have and what you can get! We enjoy the daily search but after a month, I’ll be honest, it gets old!

  5. Pingback: Stupid Shit People Ask Me About Cuba | Cuba on Time

  6. Mia

    You tell it! ! But please don’t “get off the ride” and stop writing! I can’t get enough of your blog posts. I can see how the stupidity can get super annoying. But you handle it bluntly and authentically. Great post.

  7. Arturo

    Your first sentence spam filter has to be absolutely so dialed in you probably don’t even think when you hit delete. So when Habana becomes just like Miami are you saying that you will tap out on your own accord? It sounds like you are already bracing yourself for that moment. When Americans start buying houses and want Starbucks on the corner to remind them of home, Cuba will have officially jumped the shark my gringa friend. I see it coming. And the east end of Cuba might become the last place to see “The real (old) Cuba”.

    • karlos

      Sadly, I agree us Canucks, Mexicans and the Euros have enjoyed a decidedly ” ‘merican free” vacation spot that may be soon coming to an end. That being said I have met enough boorish Ruskies in Havana in one day to make me realize I have no desire to visit that country. Not to say Canada doesn’t have its share of less than desireable folk, but sadly it seems the bad tourists/visitors are the ones we remember most.

  8. Martin

    Is this a parody blog, seriously? haha, how can so much arrogance flow so effortlessly from a person? lol.. Hilarious

  9. karlos

    You tell’em. Love the diatribe and attitude. All I want is (next time I am down) to find your coffee shop and maybe try and party with your compadres

  10. DulceCreto

    Ha! Too funny! You do not know me, we have not met. I discovered my “love affair” with Cuba in 2009 and have been there 10 times now, but sadly not to Cuba Libro yet. I get what you mean after hearing a lot of crazy questions myself when talking about my trips. A stop by Cuba Libro is at the top of my list for my next trip. We may know a few people in common. ¡Adelante!

    Cheryl Tama Oblander

  11. Angela

    Whoa… so glad I read this post before I wrote you some sappy email about how I’m spending 2 months in Havana to learn Spanish and to find myself and how I’d love to connect… BTW, I’m coming for 2 months to learn Spanish and… 🙂 I’ll stop by with some sponges and nail polish remover. Any need for white acrylic paint?

    • This is a great place to learn Spanish and two months is a good amount of time. We’re ok on sponges now but..spent all day yesterday trying to find white acrylic paint!! Some people are just on our wavelength! have a great trip

  12. Dany

    Ay Dios mio!! “And I don’t think the slaves were cutting cane by day and clitorises by night” and “what you call ‘immigration’ is known as slavery”. Eres la mejor! como mujer negra y cubanisima, te aplaudo 🙂

  13. Ricardo Chavira

    You’re all worked up over nothing. The world is full of ignorant or misinformed people.

    • I agree! I’m worked up because these ignorant and/or misinformed people are INVADING my inbox and literary café and Im not used to so many bobos en mi entorno! and besides, it made for a pretty good post (and warning, hopefully!)

  14. Merna Gill

    I love your bookstore/community center concept and think Cienfuegos would greatly benefit from a place like this. I have met a few young people here over the last three years visiting, who I have been mentoring but I would love to make a bigger impact.
    They need a place where they can come and ask questions especially about setting up a business.
    If you aren’t interested in opening a second location, would you be willing to teach a young man (26) what you do there and how to get started. He couid pay his way while training with you.
    I realize this is asking a lot but I would be willing to pay you for your time.
    Or barter with you on goods that we can bring on our trips in March and November.
    I’m a teacher/mentor/ connector.
    I know you are very busy but I promise you that It will be a good bargain.

    • Hi Merna

      Thanks for getting in touch. We have always wanted people to replicate our ethically and socially responsible business model. Unfortunately, I can’t train anyone in how to open a business (it’s always learn as you go, especially in Cuba!) besides, we hardly have time to eat, sleep, wash ourselves and our clothes, so taking on this kind of mentoring commitment would be irresponsible of me. however, we have always talked of opening a 2nd location and Cienfuegos is the perfect place. Secondly: we’ve been thinking of setting up a proper mentoring program (not specifically for cuenta propistas, but for all different kinds of sectors, projects and endeavors). I suggest you send me an email via the contact form and we can talk in a more private environment. I commend you on your initiative. Cheers

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