Let me guess. You’ve just been to Cuba and after a few mojitos and failed salsa dancing attempts, you found your dark haired mysterious Cuban papi. You shared a fumble in the corner of the street, exchanged numbers, gazed deeply into his eyes as he told you he was in love with you, and you’re now in a serious relationship. So, before you get balls deep, so to speak, you might want to bone up on some truths about dating a Cuban. Because m’ija, it happens to the best of us and you are not alone.
In my case, I pursued it a little too far, got a little too over excited, and a few months later found myself on the unfortunate end of Cuba’s number 1 scam: the jinetero. Skilled at their own mastery, the Cuban men (and women) will sweep you off your feet before you can take your next ‘dile que no‘ step, so you’ll want to read on to prepare & protect yourself.
DISCLAIMER: this post is a generalization and I’m not telling you that you’re latinX lover is a terrible person and you’re doomed to fail, I promise. I obviously am now married to a Cuban (not the aforementioned jinetero, you’ll be pleased to know) and I know a handful of other foreigners who have been successful in their relationships too. It’s just that I see sooo many foreigners make the same mistakes I made in the beginning, and go into this whole adventure with a big fat piece of wool over their eyes, so I want to help you learn from my mistakes – with no judgement. So this applies to those of you who have that lingering gut feeling, are about to give up everything for your new exotic affair, don’t know the real ropes of Cuba yet, don’t speak fluent Cubañol, and are still in your holiday brain mode of sun, salsa, sex and that YOLO search for a better life. Take my inside knowledge & opinions, and do with it what you will!
So let’s go. Here are my 5 home truths about dating a Cuban…
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If you don’t know what this means, you’re already in trouble. Retreat immediately! This is essential for every visitor to the island to know about, whether or not you’re looking for love.
Jinetero/jinetera is the word to essentially describe a hustler. Originally this referred directly to the sex industry, but with the rise of tourism it has now also spread to covering general scams on tourists and extended romantic relationships. I’m gonna discuss the latter with you.
If you meet your bf/gf in a tourist hotspot e.g. a hotel resort, on a tour, in a bar after 86 mojitos, he’s probs a jinetero. Ok ok, I know that’s a huge sweeping statement, but essentially if he works in tourism, he’s interested in tourists in one way or another. It’s kinda how it works. Imagine being essentially poor with no prospects because your country is so limiting, and then you’re faced with some beautiful foreigners from a far off land where they believe everything is wonderful. Wouldn’t you wanna get involved?
Anyway, be careful. Seriously. I’m not going to delve deeply into my story here but my first Cuban novio was one of the biggest jineteros in Viñales. He had a wife who was in on the whole thing, because it meant she got my hand-me-downs and some cash in her pocket. Let me say that again: she was in on the scam. She let him be romantically involved with me, publicly, around Viñales, because she got a few hand-me-downs. That’s the extent that Cubans can go, and it’s not even the end of it. Beware, chicos y chicas, the truths of dating a Cuban can be brutal – they can get you when you REALLY are not expecting it.
Case Study: Over the years I’ve seen foreigners literally lose everything because they were so swept up in it all. My “favourite” example, for desperate want of a better word, is a foreigner taking out £26K cash to buy a house that her Cuban novio had said would be legally half hers. He paid a fake ‘lawyer’ in Cuba to speak to her in English and make her believe that she would be legally entitled to the property if she signs this document. Naturally, the document was totally fake and stood for nothing. We can all imagine how this ended.
Case Study: Similar to the above, a dewy-eyed foreigner was convinced her Cuban papi is “a good guy”. She also took out a little over £20K for a casa which she hopes to live in, post-COVID (they’re still together). The reality is that the casa only cost £15K. Who cashed in the rest, I wonder?
In general, expect to pay for most things. You have access to more money than him/her, and they know it. They don’t make enough money to be able to take you out on a date like you’d have in your home country. Expect to pay for their phone credit, especially if you’re doing long-distance and he’s connecting to 3G a lot. Expect to pay for all beach holidays and hotels that you want to go to in Varadero. Expect to pay for dinner and private taxis. If you want to take him/her to your home country, expect to pay for it. Not just for the visa/flights, but for the long haul until he can pull his weight. You’ll pay for your own flights to Cuba in the meantime. You’ll bring a suitcase or two filled with presents for him and his family – because his family will put their orders in and you won’t have the cojones to take the cash from them when you’re face to face.
Our personal outlook on money/ensuring equality:
With Ronnie and I it’s a slightly different story. We usually work together so we share the income, and I don’t have any secret trust fund behind me (just a ton of credit card debt from a previous life to keep me hustling!). Naturally, he wouldn’t have his current level of income without me, but we’re pretty good at equalizing the relationship in our own ways. We felt that was important for our sanity and romantic relationship – I was never going to maintain him and he didn’t want to be maintained (it’s a macho cowboy thing), and we both want to be able to have our own financial independence. At the same time, we need each other for business purposes, so that gives us equality in the situation. I need his Cuban expertise, his animals, his contacts and his cute face for the photos; he needs my internet skills, accountancy skills, organisational skills, communication skills, and knowledge of how tourism generally works.
How we split things:
(Pre-COVID) Usually we split things 50/50. I can’t stand women who expect the man to pay, and then rant about feminism? Anyway… I buy the phone credit on my British debit card and he gives me the cash in CUC which I prefer. When I’m in the UK and he has to connect to 3G all the time to call me, we go halves on the cost. When we go out for dinner, we go halves (I would always do this with British boyfriends too, I’m a fan of equality). His family have never asked me to bring them things because they’re genuine, humble and are too shy to ask (also Ronnie would put them in their place pretty quickly if they did ask – he knows I don’t like to feel like ‘the rich tourist’ and I have made that very clear with them all). I guess the way we run our relationship is pretty unique for a Cuban/foreigner partnership, especially considering he even pays for half my flights…
But anyway, everyone is in a different financial situation and if you have the money to spend, and you truly trust your partner to appreciate it, you go! Because unless your Cuban papi makes good money in the private or tourism sector, dinner and vacays to Varadero will always be on you. Prepárate.
3. 0-60 in 3.5
In the UK it might take us a few weeks, even months, to proceed from ‘flirting’ to ‘texting’ to ‘chatting’ to ‘liking’ to ‘hanging out’ to ‘seeing each other’ to ‘sleepovers’ to ‘going out’ to maybe… just maybe… ‘being in a relationship’. Introducing them to the family might come in another few weeks time. You might start to think about moving in together once you’ve been on three annual holidays and discussed the prospect of a potential dog/marriage/baby in another three years time… You get my jist.
In Cuba? You set eyes on each other, you spend a day together, you move in together, they propose and they want babies. Within a couple of weeks. I’m seriously not kidding.
In Cuba these days it isn’t common to actually ‘get married’ with documents etc (unless it’s a Cuban/foreigner relationship and then it can be more necessary for visas, status, permissions etc). When two Cubans are in a relationship and move in together, they call each other husband/wife (maridos). The words novio/novia are generally considered something more casual and sometimes even non-exclusive, but rather a term to tell people you’re having fun in the sack but you’re still out on the prowl.
The most important thing to remember is to not get swept up in it all – and I know, that can be hard. You may find that the Cuban might feel offended at you trying to take things slowly. In their eyes it’s marvelously simple and uncomplicated: I like you, you like me, what else is there to worry about? Little do they often know, through no fault of their own, we have a whole brain of complexities that may differ from their outlook. This is just a culture clash and one that can be resolved by sitting down and communicating. They may not understand how you do things in your country, so you’ll need to teach them. But you’ll also need to be prepared to meet them in the middle, as ever, and do some things their way too.
Alrighty, here’s the juicy bit. You hopefully should know by now that Cubans are a feisty people. Their sex drive is high and they don’t always think with their brains first. In general, and I’m sorry to give the hard truth, Cubans cheat extensively. They don’t have other boredom cures like Netflix or constant internet connection to keep them occupied, so they often turn to rum and sex. Do you blame them?
Times for long distance relationships are certainly getting easier as the years progress. With my first Cuban novio there was no 3G on the island and he didn’t have a smartphone to connect to WiFi. We spoke on the phone each evening briefly. That left him (and me…) all day alone and living our own lives. I was never stupid to the reality of what that meant, even though he swore blindly that I was the only girl for him. Alas, he worked in tourism at the time so his days were spent riding on the back of pretty ladies’ horses and plying them with mojitos that they ended up paying for… He’d then finish up his day by shacking up with the equally as fiery cubanas – do not under estimate them.
Anyway, lucky for you – there is now access to 3G. You can call the island at any time of the day. If your CubanX has a decent smartphone (I highly recommend the Xiaomi Redmi btw, it gets signal literally everywhere and has changed our lives!) it makes life a lot easier. You can just prank them to prompt them to connect to 3G and within seconds you’ll be on FaceTime together. But, if he goes for hours “without signal”, or tells you he “lost his phone” and didn’t get in touch for a day or more (he didn’t lose it btw m’ija, he sold it), or he doesn’t call you in the evenings or answer your calls in the middle of the night, consider it a red flag.
Lastly, and frankly, if them being with someone else physically is going to have a huge effect on you, call it quits now. If you have trust issues anyway, call it quits now. If you’re a control freak and need to know everything about what they’re doing, call it quits now. Otherwise, have a good honest talk with yourself and your partner about what you expect, tolerate and want. And if you have that niggly gut feeling that you don’t like, seriously – listen to it.
My biggest confusion is when I see a foreigner ‘in love’ with a Cuban, but they don’t speak the other’s language. I wasn’t fluent in my first relationship, and he didn’t speak much English. I didn’t realise it at the time, but he tried to control my improvement of Spanish because it was a power hold for him – if I didn’t speak perfect Spanish, he could lie easier and get away with it. In the beginning I took everything he told me as golden, but as my Spanish and my awareness of the Cuban culture slowly improved, I began to ask questions…
When I met Ronnie, he opened me up to the ‘real Cuba’. He taught me the local lingo and explained every nuance to me. I can now be speaking in English with someone, but understand all the ‘Cubañol’ that’s happening around me at the same time. No wool can be pulled over my eyes anymore and that is the main reason I’m still here.
In my opinion, you seriously need to speak their language. Without it you will never fully understand their culture and what goes on, and without that, you’re not really going to understand them. You’re also a moving target for those jineteros.
Having said that, if you have no intention of staying in Cuba or having any kind of life there, but just want to whisk your beau away to your home country to play house, the Spanish thing might not be as important for you. The minute they leave Cuba, they’ll be in your world and they’ll adapt themselves to your culture, so you could argue that the need for you to understand theirs becomes less. Still, be safe – learn Spanish. Spend time on the island with them (more than a 2 week holiday). Live there. Get to know his family, his childhood haunts, his real life. Then, just maybe, you’ll start really getting to know them before it’s too late.
My final two cents on the matter:
A lot of people come to me asking for tips and truths about dating a Cuban, even marrying one and asking me if I know their partner to give them some background check… It makes me laugh because I do not see myself as some kind of ‘Cuban relationship guru’. But I have lived through my fair share of experiences and I can confidently say: go with your gut instinct.
All the way through my first Cuban relationship I had a bad gut feeling. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, because at that point I had no idea about the reality of the country nor the cultural nuances. For that reason alone, I kept going back. It became a sort of addiction and I was fascinated to get to the bottom of it all, and I’m so glad I did. I followed my gut instinct to be careful, to not go at a million miles per hour, to not make any big decisions without a backup plan. I was never going to go down the route of taking the jinetero novio back to my country. It never entered my brain, I knew it didn’t feel right, and I knew there was a lot to be uncovered. My gut was so right, always.
There have definitely been times when I’ve wanted to give up, when it’s been too much effort, too much distance, too much money on flights etc., too much responsibility. But then, you know, I’ve never been one to want a simple life so the risk and adventure suits me bloody perfectly. My marido is the kindest, silliest, wittiest, hardworking, pretend-macho man ever. He thinks I’m the ‘jinetera’ of the relationship, using him for his visa purposes to build a farm in Cuba that he has ended up doing all the hard graft on. We spend our days laughing and bickering and daydreaming about all the animals we’re going to rescue and where we’re going to put them, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My gut instinct with Ronnie was always a good one, so I followed it and it paid off.
(also – if you want me to write about the process & logistics of getting married in Cuba to a Cuban, drop a comment below!)
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