This one’s for those in the know. For those who have lived with a Cuban and who find themselves exasperated on a far too frequent basis, inundated daily with the most annoying Cuban habits. We’re in this together.
Because whilst it’s true that every culture has their nuance… OYEEEEEE MIJOOOOO the Cubans are deafening with their incredibly obnoxious ways. I’ve listed my most aggravating examples below, but please do add to my list in the comments section.
1) Phone etiquette
Conversing by telephone – I mean, actually talking on the phone – is a phenomenon in Cuba. It’s a wonderful thing that the Cubans aren’t afraid of simply picking up the phone, dialing a number, and having a chat with the person on the other end. If the ‘bono’ has entered that week, who knows how long the conversation could last, as they ask about every family member, vecino, tia and ahijado. It’s what we used to do before instant messaging took over our souls and made actual conversation through medium of speech become our worst nightmare.
SIN EMBARGO, let’s discuss how the Cubans have a notorious knack for dialing the wrong number. I mean, really, multiple times a week. And even if you answer, tell them it’s the wrong number, they’ll call you back ten minutes later absolutely convinced that they should be speaking to Janisleidy. No, no, soy Cassie. And before you say that these calls must be from men who have been given an intentional wrong number by a lady, no no! I’ve had chats with children, teenagers, old women on the other side of the island thinking they were calling their chiropodist… I mean, really, it’s incredible.
And to put the cherry on the cake, and this is one that Ronnie and I constantly giggle about, when you pick up a ringing phone to an unrecognized number, and the person says “hey who’s this”… AS THOUGH I CALLED THEM?! No, socio, no, it’s not how this works. YOU called ME. So, who are you?
2) The Farmer Snort
This one is high on the list of my annoying Cuban habits, because… well… I’m British. Here we have hankies or tissues, and if we must insist on blowing our noses in public, we do so as discreetly as possible with a certain amount of embarrassment. I like it that way; it’s a demure part of my culture that I wish to maintain, thank you.
The Cubans, on the other hand, have no such shame. At any given moment, in any given situation (formal or informal), you must always be expecting a Cuban (male or female) to block off one nostril and empty the contents of the other. In any direction. I don’t know if this is a common habit in the more ‘culturally educated’ Havana, but in the campo it’s an hourly occurrence, and one that is considered as normal as the common cough.
Perhaps this quirk stems from the lack of supplies. Toilet paper and tissues are often hard to come by, so now – and let’s blame the embargo – thanks to years of malpractice, this little cultural nuance seems here to stay. Great.
3) Showing up unannounced
Middle of the night? Expect visitors. In the shower? Expect visitors. Chilling in your pants under the fan all day? Expect visitors. At any given moment, a Cuban and his great uncle could come walking in, for no apparent reason other than to sit on your porch and chew the fat over an insanely sweet and tiny shot of coffee.
In some respects, I do like this culture of ‘dropping by’. In Cuba they call it ‘hacer una visita’. It is social and reminds me of the era before the phenomenon of instant chatting over the internet appeared. But the total lack of warning, and the fact that you have to be prepared at all times, means that I can’t sit in my pants eating rice and beans straight from the saucepan whilst singing my heart out to Beyonce, without the underlying fear that one of the primos will stop by for that cafecito.
4) Being late / 'ahorita'
Ah, yes. When I asked you guys on Instagram about your most ‘annoying Cuban habits’, this was the clear winner. “Cuba-time”. This is a common cultural-quirk in many islands, hot countries, and less developed nations. And whilst I sometimes live for the slow island pace when sipping my mojito on the beach, to live with that every day whilst trying to be productive is nigh on impossible. And downright aggravating.
If you make plans to be somewhere at 10, you can be absolutely sure that the starting point will be at least 10:30 if not 11:30 or, quite frankly, just never at all. Really, if I had a peso for the amount of hours I’ve waited for Cubans, including my own husband, I’d be able to buy everyone on the island a fucking Gucci watch.
What’s more is the incessant need to use the word ‘ahorita’, which literally translates (in Cuba) as ‘in a bit’. In other Spanish speaking countries it can actually mean ‘right now and with haste’, so you can imagine the confusion a foreigner might go through trying to wrap their head around this one.
‘Ahorita’ in Cuba could mean any of the following: in 5 minutes, in half an hour, this afternoon, the day after tomorrow, or probably never. Depending on the situation at hand, you learn to decipher which of the above might be applicable. If you’re trying to get a Cuban to do some work for you, there will be a huge conflict of interest. To them ‘ahorita’ might mean ‘maybe the day after tomorrow’ whilst to you it means ‘within 5 minutes please’. You can only imagine the productivity levels on this infuriating island.
5) Obsession with cocks
My friend at Travel.Create.Repeat kindly reminded me of this gem. Cubans (mostly men) love cockfighting. Note: for my state-side friends, sorry for my use of the word ‘cock’. In your part of the world I’m talking about roosters.
If you don’t already know, cockfighting is as polemic in opinion as bullfights in Spain. It’s a blood sport based on the harm that the cocks do to each other in the arena. They’re trained like boxers and it can be a highly lucrative pastime.
Cockfighting is still legal in Cuba but only if the government organises the fight/venue. These are regulated, with higher entry prices and larger arenas. But on the down days when the State hasn’t organized a fight, you won’t go without.
In season, there is a different cockfight almost every day of the week and of course, they’re clandestine. You’ll find the makeshift arenas hidden deep within the caves, nestled under the tobacco plants or tucked away down long and empty dirt tracks with no signs or obvious destination.
If you’re not physically at a cockfight, expect 90% of the rest of your day to be spent listening to men talk about cockfighting. And if you’re not a fan of animal cruelty, this is a cultural difference that might be hard to stomach and even harder to evade. Cockfighting popularity in Cuba is huge. So much so that if you can’t find your man one day, you can almost guarantee that if he’s not with his mistress, he’s at a cockfight.
6) No sense of personal volume
Cubans are notoriously loud in everything they do. The louder they are, the more passionate they’re feeling about a subject. I see volume level as a direct implication of how invested they are in you and the current topic of discussion.
In fact, to the unsuspecting foreigner who doesn’t speak Spanish (or indeed, Cubañol), a mere conversation about what they did yesterday could look, from the outside, like they are having an incredibly heated argument about sleeping with each others partners. It’s that dramatic.
And they’re not just loud in their conversation, but their life in general is just plain noisy. It starts from the moment they wake up (not forgetting, of course, the loud cockerels screaming at 4am, then the dogs barking at 6am, and so on…). Then as soon as the coffee is on, the music is turned up full blast. The day has begun, the ‘visitas’ start lining up on your porch, and you can forget that relaxing lie-in you had planned.
But you know what, whilst many put this at the top of their ‘annoying Cuban habits’ list – I kinda like it! Over the years I have grown to find their entirely inharmonious and frankly raucous noise levels rather enjoyable. It gives me a sense of life – that they’re just getting on with their shit, making the most of it, and doing it all with no shame. I’d much rather have a steady orchestra of animals, washing machines, coffee pots, street vendors and chisme over the incessant sirens and the singing drunkards crawling the streets of London.
(Plus when I do occasionally get my down time to put on some Classic FM and read my book, my god is it bliss.)
So there you go. My most annoying Cuban habits, but yet ones that I have equally grown quite fond of. You will certainly never catch me snot-rocketing nor frequenting the cockfights, but it still won’t deter me from my love affair with Cuba.
Have I missed any? Pop yours in a comment below!
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