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Cuban Culture and Tourism

The priority and generally excellent treatment of tourists in Cuba is very interesting.  Much of it comes from the need of many people for dollars, but other factors contribute to it as well.

When people look at goods at a book or crafts market, the vendor will always jump up and offer their help to tourists first, who are always charged in dollars.

One might think that Cubans would be unfriendly towards US citizens.  Everyone in Cuba knows the US government is trying to starve them into overthrowing their government, yet they treat US tourists with kindness and respect.

Hustling is extremely common in tourist areas.  Many people will try to sell you cigars and follow you.  Never do they get violent, and rarely do tourists get robbed.  However, the hustlers, who other Cubans commonly give dirty looks, are great in number and can get annoying. 

At night, prostitution is common in big tourist areas, especially near the Habana Libre and on La Rampa.  This is not the tragic seen where women of all ages throw themselves at tourists for money they need to survive, but it is sad nonetheless.  Prostitution has been one of the unfortunate effects of increased tourism, but is not as common as many critics of the Cuban Government say it is.

Tourists are always charged in dollars and usually higher prices than Cubans.  At a restaurant we went to, lunch cost 12 pesos for locals (one peso is currently equivalent to about US$0.05) and $12 US for tourists.  When we went to Coppelia, where Cubans pay a few pesos for ice cream, our three servings came to $10 US.

As we waited in line one night at Coppelia, the ice cream parlor was about to close.  Cubans in front of us told us that as foreigners, we could go to the front immediately and get in before it closed.  We didn't test that out, and instead came back earlier the next day.

Cubans do not show any signs of resentment towards the special treatment of foreigners.  It is hard to believe anyone could not be annoyed at being treated as a second class citizen in their own country, but perhaps they realize that free health care and education, for which tourist dollars are needed, are more important than ice cream.

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