The Ultimate Gringo’s Guide to Cuban Culture
For a gringo like you and me, Cuban culture is confusing. It’s great, it’s fun, but it’s super confusing. Since I’ve banged my head against the wall more times than I can count, I thought I might prevent that for you. Read on to learn all there is to know!
Well, all there is to know to navigate it fuss-free!
The Step-By-Step Approach To Cuban Culture
It is not an easy task to sum up a culture in a single article. So, here come two disclaimers:
- I apologize if I missed anything or if I get something wrong. Feel free to correct me in the comments below! I will be beyond thankful (and you’d be helping all of us out).
- We will look at key aspects of the culture. It’s a step-by-step approach. I’ll try to cover the basics and you can ask me any further questions you have.
So this is how this article will be structured:
- A bit of geography and history. Not too much but you still need to know some stuff.
- Food! Because you can’t miss it.
- The people of Cuba – looks, traits, and beliefs
- Dating culture – because we all wonder how to land a hot Cuban girlfriend!
Cuba: Background Information
If you didn’t pay attention in class, this is your time to catch up.
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean – a long and narrow island that stretches over 740 miles but is only around 60 miles wide. Most of the territory is plains, that are used for agriculture and farming. Mountains and the famous tropical forests only cover a third of the island.
Still, I highly recommend you go on a tropical forest hike when in Cuba. Some of the views are out of this world!
History And Politics
The island had some indigenous people but they were all but killed off when the Spaniards arrived. By 1902 Cuba became independent from Spain, with the help of American troops. Sadly, that didn’t make things particularly better for Cuban people. The strong US influence meant free travel and a fun nightlife, but it was also considered economical colonialism by some.
In 1959, Fidel Castro with the help of Che Guevarra overthrew the government. Although their ideas were noble, they had their fair share of atrocities. Che, who is currently a cultural icon of the revolution and the fight for justice, was personally responsible for the death of thousands of perceived enemies of the State. Almost nobody got a fair trial.
Cuba is a socialist state run by the Cuban Communist Party. Fidel Castro stepped down in 2008 and Raúl Castro now leads the country. The US hasn’t been friendly to Cuba and the embargo still stands. However, in 2015 the United States reopened its embassy. Things seem to be warming up.
The Taste Of Cuba
Now for something a little more light-hearted. Cuba has one of the best food cultures in the world. Seriously, don’t you even dare look for non-Cuban food during your travels. Indulge in all the local specialities! You can live without peanut butter for a couple of weeks, right?
The great thing about Cuban cuisine is it’s fresh, simple, and easy to make. If you end up dating a Cuban girl, she will treat you to some amazing creations. You wouldn’t believe how easy some of them are.
Ropa Vieja is a traditional stew with shredded beef. It’s a hearty meal served with rice and black beans, perfect for a satisfying dinner or a large lunch, followed by the inevitable siesta.
Picadillo is another beef-based dish, a staple in the Cuban diet. It is best enjoyed over fried plantains. Yes, these are fried bananas but they’re savoury. Try before you judge, they are amazing!
Empanadas are the snack of choice and they come in a range of fillings. My personal favourite is tuna but that’s perhaps not the most traditional.
Dancing On The Streets, Social Justice, And Communism
Food is important but people are what really makes the culture! So what are Cubans like?
They are happy – absurdly happy sometimes, considering how tough communism has been on the economy. The average Cuban lives on less than a tenth of what you make. But happiness levels and quality of life are through the roof!
Did you know that Cuba has one of the best public health systems? They also have an incredibly high literacy rate. Cubans may not be very wealthy or have access to Western products but they do live well. Views on socialism and the future of the country vary but one thing is for sure – everybody is committed to justice.
People help each other out, there is a true sense of community. It’s awesome to see a place where neighbours are actually friends and where the rat race is not really a thing!
The thing that struck me most about Cuba was all the music. It seems that there are bands everywhere – not just in restaurants and cafés but also in the streets.
The Son Of Cuba
Cuba’s most famous musical form is called son. If this is the first time you hear about it, prepare to be amazed. It’s a Latin rhythm, based on the classical guitar. In a sense, it is the best of both worlds.
Son can be lively and fun but it could also sound deep and sorrowful. It’s the ultimate versatile music genre.
Apart from that, there is also salsa music. Yes, people do dance on the streets of Havana, that doesn’t just happen in movies. If you don’t have any salsa skills, don’t worry. I am sure Cubans would be happy to teach you!
Now that you know a bit about the national character, what about looks? And, more specifically, how do Cuban girls look like.
One thing that could help is a list of celebrities. These are all women with Cuban roots – some weren’t raised in Cuba but they are definitely representative of how Cubans look:
- Cameron Diaz – yes, that 90’s sex symbol is half Cuban. She has some German genes from her mother’s side, though, hence the blonde locks.
- Bella Thorne – this Disney child gone wild is also half Cuban.
- Eva Mendes – A-lister Eva Mendes was born and raised in “a very typical Cuban household” and she is raising her kids the same way
While not all Cuban women are Hollywood material, they all share that powerful movie star charisma. I think it’s because they are so confident and comfortable in their own skin.
Western beauty standards never quite reached Cuba. Young girls aren’t exposed to the magazines, ads, Photoshopped celebrities, etc. They have a much healthier body image and it shows. While not all are supermodel slim, they all walk and talk, and feel very sexy.
It’s 50% the confidence, and 50% the beautiful mixed-race heritage. There is so much diversity in Cuba and it is what makes Cuban girls so attractive!
Cuban Culture: Courtship, Dating, And Marriage
When it comes to dating, Cubans are as passionate as can be expected. Cuban culture is completely shameless every step of the way.
Take this example:
Well, getting a marriage proposal is completely normal in Cuba. In fact, if he hasn’t proposed to you, HE’S NOT THAT INTO YOU. But you don’t need to actually marry him. Cubans are just dramatic and that’s just his way of expressing himself.
But from now on, you’ll never date anyone who doesn’t propose to you within the first couple of days. No proposal means he’s just not willing to be extra about you. And we love being extra, right?
Yes, this is a quote from an article on dating Cuban men. It perfectly summarises them, and it’s a pretty good capture of Cuban dating culture.
Words like love and marriage are thrown around frivolously. Cuban culture is all about passion and nowhere is that more visible than in matters of the heart.
As a gringo, you won’t be expected to show the same ardour. In fact, I always tell guys to not blend in. Because, even though Cuban Papis are dramatic and passionate Latin lovers, they are not exactly loyal. Cheating is a huge problem in Cuba. There is a reason Cuban women can seem so angry – most of them have experienced infidelity first-hand.
So, if you want to actually win over a Cuban hottie, do it by being different. Your non-Cubanness is your biggest selling point. Of course, you could take a cue from some Cuban dating behaviours. For instance, showing your emotions often. As a wise man once said:
Don’t make life complicated. If you love somebody, let them know.
A Final Word On Cuban Culture
Cuban Culture is very different and also very cool. There is no better place to learn about it than Cubans themselves. So, whether you want to practise your Spanish or get hitched to a beautiful Cuban, I encourage you to go out there and meet these wonderful people for yourself!
Of course, I have a bit of an ulterior motive. Namely, I want to learn more and I find first-hand accounts to be the best! So, by all means, share your findings in the comments below!