Bored Stiff

Daisy Valera
Daisy Valera

It’s very common for Cubans to receive poor service at most stores or eating establishments. To receive halfway decent attention a Cuban must go to places originally designed for tourists, where you must pay in the island’s other currency, the CUC, worth a little more than the US dollar and equal to 25 regular pesos known as Moneda Nacional (MN).

Considering that the minimum wage in Cuba is 225 pesos MN and the average wage is around 400, there is a large portion of the population that must make do with poor treatment and deteriorated locales.

Buying a can of soda pop in Cuba can cost 10 percent of your monthly salary, and thus only those that receive work bonuses, tips, family remittances from abroad or are involved in some shady business can pay such prices.

Another experience is that when we see a new business open for the general population with products in Moneda Nacional it is usually in the locale of another failed one. This has occurred over and over again for as long as I can remember.

If you go to the new establishment during its first weeks of operations everything is excellent: the cleanliness, the products and even the service. But in a matter of months the paradise vanishes.

What’s most common when a Cuban goes into a cafeteria, store or bar where consumption is in Moneda Nacional, are dirty floors and tables, terribly loud music and a chronic lack of products.

Near the institute where I study there’s a cafeteria frequented by many of us university students. It has a bar with 10 seats and there are six employees. With this proportion one would think service would be excellent. But the truth is that you often have to wait 20 minutes to be waited on and a half hour to receive your order. The attentive workers of this cafeteria take an endless amount of time washing glasses, talking among themselves or watching television.

Another example are the Moneda Nacional pizzerias where about a month after opening it appears that the cooks forgot the recipes to make pizzas.

There’s one common factor among most workers that provide some service to the population in our country: bored and unhappy looks on their faces. The result is service as if the employee is doing you a favor instead of carrying out a work assignment. The lack of motivation on the job extends like an epidemic year after year in pharmacies, post offices, stores of any kind, bakeries, hospitals and I could go on.

I have a professor who tells me that Cubans don’t like to work, but I’m not convinced by this answer. I can’t put the blame the workers, who don’t like their job because they are not happy to be working. You can’t call work having five people to answer one telephone, nor three people to serve a cup of coffee. There’s also a demoralization that grows when your salary doesn’t give you enough to live on.

We Cubans still haven’t learned to resolve our own problems; instead we wait for someone else to resolve them, which is what we were mistakenly taught to do. Until we take some initiative, we will continue working at fictitious jobs that justify a stipend that you shouldn’t call a salary. Then we praise ourselves that we don’t have unemployment in Cuba, but never saying that the underemployment is eating away at us.