Whatever They Give You, Take It

Erasmo Calzadilla

At the backeries hygiene is not a big priority.

HAVANA TIMES — In almost all bakeries where they make bread rolls for our households, the clerks handle the “products” with the same grimy hands they use to count bills and coins. Even in times like these — with diarrheal epidemics and shortages of medicines — this practice continues.

Recently a completely uncouth clerk at my local bakery sneezed into his hands, wiped them off on his clothes and then went back to handing out the bread.

It’s normal that this happens among peoples who aren’t familiar with pathogenic microbes or basic hygiene. What’s “strange” is that this is also happening in Cuba.

People here know that this guy is a pig. Nobody likes the fact that he handles their food, but nobody complains or protests. Why not?

It seems that resignation has established itself as a cultural “value” of our people – that and a kind of totalitarian populism that misjudges those who differ from the masses.

If a foreigner gives us a bar of soap as a gift, or if we’re prevented from going into a hotel, a fiber of our national pride still vibrates. However mistreatment by government institutions is assumed to be an inevitable and natural phenomenon.

We’re so used to being stepped on that we often don’t even realize it.

The annihilation of pride and personal dignity is a key weapon of domination in this system and in any other one. The recovery of these qualities will be a sign that things are actually changing.

In other words: The day you see people at the bakery demanding that their bread not be handled will be the day you’ll be able to say the syrup is about to turn into candy.

4 thoughts on “Whatever They Give You, Take It

  • One difference between the America and Cuba is that in Cuba, the State has all the guns. After 53 years of dictatorial rule enforced by the barrel of a gun, the Cuban people have learned well to be meek.

  • Erasmo,

    I’ve been to Cuba but spent most of my time outside of Havana, travelling around the country. I live in a big city, Toronto, so when I travel, I prefer to stay in smaller cities and towns where you are treated more like a person.

    Of course as a tourist, how I’m treated is not indicative of how Cubans treat each other, but I shop in local markets so get a good view of local social interactions I think.

    I shop regularly at local bread shops when I spend time in any one place in Cuba. It gives me a good opportunity to people-watch as I hang back if there is a line-up, to let local people shop first as technically I’m not supposed to be buying subsidized bread and it can run out. After all, I can always go to a CUC store.

    I have never witnessed the resignation you describe and maybe your neighbourhood store leaves a little to be desired but big cities are more like that than other places, I’ve found, including my own big city. People in cities just accept whatever in order to get through the day, interacting with people they don’t really have a personal relationship with.

    You wrote about clerks that “handle the products with the same grimy hands they use to count bills and coins.” I laughed because a common sight I see in Toronto is clerks with plastic gloves, for ‘hygienic reasons’, handling food – making sandwiches typically – then taking money and giving change with the gloves remaining on!

    I suppose what surprises me more often that not, reading what some Cubans write in HT, is how they feel their day-to-day experiences are somehow unique to Cuba, and due to the government they have. Of course having relentless commenters like ‘Moses’ spamming the site on a daily basis, trying to convince you at every opportunity that all your day-to-day problems are due to your government, doesn’t help much.

    Believe me, the experiences you describe are the same ones I encounter in my capitalist country, living in a big city, on a daily basis and also what I find when I travel in the US. I certainly don’t see Americans acting more assertively, but I travel and hang out with working class folks when I’m there. ‘Moses’ has told us he is quite well off. He has a wife that makes a good salary.

    You are treated differently in the US when you have money. You can be assertive. Without money, you cannot. You are treated like white or black trash. His wife’s assertiveness disappears, he tells us, when she’s in Cuba, a country where money doesn’t automatically buy you more privileges – other than being able to shop in a CUC store.

    ‘Moses’ offers us an ‘imagine this’ scenario where a Cuban customer complains about a “disgusting guy” in a bakery and the next time the customer goes to the same bakery, “the slob and his cohorts are bent on revenge.”

    ‘Moses characterises this as “Es Cuba”, typically Cuban. It certainly is typically American. When travelling in the US I always lower my natural assertive tendencies for safety reasons. A common sign you see in the US in cars is, “keep honking you car horn, I’m loading” [a gun]. The Americans are a ‘gun packin’ nation as you know.

    That’s ‘Moses’ world. I don’t think it will ever be Cuba’s.

  • I think the situation at your bakery, as well as the fact that the Cuban people are so inured to such humiliation in all spheres, illustrates the failure of Marxist saboteur ideology. When you stipulate, as Marxism does in its primary documents, that private property must be abolished promptly by the state owning everything productive, you lay the basis for failure of any transformationary state that might come into being.

    Moreover, what has happened in Cuba illustrates why the small bourgeoisie ought to have been seen as an ally of the proletariat and of socialism, rather than as an enemy.

    Private property rights are an absolute prerequisite for workable socialism. Under a non-Marxian, socialist cooperative republic a bakery might be run by a private or family entrepreneurial enterprise, or by a worker-owned cooperative corporation. But there would be healthy competition in the bakery marketplace. If disgusting practices were to occur in either of these two types of enterprise, the people would quickly shift their business down the street.

    Under the Marxian strategic program, by contrast, the bakeries are made into state enterprises, and bakery employees are made into wage or salary employees. There is no competition because the state owns every bakery. If people take their business down the street, they will find another state-owned enterprise run by state employees, and the quality of service will be essentially the same.

    The “annihilation of pride and personal dignity,” to which you refer, Erasmo, should not and would not occur under an authentic, cooperative state co-ownership form of socialism. I hope the Cuban people have a chance to achieve such a form before Marxian state monopoly wipes out all the gains of the revolution.

  • I asked my Cuban wife about this ¨phenomenom¨ of resignation in Cuban people. I saw it in her when she lived in Cuba and even now when she returns. Yet, when there is even a hint that someone may be stepping on her rights here in the US, she is the first in line to file a complaint or register her dissatisfaction with a manager in some way. I asked her why the difference. She says that Cubans are so accustomed to getting no response to their complaints they simply think ¨Why bother?¨. Worse yet, it is common, depending on the complaint, that the person making the complaint is worse off afterwards. Imagine the customer who complains about that disgusting guy in the bakery. Would you want to be that customer the next time he goes to the same bakery and the slob and his cohorts are bent on revenge? Es Cuba….

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