Two Tourists and Their Perception of Cuba

Irina Pino

Foreign visitors at the Doña Eutimia Restaurant in Old Havana.

HAVANA TIMES — While sitting in the Plaza de Armas one day waiting for my friend and Havana Times colleague, Veronica Vega, I heard a conversation between two foreigners, almost without wanting to; the girl was Argentinian and the guy, seemed European to me in his appearance and accent, although he spoke Spanish very fluently.

They had just met and each of them was telling the other about the places they had visited in Havana and other cities in the province. However, what most caught my attention was the way in which they spoke about how Cubans behave.

The Argentinian complained that she could barely walk around in peace, as people were constantly inviting her to go out, others offering somewhere to sleep, restaurants, or just wanting to become friends. They would immediately pop out at her. They also used to give her lewd compliments.

Meanwhile, the European guy said that he hadn’t found a way to distinguish between a woman who was really charmed by him or who just wanted to get him in bed and then charge him at the end.

He was looking for companionship, of course, but he didn’t know what to do, because he doubted the fact if they really liked him or just his wallet.

They both agreed that the majority of women walking around with old geezers were pretending to be in love, just to, shamefully, get at their money, and therefore you couldn’t trust any of them. They similarly addressed the issue that they knew Cuban couples who have come to an agreement, and one of them “jineteas” (chases after a tourist) with the other’s permission.

They made their contempt very clear. A short while afterwards, they made plans to meet in the evening, they got up and left.

I was left fuming, at not being able to defend my people and wanting to tell them that not all Cuban men and women prostitute themselves, and that there are cases and things, which set out the difference.

Making a judgement about us, without going into depth, is impossible. You can’t get an idea without coming into direct contact with us. In a hotel, from a comfortable room, you don’t get to know anybody.

I have met friendly foreigners who know how to tell who is who, they don’t get offended and they don’t generalize.

Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.

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2 thoughts on “Two Tourists and Their Perception of Cuba

  • I understand your angst. My wife still has a tiny chip on her shoulder that ours is an authentic relationship and not one born of the presumed “Cuban woman with foreign man” as a way to get out of Cuba. Indeed, she was a national public figure, beautiful and not lacking in wealthy CUBAN suitors. In fact, dating me caused more problems for her than it solved. Cuban security warned her about dating a foreigner and the risk of losing her “privileges” was implied. She had a driver and lived in a high rise with a beautiful view…..perks from her employment. That said, male and female prostitution is very real in Cuba, and especially in Havana. Even if it’s not the traditional ‘pay-to-play’ form of prostitution, many Cubans seek money and gifts from their foreign companions during and after the foreigners’ Cuban vacation. Here’s the problem: friends and family of the Cuban “prostitute” do little or nothing to discourage this transaction. In most cases, it is simply ignored and in some cases, actively encouraged. There is blame, and plenty of it, to be shared by all parties.

  • It’s almost four years since we were in Cuba. We certainly experienced some hassle with hustlers, jinoteros, etc. We also encountered many Cubans whose main priority was to maintain their dignity, even to the point that some seemed cool. And we met many Cubans who were friendly and helpful to foreigners who spoke only beginners Spanish.

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