Our Personal Space in Cuba

Osmel Almaguer

Waiting in line for bread. Photo: Stephen Wong

HAVANA TIMES — A kid was playing with his soccer ball near the spot where we were waiting in line to buy bread. Not far, his parents kept an eye on him while they talked. The ball flew very close to me several times – and almost hit my face once – but the kid’s parents never said anything to him.

Finally, the blessed ball hit me and dirtied my clothes. I reprimanded the child, and his parents became furious. “Can’t you see it’s just a kid? Pick on someone your own size,” they said to me, thinking they were helping the child.

“It’s not a question of size, but politeness,” I said to them, adding: “he’s a child and he’s learning. If he doesn’t learn to behave now, when will he? When he’s an old man?” The parents kept insulting and contradicting me.

Arguing on the street is a common thing among Cubans. It’s become an everyday phenomenon, and we no longer even notice how dangerous this trend is. What’s become even more common and dangerous than arguing, however, is the way people encroach on the personal spaces of others.

Our “personal space” is the one-meter-square (or so) area that surrounds us and we are unwilling to share with anyone, save those people we care for. Encroaching on this space commonly sparks off conflicts, as one would expect between an invader and those invaded. Smells, touch, energies and gazes are interchanged up close in our personal spaces – it is a fairly intimate experience.

Cuba has become the ideal stage for the violation of personal spaces. Life in this country is a succession of crammed buses, overcrowded homes and long lines of people everywhere.

Our context encourages such practices, but so do bad manners, or the complete lack of manners of Cubans who, having lost their basic values, have not only forgotten what a personal space is, but also the proper way of defending it.

Sometimes, a person who is defending their personal space becomes an aggressor, passing from one role to the other because they lack awareness and have been trained to play the “tough guy”, that is to say, to win an argument through physical or verbal violence.

This is why I believe parents should help their children by teaching them to respect the personal spaces of others, following that much-repeated maxim: “respect towards the rights of others is peace.”


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

2 thoughts on “Our Personal Space in Cuba

  • The violation of the Cuban people’s personal – private -space goes beyond buses, …
    The pervasiveness of the “chivatos” (informers) of the CDR continues to ensure that the private space in which one can freely – and in confidence – express oneself is very limited.hen the author says that Cubans have lost “manners” he is just reminding us of how the Castro revolution has destroyed civic, civil and human values.
    Shouting and intimidation have replaces civil – and civic – reasoning. Repression has replaced freedom of speech. Theft – even from your close neighbors – has replaced respect of what belongs to others.
    The “new man” of Che Guevara is a far cry of the old Cuban and a lot less worse. on’t get me wrong: lots of Cubans are upstanding people, but a lot of values have been destroyed.
    The value of hard work is replaced by “fixing” things, stealing from work, black marketing and living off remittances.
    It may be that in the future most people will consider the destruction of the core of Cuban society and the destruction of societal values as the most damning legacy of the Castro regime.

  • Cubans seem to accept encroachments into their ‘personal space’ far more easily than Americans. Every time I go to Cuba, I find that my friends, when talking to each other, stand a lot closer together, even when they have the freedom not to do so. I notice this even more so when they talk to me. Cubans are experts at whispering and hand gestures and standing closer to each other is a part of that learned behavior. It is common to see elderly Cuban men sitting together on a single door threshold or several men sitting on a single park bench. I agree with Osmel that this ‘closeness’ can foment aggressive behavior when politeness is lacking.

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