The Typical Receptionist in Cuba

Paula Henriquez

Miriel Cejas plays a typical Cuban receptionist. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — A friend tells me that there is a new breed of dog in Cuba and she isn’t exactly referring to the kind of dogs we’ve known all our lives. No, in Cuba there is a breed of dog that sits behind reception desks in different places that offer public assistance. And these bark even louder than real dogs.

But, talking seriously, what is going on with staff who work with the public at different institutions? And why do you always go somewhere and receive barking orders instead of a greeting or response? It doesn’t matter where you go, or your pedigree, the person who is responsible for attending to everyone who comes is just never in a good mood to direct you, inform you, explain, etc.

Some have tried to explain this phenomenon with logic: that wages aren’t enough, that this person probably goes to work on an overcrowded bus, because we all know what public transport is like at that time in the morning, that this person also needed to attend to personal matters and they couldn’t get it sorted, something that happens very regularly…

The truth is that here in our country, what could be a normal everyday activity usually becomes complicated or it complicates our day many a time and so, we go into a bad mood and we put everyone we come into contact with during the day in a bad mood too. I think that talking about us being fellow countrymen, about solidarity, helping others is something that has been done to death, however, we all know deep down in our hearts that this is the way it should be.

Like I’ve said a few times before, our problem has a common origin: our way of life, our habit of always justifying everything and blaming those higher up, who do have their fair part of the blame, but we have also become warped, precisely because we justify our actions, attitudes, etc.

In conclusion, working and treating someone well or poorly is every individual’s personal choice because just like there are many bad-tempered people, there are also always these people who have some kind words for others. I believe this is the example worth following.

2 thoughts on “The Typical Receptionist in Cuba

  • The difficulty is John that nobody cares. When $1 tip equals a working day’s earnings it is not surprising that Cubans endeavor to please tourists. Because the tourist sector allows tipping, there is much competition to enter it. But, preference is given to Party members and those with ‘connections’. I know a man who tried for five years to become employed in tourism and who speaks five languages. Eventually last year he became a guide on Transtur tour coaches. He told me in November that there is a peck order. The long experienced guides ensure that they arrange where a coachload of tourists will eat (selecting paladars). He said that the paladars would reward those guides with substantial payments of up to $100, but that it would take time for him to work up the ladder, However, after one year he had received sufficient money in tips to be able to purchase an electric scooter for $1,850.
    Cuba does have a class society. That however is much more evident in Havana than in the country at large. The size of Havana has enabled different classes of residences. So in the west there is Siboney where the houses are larger and the garbage gets collected, then Mirimar where many of the Embassies are, then Vedado descending to Centro before Old Havana. But the bulk of the proleteriat live in areas like Marianoa, La Lisa and the hideous Alamar where garbage collection is infrequent.

  • AS a tourist, I have to say that I have been shocked at how Cubans treat other Cubans in the public forum. Their attitude is, “don’t bother me, I’m too busy” As far as I am concerned at least 50% of the time and maybe more, the workers are quite polite and even friendly. I hate to say it, but they probably think, if they are nice they might get tipped – and they are right as far as I am concerned….but really there needs to be better training of people who are dealing with the public. But, I have to say, I’m on my way back after over 30 years of visiting the island…can hardly wait!

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