Getting Robbed in Your Face

By Safie M. González


HAVANA TIMES – “Inventing” in Cuba is something that has become “normal” over the years. Without wanting to defend criminal behavior, these actions have helped many people to resolve their financial problems. Overcharging goods, even in state-run stores, is common practice today. The Cuban people accept this and pay because they have no other choice.

Complaining doesn’t resolve the problem because we have learned over the years that everything carries on as it is. But it’s particularly annoying that you get robbed in front of your face.

In Cuba, it is quite common for a cashier (in stores and markets) not to have any change “apparently”, for bills, large or small. I say “apparently” because it’s expected that they have change for small bills all the time.

The core idea of an establishment that works with the public should be to always make the customer happy, but that clearly doesn’t happen here.

Without going too far back in the past, I experienced this just a few days ago, when I went to buy detergent at a store in Central Havana. After lining up, I went to pay for my product.

I bought four small packs of detergent and a bigger one too. The total came to 98 pesos. When paying the cashier with a 100-peso bill, for a bill of 98 pesos, she figured that she didn’t have to give me anything back and continued with the next customer, without even giving me an explanation.

I asked her for my change, and she replied that she didn’t have any. I told her, “but you always have to have change to give back to customers, she gave me an evil stare.

Her assistant, who was also looking at me scornfully, told her: “look for the change in my purse.” The cashier finally opened up the cash register to give me back my 2 pesos, which is nothing supposedly, but every cent matters in this country. If I was the one short on paying, there’s no way I could have bought the detergent, there’s no doubt about that.

The 2 pesos were never the problem. I have always left a tip whenever I can. It’s a matter of respect, values, ethics.

On my way home, I wondered how many people would say the same thing? Robbing someone who has saved up with a lot of sacrifice, maybe even cent by cent, isn’t the solution. But who’s responsible for putting the bell on the cat?

Read more from Safie M. Gonzalez.

3 thoughts on “Getting Robbed in Your Face

  • Es Cuba !

  • My personal opinion is that theft is theft. I do not mind to share when someone asks me for help but hate to be treated as if I were mentally retarded. Big and/or small, corruption is corruption.

  • I suppose it was not the 2 pesos not returned that is the problem but the fact that Cubans, as Safie makes clear, are being short changed in all avenues in their lives. And there is not much they can do about it but grin and bear it.

    That cashier working the cash in Safie’s detergent transaction is no doubt a state employee. The cashier probably gets paid poorly, is probably thankful to have a job and works the minimum amount for the minimum amount of pay. Is there not a smart saying in Cuba that goes something like this: Government workers pretend to work and the Cuban government pretends to pay them?

    Safie is correct. In any other democratic country a worker in a retail establishment is trained to treat the customer as king. That is what retail is all about and how retail stores survive in a very competitive environment. After all, there is intense competition in retail and if a customer is not satisfied with the service the establishment provides, the individual just needs to go around the corner, in most cases literally, to buy the same product with perhaps enhanced service.

    In Cuba this is not possible. Lucky for Safie that she was able to first find detergent for sale in a government run store, and secondly that she was able to purchase the product. For customer service, no Cuban retail worker who works for the government is trained about treating the customer as king. Why should they? The store in the municipality is a monopoly run by the government for the benefit of the government. Why would they care about being amicable, friendly, honest with the customers. The government knows it is here or nowhere to purchase products.

    The customer, like Safie, has no choice but to shop there. So, she, and all the other Cuban customers simply accept the way things are and move on.

    Had this transaction taken place in a five star Cuban hotel in one of the gift shops, Safie would not have been treated so badly. There hotel workers for the most part know if the customer feels cheated, unappreciated, they will go to the hotel just down the road and make the purchase there. Or, that inhospitable cashier at the hotel would be fired and lose a lucrative job, in Cuban terms.

    Best to treat all customers, whether Cuban or foreigners, with dignity and respect when they walk into the gift shop; otherwise, the coin less cashier job will be history. Workers, like cashiers, are “trained” to be more empathetic to customers in tourist hotels.

    So, for Safie, it is not the 2 pesos not returned as change that irks her so much, though in Cuba every precious peso counts as she states, but the principle of the short changed transaction. All Cubans in all walks of life, unfortunately, are cheated, mistreated and there are no real remedies available to correct the situation.

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