COM0014 Blog #1: Visiting Cuba made me uncomfortable

By Cindy Macdonald

Just prior to the coronavirus shutdown of global travel, my husband and I took our first vacation to a Caribbean all-inclusive resort. We have taken Caribbean cruises a few times, but decided this was the year to try a beach vacay.

I was worried about being bored, with seven days at the beach and by the pool, so we chose Varadero, Cuba because if offered the possibility of some cultural learning in addition to beach time. We took a day trip into Havana and another venture off-resort to hear a local band. Boredom averted.

The architecture and ambiance of Old Havana was a little less colorful than I had hoped, but still enjoyable. The spectacular stonework, wrought-iron balconies and awe-inspiring churches definitely had a tropical, colonial feel.

Check out the video (here) and photos of Old Havana.

Old Havana, February 2020
Old Havana, February 2020

The quality of service, food and accommodations at our resort in Varadero was well below what we are accustomed to on cruises, but then, so was the price.

When choosing our vacation destination, one of my concerns was how we would deal with the dramatic lifestyle gap between us as middle-class North Americans and the poor local Cuban population. There’s a brief history of Cuba here, which states:

“Life in contemporary Cuba is thus challenging, given the limited access to food, transportation, electrical power, and other necessities.

The problem is, life is not challenging for the tourists who flock to the island’s resorts. They get the best the island has to offer, and that has to create resentment, doesn’t it?

Pool at a Sandals resort. By Ashley Burton, Wikimedia Commons

I have been part of the working class in a town dependent on rich summer residents. During that time, I did not have favorable feelings toward my upper-class employers. In my imagination, the feelings of working-class Cubans toward vacationers must be similar, or even stronger, given Cuba’s socialist/communist roots. Therefore, it struck me as false when the servers and cleaners were overly friendly toward their clients. Servers would give some vacationers hugs each morning at breakfast. My husband took it as genuine friendliness. I perceived it as currying favor for tips. It made me uncomfortable.

One of our servers even gave us cheap little souvenirs, and that made me uncomfortable, because I felt an implied expectation to give her something in return.

When I caved to popular protocol and left “gifts” of cosmetics and toiletries for our cleaner, she was not overly thankful, and seemed to want to avoid conversation about it. It made both of us uncomfortable.

I’m curious. Has anybody else experienced that discomfort when visiting a poorer nation? Let me know in the comments.

Obviously, not everyone shares my reservations about Cuba. More than one million Canadians visited Cuba in 2018. For good reason: It is cheap, accessible, beautiful and safe. The cultural differences just made me uneasy and put a damper on a sunny, tropical get-away.

About me: After more than 25 years as an editor of trade publications, I’m now learning social media techniques. I’ll be writing about news, communication, social media and travel as I go through this career transition. Please join me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or my blog, and we’ll chat.

2 thoughts on “COM0014 Blog #1: Visiting Cuba made me uncomfortable

  1. Hello, Cindy! I was interested about reading about your experience in Cuba as I have been tempted to visit the country because of it’s interesting history revolving around communism and I can totally understand you feeling uncomfortable. They probably didn’t like you and for reasons more complex than you having done something objectively wrong which seems like a strange thing to say. I recently staying in East Berlin and found that their coping with historical events to be very complex and sometimes revolting but I want to let you know I’ll be keeping this blog in mind if I ever do go in Cuba!

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