Scams & Beggars
If you spend time at beautiful beaches and luxury hotels, it’s easy to forget that, money wise, many Cubans make ends meet with monthly earnings that are little more than a one hour salary in Denmark.
As in many other low-income countries, a visit to Cuba will include meeting hustlers, scammers and beggars.
In Cuba however, the disproportional exchange rate between the CUC and the CUP has accelerated this; so there’s a big incitement to get hold of the CUCs.
So you shouldn’t be surprised if the taxi-driver asks you if he can have your sunglasses or if the bartender would like to have your shoes.
As part of the procedure, and as the good strategist, they will normally first:
- ask you if you brought a spare item with you to Cuba,
- explain the difficulty of getting hold of the item in Cuba,
- explain why it’s hard to get by without it, and
- what good use they would make of it - if they had one.
And not until then will they ask you if they can have it.
Well, you can meet hands with palms-up everywhere, but the general rule must be: “Don’t give ”.
But then there are exceptions to that rule:
If the person is disabled, retired or otherwise on a social pension and indicating that he or she is hungry and if you have the time, you could buy a street-burger or the likes for them. Chances are that they are truly hungry.
Castro acknowledged the problem in one of his 8 hour-long speeches on March 8th 2005, and since then, the minimum pension has been almost tripled, raising it from 55 to 150 CUP = 6 CUC per month. However that’s still just 25% of the average monthly earnings, and considering the pension age (55 for women and 60 for men) and the average living age of 77 years, Cubans will live the last quarter of their lives on a pension.
At times you may feel like most Cubans think that you’re made of money.
And let’s face it. In reality. To them - you are!
I’ve travelled in other low-income countries, so after a day or two, I was accustomed to the scams & beggars. However; some friends of mine had their holidays somewhat disrupted.
So I’m writing about the scams in the hope that my advice will give other people a better chance of a great holiday.
Now first of all, if you want to be treated like a tourist, just go for the “Tourist look”: Short trousers, a T-shirt with “I ♥ Cuba”, fancy sunglasses, a sun-cap preferably with a trademarked logo, 1 or 2 cameras, a money bag and sandals.
If, on the other hand, you prefer to blend in you could try out: Long trousers, nice shoes and a shirt!
As a tourist you’ll get offers by the minutes ranging from buying cigars to making new friends or even for dating extraordinarily, beautiful women.
If you’re not interested, here’s an advice:
Say no with a smile
Well, first of all this is probably your holiday and you’re supposed to have a good time. So why not make life a little easier for yourself and for everyone else.
I know that I never go on a vacation to be grumpy, annoyed or angry - I really don’t have to travel to be like that :-)
Keep in mind that these people literally do it for a living - to get by. Are you going to envy it or to blame it on an individual?
So take it easy, relax and smile.
After all - it’s Cuba.