Short change

I believe most Cubans to be intelligent people so the frequency of getting short changed is quite alarming, and should cause great concern in the Cuban math education department :-)


These scams take advantage of 3 things.

  • You might not speak the language too well
  • You’re not all that familiar with the Cuban currency

The third part of the equation is to confuse you from questioning or from counting your change in a correct manner. Here’s some advises:

  • Know the amount you have to pay and what short change you should receive
  • Be patient and count your change
  • Re-count your change and
  • Re-re-count your change - Sorry no kiddin’

Here are three examples:

- In the bank -

At the Cadeca on Obispo street in Havana I asked for 200 CUC on my Visa Card. The note I signed was kept almost out of sight.

The bank clerk then counted up 200 CUC by giving me 20s, 5s and 10s in an unordered and absolutely confusing manner. When I counted the money for myself it came to 210 CUC and maybe some people would have left it at that!!

Unfortunately the printer for my receipt was “broken”, but over the counter I could just glimpse the original. I had signed for 250 CUC and not as requested 200 CUC! So I counted the money again in front of the clerk.

She then took the money and also counted it again. She subtracted and added, subtracted and added and then counted it once again in 20s, 5s and 10s up to 200 CUC. This time there was 230 CUC in the pile.

Raising my voice just a little bit, I now demanded to get a receipt, and voila: Suddenly the printer worked and suddenly we could agree on what really constitutes 250 CUC.

- In the store -

At a grocery store by the beach in Playa Santa Maria del Mar, the cash register was “almost broken”. It couldn’t calculate but you could punch in the final sale.

So the shop assistant had to use a pocket calculator, and at the same time, to be on "the safe side", she was doing the adding on a crumbled piece of paper.


  • She accidentally included the earlier customer’s bill in mine. Oops!
  • She then accidentally placed one of my items on the top of the crumbled page - away from the adding of other groceries Oops!
  • She then accidentally added one CUC too much on the paper Oops!
  • She pointed out that, although the paper showed a wrong number, she had given me the right amount in coins - I checked, and it was correct. Oops on me!
  • However, she had also accidentally given me 2 x 5 CUC instead of 1 x 10 CUC and 1 x 5 CUC Oops! (Gotta’ count those bills too…)

- At the Mini Market -

At a Mini Market in Varadero the cash register was on a siesta. It could register most of my groceries, but when it came to the 3 TuColas that I picked up in the cold counter, the shop assistant needed to do the math on a pocket calculator - Actually, I ought to have paid a fee for this performance :-)

When I entered the store I noticed that a male clerk gave me the “here’s-another-tourist-sucker” look; so I was on the alert when he suddenly took over the cash register from the girl who had been sitting there.

When he took up the colas he had the look of a vine-connoisseur, and was saying “Ah, cold”. He then grabbed the pocket calculator and tapped it numerous times to do the difficult math of adding the price of 3 TuColas. All the time he was nodding as if thinking “Here’s a customer that knows the good and expensive stuff”.

After doing the math, he punched in the number on the cash register, and just gave me the total. I asked him for the price of the colas, and so he started doing a reverse math-session, and at the same time his English deteriorated with extreme speed.

Eventually he quoted the price of 1½ CUC for one TuCola - In Denmark 1½ CUC will buy you 3 CocaCola. At that time his English had deteriorated to the extent that he didn’t at all understand it when I told him that in the bar at my hotel, just across the street, the TuCola would be served by a waiter in an ice-chilled glass with a mat and ice cubes - all at the price of one CUC per cola.

So I told him that the colas were his to keep - probably why they’re called TuCola :-)

Now, my objection here is of course not the CUC. No one likes to be taken for a sucker, but my main objection is that; if you compare these hustlers to the average Cubans, the people in the tourist trade are fairly well of; so they don’t really “deserve” the extra cash from scams.