Before moving to Cuba, it is advisable to spend time there on a trial basis to see if it is the place for you. You should stay a couple months or longer so you can experience Cuban life as it is. Remember, visiting Cuba as a tourist is quite different from living there. The success rate of adjustment among Americans and other foreigners is not nearly as high as might be expected, so it is a good idea to “test the waters” before moving to Cuba or any foreign country permanently. It is good to visit for extended periods during both the wet and dry seasons. This way you will have an idea of what the country is like at all times of the year. During your visits, talk to as many foreign residents as you can and gather as much information as possible before making your final decision. The last step in making your decision is to try living there for at least a year. That is sufficient time to get an idea of what living in Cuba is really like and what problems may confront you while trying to adapt to living in a new culture. Some people may have to spend a couple of years in Cuba to discover whether they can live in a culture with different customs. Either way, a prolonged stay may also help you adjust to the climate and new foods. You may decide you are more suited for seasonal living or, as they say, ‘wintering ‘in Cuba for a few months a year.
A number of people spend the summer in Canada or the U.S. and the winter in the tropics—where it is actually summer—so they can enjoy the best of both worlds or the endless summer. By living in two places, they won’t have to sever ties with their home country. Whether you will choose to reside in Cuba full or part time, keep in mind the cultural differences and new customs you will encounter. Life in Cuba will be very different to what you are probably used to. If you expect all things to be the same as they are in the U.S., you are deceiving yourself. The concepts of time and punctuality are not important in Latin America. It is not unusual and not considered in bad taste for a person to arrive late for a business appointment or dinner engagement. This custom can be incomprehensible and infuriating to North Americans but will not change since it is a deep rooted tradition.
There are numerous other examples of cultural differences you should be aware of if you are seriously considering living in Cuba.
Driving habits and traffic rules are not always the same as in other countries. Tipping and even bribery are expected to ensure good service and to guarantee things will get done. Bureaucracy tends to move at a snail’s pace, which can also be maddening to foreigners. Since most Americans are always in a hurry they tend to feel frustrated by the dilatory nature of many things in Latin America. In addition, the Latin mentality, machismo, Latin logic, traditions, different laws and ways of doing business, seem incomprehensible at times. You will notice countless examples of cultural idiosyncrasies after you have spent some time in Cuba.
Cultural shock is the term used to describe the reaction most people experience when they move for a long period of time to a new culture which is very different from their own. Being cut off from familiar things causes the phenomenon. Anyone entering a new environment will experience cultural shock to some degree. No matter how psychologically secure you are, some cultural shock in your new situation will confront you. Small discomforts and adversities can easily grow in importance. Many people experience homesickness, boredom, frustration and even illness. How you will like Cuba really depends on your attitude and your willingness to adapt to living in a foreign country.
Americans and Canadians are apt to view their way of doing things as better than they are done in other parts of the world. Since every culture is different, there is no “right way” of doing things. The more “cultural baggage” and preconceptions you leave behind the easier it will be for you to adjust. The best thing you can do is respect the different cultural values, be understanding, have patience and go with the flow. Also, do your homework before moving to the country, know your new country and follow all of the advice we offer in this book. Learning Spanish will ease your way. Whatever you do don’t play the role of the “Ugly American” by displaying embarrassing behavior and trying to impose your way of doing thing on the locals. Don’t stereotype them and refrain from making disparaging remarks. Making a change in your life can be refreshing, rewarding and stimulating. However, most people tend to resist change. Our advice is to try experiencing all that Cuba has to offer.
You will meet new people while residing in a foreign country. For some strange reason expatriates seem to gravitate towards each other. People who you would not normally associate with at home become instant friends when living abroad. So, making friends shouldn’t be a problem. Try developing a whole network of friends for support. Being around other foreigners with a common cultural bond will make your new home seem less foreign. For those of you who are lucky enough to be living with your family, nostalgia will be less of a factor. If you are the type of person who doesn’t make the effort to meet people, who wait for things to happen, you will probably find it disappointing to live abroad. You will have to take a positive approach to create a constructive lifestyle for yourself in Cuba.
If you are retired or just taking a hiatus and have a lot of spare time on your hands, you must make an effort to stay active. In Chapter 4 there are activities to keep you busy. If you feel bored or at lose ends now, you might feel more so when living abroad. So, use your idle time wisely by getting involved. Spanish is a good way to spend your spare time. This is a lifetime project, will keep you occupied and open the door to many exciting new adventures. Above all, Spanish will help you understand your new culture and make living abroad easier. For an adult starting from scratch, learning a new language is difficult, but can be done if you make an effort. You will certainly have enough time. Just a few minutes a day makes a difference. If you never learn Spanish you will probably be able to get by since many Cubans living in cities speak English. However, you will be missing out on a lot. Words, phrases, sentences and songs pave the way for many new and rewarding experiences. You will be surprised how much you can learn about your host country and improve your lifestyle in the process. Be aware that you may miss many of the conveniences and activities of home—hobbies, friends, luxuries, lack of mobility, stores, your favorite T.V. programs and other familiar items. What you have to do is substitute new activities and find new hobbies. If you stay active you will adjust easily. For example, if you are an avid reader you can form a book club. Those people who like to walk can organize a walking or hiking club.
Get out and explore your neighborhood and city. You will discover restaurants, theaters, stores and other places where people gather. Try all forms of public transportation to become more mobile and discover new areas. Studying the history, politics, poetry, music and dance will help keep you busy and enable you to better understand your new culture. Remember living abroad is a trade off: you won’t have everything you had from where you came. Food may pose a major adjustment. So, again, learn to substitute. It is also exciting to discover new foods and dishes. As we state in the next section, Cuba has many exotic dishes and native foods from which to choose. Since the U.S. is so close, you will eventually be able to pick up non perishable items on shopping trips abroad. Under the stress of living in a strange land some people turn to drinking as a coping mechanism. Don’t fall into this trap. You should also be aware that it is our comparative wealth that separates us from people in the third world. No matter what your present station in life, most Cubans will view you as a millionaire. Don’t count on finding work in Cuba. It is difficult for the locals to make ends meet let alone for a foreigner finding work. There are investments for those people lucky enough to have sufficient capital to invest. But people thinking they can find work to support themselves are dreaming. It is best to have an external income like a pension, annuity or savings interests. This is not meant to discourage you, but to paint a realistic picture of the work situation. Living in a foreign country is exciting but poses many obstacles for newcomers. Don’t expect everything to go smoothly at first or be perfect. By taking the advice throughout this book and adjusting to the many new challenges, you will be able to enjoy all of Cuba’s wonders and have a successful lifestyle