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Customs of Cuba

Marriage and Family

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Most Cubans get married in their 20s. A civil ceremony is followed by a small family party, and an increasing number of couples are also having church ceremonies. Honeymoons generally last about a week. Newlyweds usually live with one set of parents until they can obtain housing, which is in short supply.

Many households include grandparents as well as the nuclear family, and extended family members often live nearby. The average family owns a small house or apartment; many homes have electricity, running water, and consumer goods such as a television. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the intensification of the U.S. blockade, however, power cuts and rationing have become common.

Women make up 39.2more than 50 percent of the country's professionals. There are a number of women in leading government and administrative posts. However, women are also responsible for most household chores and child care, although men of the younger generation are beginning to share such responsibilities. Government day-care centers educate and care for children between the ages of six months and five years.

In Cuba, as in most Central and South American countries, a person bears two family names. The person’s last name is the mother’s family name, and the second-to-last name is the father’s family name and the person’s surname. For example, Manuel, the child of Juan Valdés Garcia and Rosa López Hernandez, would be named Manuel Valdés López.

Eating

As a result of the drastic reduction in imports and industrial production, the Cuban diet has become increasingly restricted to foods grown locally. Arroz y frijoles (rice and beans) is the traditional staple meal. Rice is served at most meals, along with a favorite food such as potatoes, boniatos (sweet potatoes), yuca (cassava), plátanos (plantains), or tomatoes. Eggs are eaten boiled, fried, or as an omelette (omelet). Maize is the basis of many foods, the most popular being harina de maíz (cornmeal).

Roast pork, currently a luxury, is enjoyed on special occasions. Cubans in coastal areas eat locally caught seafood. Tilapia, a freshwater fish found in Cuba’s numerous reservoirs, is also popular. Homegrown tropical fruits include mangoes, avocados, guavas, oranges, lemons, pineapples, and papayas.

A system of rationing has been in place since the revolution in 1959, when Fidel Castro and his opposition forces overtook the government of Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar. The rationing has generally been effective in ensuring a fair share of available food. At present, as a result of economic difficulties, even the basic foods are in short supply, and some necessities such as meat and soap have disappeared from the ration books altogether. This has created considerable anxiety and hardship. Only the new “dollar stores,” for those who have U.S. dollars with which to buy food, are well stocked.

The daily meals are desayuno (breakfast), almuerzo (lunch), and comida (dinner). A light breakfast is usually accompanied by a cup of black coffee. Most workers and students eat lunch at work or school. Families eat their most important meal together in the evening.

Table manners vary from home to home, but in general hands are kept above the table. When guests are present, hosts will usually make a point of offering second helpings, but it is acceptable to decline. With the exception of expensive home restaurants (restaurants run out of large houses), all restaurants are state-owned. Prices are affordable, but the wait for a table can be long.

Socializing

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Men greet each other with a handshake and ¿Qué tal? (“How are you?”). Men often shake hands with everyone when entering a home or greeting a group. Most women kiss each other once on the cheek and offer a verbal greeting. Kissing on the cheek is also common between friends of the opposite sex, especially among younger people. Common verbal greetings include ¡Buenos días! (“Good morning!”), ¡Buenas tardes! (“Good afternoon!”), ¡Buenas noches! (“Good evening!”), and ¡Adios! (“Good-bye!”). ¡Adios! is also a typical greeting when passing someone on the street. When parting, people may say ¡Hasta luego! (“So long!”).

First names are usually used to address acquaintances, or one may use a professional title without a surname. Among strangers, Compañero or Compañera (“Comrade”), Señor (“Mr.”), and Señora (“Mrs.”) are frequently used. Nicknames are common among friends, acquaintances, and coworkers.

Cubans are extremely social, and visiting the homes of relations and friends is common. Friends and acquaintances who meet on the street or who are waiting in line, or those who meet at gatherings in neighborhoods and work centers, also commonly spend some time socializing.

Although unarranged visits on weekdays are usually welcome, weekends and holidays are the most popular times to visit. Guests are generally offered something to drink, such as black coffee, wine, or a soft drink, although it is not impolite to decline. When Cubans in rural areas visit urban friends, they may take a gift of food. When Cubans in urban areas visit friends in rural areas, they may offer to help pay expenses related to their stay.

As a result of energy shortages and evening blackouts, the practice of inviting friends over for an informal evening meal or party has become less common. When invited to gatherings, guests often bring gifts of rum, wine, or food to be consumed during the evening.

Recreation

Sports are a high priority in Cuba. The most popular sport is baseball. Boys begin playing in leagues as early as age seven, and competition at adult and college level is well organized. Almost every town has a team and a stadium. Cubans see baseball as a Cuban activity, despite the North American influence, and some theorize that the game arose from a game called batey played by the earlier Arawak people. Cubans are widely thought to be the best amateur baseball players in the world, having won more than 80 percent of world championships in the last quarter century.

Boxing, basketball, swimming, volleyball, and cycling are widely enjoyed. Girls participate in athletics in school, but few women continue to play sports after they have finished their formal education. Cubans have long enjoyed dancing (the rumba, mambo, and chachachá originated in Cuba), music, and festivals, and today they also spend their recreational hours going to movies, or watching videos or television. Cuba has a film industry, theater, ballet, discos, and cabaret. The game of dominoes is played by males of all ages, especially the retired, all over the country.

Holidays and Celebrations

Independence Day (1 January) commemorates the revolution of 1958 to 1959; it is preceded by New Year’s Eve (31 December) festivities. Other holidays are Labor Day (1 May), the Anniversary of the Attack on the Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba in 1953 (26 July), and the Beginning of the War of Independence from Spain (10 October). Mother’s Day (second Sunday in May) is widely observed.

The celebration of Christmas was banned from 1969 until 1998, when it was reinstated as a holiday following the visit of Pope John Paul II. Christians attend services during Holy Week and on Easter Sunday. Often a particular holiday honors both a Catholic saint and an African deity. For example, on 17 December both the Catholic Saint Lazarus and the African god Babalú Ayé are celebrated, and tens of thousands of Cubans make a pilgrimage to a chapel near Havana dedicated to the two of them. Similarly, on 4 December people honor the Catholic martyr Saint Barbara and the African deity Changó. The patron saint of Cuba, Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (“Virgin of Charity of El Cobre”), is honored on 8 September, together with the African goddess Ochún.

Source: Encarta Interactive World Atlas