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Apr 15th 2009 1:56PM Please allow me to give insight as a cuban who returns to to cuba regularly.
Money: Correct, credit cards will be difficult to use on the island. Remember that there are two monetary units in Cuba. National (N$) and convertible(C$). Tourists work with convertible dollars (the really bright ones) but when you get to any paladar or market, although the sign says you are paying 5C$, locals are paying 5N$ which has a conversion rate of over 10 times the amount. Sometimes vendors get a kick out of saying 1 dollar for whatever they are selling and you pay in C$ rather N$ which is what he meant. Understand that you are actually helping the locals but you can learn to get around this. Stay at a particular (try central Habana, falling apart because the concrete used to build it in the boom of the 30's was mixed with seawater or Vedado), the best way to know your getting a good one,is check if they have a large family. Large families usually means heavy traffic from neighbors. Family and friends will keep they're ears peeled for you to see whats happening. Anyway give your C$ to them and have them turn it into N$ and they can do the shopping for you. They will expect a portion in return but if you paid them right they will outsource anything you need. Cigars, quality foods from hotels and hospitals, entry to secret hotspots, anything, they will find out who has a "nephew" who is out of work and willing to be your driver the entire time your there.
Cubans like a fast talker and can defend themselves with their wit. Congeniality usually gives way to anyone that proves their wit, if we rag on you, it means we like you.
Clothes: It's humid. It's hot. We take upto 3 (quick) showers a day just to freshen up. T-shirts and shorts are fine. Wear the stuff loose. You will see cubans wearing the strangest things. Labels and brands they never heard, sometimes we dress in the clothes you'd wear to clean your house when you use bleach and strong cleaning agents. The only difference is we go outside like that, we really don't care. Understand though we can dress formal but for everyday we dress like island bums. Another way of putting it is children's school uniforms are impeccable and, well, uniform but the moment my nephews and nieces get home they know to change into what is basically a sleeveless shirt, shorts and sandals that have seen a thousand miles. Then they do their homework!
Clearing Customs: Be patient. Cubans are not in any hurry. This is a country were if you are waiting for waterpump for your Russian Lada or French Simca and were told it will be in tomorrow it really means two weeks or two months. Time moves differently to us. We don't feel sorry if you have to wait, we have been waiting all our lives. Definitely don't get upset, we will not move any faster and simply think you are a fool.
Side note don't be fooled were there is a will there is a way, understand that these "simple" island people have family all over the world and new technology and products do make their way back to the island. Last time I was there I witnessed 4 Chrysler 300C and a few Mercedes 4 doors. These people may seem behind the times and look like they should be miserable. But you would be assuming incorrectly. They get a kick out of life and are probably living happier lives than most of us in the drugdery of constant work.