6 tips to survive visiting a Cuban household

Dear Reader,

How much do I love Christmas time? Lots, I suppose. Today I have a bah humbug type of feeling which I’m sure is temporary.

There’s no reason for it and I’m not sad. As a self-diagnosed introvert, this is the part of the holiday that exhausts me. It’s not that I’m not happy to see everyone during the holiday season, but it’s the act of seeing everyone in such short amount of time. So many people. So much noise. So much of … EVERYTHING.

No other family friend visit exhausts me as much as visiting a Cuban household. I’m half Cuban and I live in Houston so I didn’t grow up around very many Cubans. So visiting is always overwhelming because there’s so much preperation. Most especially during the holiday season.

Therefore, in the spirit of giving and sharing, here are my tips for visiting a Cuban household, each earned the hard way. Please think of this as your handy guide to surviving the Cuban Holiday Apocolypse.

Rule One: Dress well as to not shame your family

Let me be upfront with something, you will be judged. Oh, the judgement. Some. Much. Judgement. The goal really isn’t to not be judged but to be judged less, to keep comments to a minimum. Why? Because clapping back is a direct reflection of how you were brought up. After all, this will not be the last time you will see the Cuban family so bringing shame upon your own with a snide remark is a rookie mistake.

For me, dressing well to go to a Cuban house means the following: You have to wear makeup. You have to dress up (which means nothing is wrinkled at all). Perfume is a must. And your status in the world must be reflected in what you wear. And don’t be fat. Please, don’t be fat.  Well, at least, dress to look less fat.

Remember this always, do NOT shame your family. Rule One. 

Rule Two: You will be fed.

Talking about fat, you’re gonna eat. It doesn’t matter when you go. In fact, you may be ushered into the kitchen with a plate already waiting for you. Don’t say no. Eat. It doesn’t matter if you already ate. Why? Rule One. Stop trying to shame your family.

The good news is that if you are being feed, most likely pork will be involved. Delicious. Marinated. Cooked with the care of 100 angels. It’s the national food of Cuba, you know, back when we had food.  

And Cafe Cubano. That tiny unassuming cup of coffee. Even if it’s 4 in the afternoon, take it. Rule One. Enjoy your insomnia tonight.

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Good luck, homie. Guess you’re Netflixing until dawn. Photo by Davitydave, Creative Commons

Rule Three: Bring in the noise.

It will be noisy. There may be a tv set on, plus the radio, plus a dozen or so children running and screaming, and the typical Cuban conversation, which is about 10 decibels above the typical American voice. No, you are not being yelled at. This is how we talk. Hand gestures. Facial expressions. Arms flapping about. We communicate through body expressions and noise. We don’t know what quiet is. Seriously, what is that?

When (not if) you are asked to dance. Wait, there is no asking. Someone will grab you by the hand and dance with you. If you are a single woman and there is a single man there, you will be shamed (SHAMED!) into dancing together.  

Yes, you are being set up. Yes, they hope something happens. Yes, they are seeing what you will look like dancing at your wedding. In fact, they’ve already planned it. Your nuptials have been the talk of the adult table since two hours before your showed up. Yes, they will ask you to go run an errand together because suddenly there’s no ice. Oops! Take that opportunity to mention to your now newly beloved that you are secretly married and you’re just waiting for the right time to tell your family because he’s the head of a cartel. He has guns. Lots of them. He has an army with guns. Lots of them, too. And if he plays along, you won’t mention to your cartel husband that you (guy) tried to holler at his secret wife.   (Incidentally, this explains my writer’s imagination.)

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Rule Four: Bring your A game to the adults table.

Did you happen to win the Nobel Peace Prize this year? Great! Wear it. Did you win an Emmy, Oscar, Tony? Bring it.  Did you do anything big and spectacular? Bring evidence of it.  That can be used to explain why you haven’t 1) visited more often this year 2) your singlehood 3) your career choice 4) your barren, barren womb. (Why don’t you have children?)

Now, if you were sick this year, this is even better. But, you can’t be too happy while you’re visiting. Like, don’t dance salsa. I know it’s your favorite song. Yes, Marc Anthony is the jam but unless you are his next wife, you will be talked about and then, yes, Rule One. STOP trying to shame your family!

 Yes, it’s the jam. Stop dancing. Now. Your mother and her friends are watching with THAT look. BTW, he’s Puerto Rican not Cuban. WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?

Rule Five: Say hello and goodbye to everyone ESPECIALLY the matriarch.

Do not, I repeat, do not skip one person in your greetings. It will take you about 30 minutes to say hello. If it’s even one second less, you missed someone and you have broken Rule One.

Make sure, however, that you compliment everyone as you greet them.

Example: Manolito, you’ve grown so much! Sylvia, you look so beautiful. Abuela Martinez, you look so young, how do you age in reverse?

Nice, yes but you save the big compliments for the matriarch, the woman who makes everything run. While a man may run this Cuban household in theory, it’s the woman who makes all decisions. Every. Single. One. Especially the piece of pork that you will be served today. Your greeting needs to go something like this:

“Senora Martinez, how beautiful you look tonight?! I love your new (insert article of clothing). And the house looks amazing. I don’t know how you do it. Your family is so lucky to have you.”

Say this with so much fake sincerity and it nearly brings you to tears. It’s thick but it works. Trust. Me. Keep the queen happy and you will be fine. God save the queen. Always.

Conversely, however, it will take you about an hour and a half to say goodbye. Don’t’ short cut this step.  Rule One, remember?

Rule Six: Your were NOT raised in a barn.

Basically don’t show up unannounced, bring a gift no matter how small, and always offer to help in some way. I personally like to offer to either do the dishes or set the table. Any self-respecting Cuban woman will not allow you to do her dishes so you’re safe there. However, as a compromise setting the table is a good alternative. Don’t do any of these and Rule One is so broken super glue ain’t gonna fix it. The shame will be intense. You want none of that.

Don’t do any of these and Rule One is so broken super glue ain’t gonna fix it. The shame will be intense. You want none of that. You are not prepared for this. None us are.

In the stupid chase you do break Rule One,  start looking for another family. You will be disowned immediately.

That’s what I got. Hope this has helped you as it has helped me through the years.  God speed, Reader.

Taking a short nap before the next visit,

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P.S. Whatever you do, don’t forget Rule One. Ever.

 

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