Unfortunately, to lie for Cubans is like the national sport. They can and they like to do it. They affirm the system forced them to do it. The combination is something they have in their blood. Believe me, much more than Polish. What to take into account in Cuba to avoid being deceived?
The Cubans say than if somebody makes too many questions, they have to lie to him, or at least not tell the whole truth. The saying ‟the walls have ears” is very well known for them and they know where and to whom keeping watch. They have listened to home telephones conversations, e-mails in Offices of Internet established in the national domain, and around them, many kind of people that will whisper the information they need. All the aforementioned makes them dominate and having the control perfectly of the system of little lies and deceits. Of course, not everybody, but we don’t have to conceal that the tourists that get to Cuba are an easy prey to earn a few dollars.
Although we spent an important part of the year in Cuba, still it has situations we don’t know if we should pay attention. We revealed the frauds that happen with bigger frequency and that are very easy to overlook in the parties. Even we loved Cuba more than anything in the world; we don’t admit any type of fraud…
1. Prices in two coins: CUC and CUP
The monetary fraud is sufficiently ancient to happen each time with less frequency, or is it so obvious for us that we don’t pay attention? However, if somebody comes to Cuba for the first time, certainly he will get confused. Because in Cuba there are two coins: CUC (Convertible Pesos) and CUP (Cuban Pesos), sometimes you don’t know what is the currency to use while buying at the stores or to a street vendor. 1 CUC is approximately 24 Cuban pesos, that it is a great difference.
The problem is so much bigger because the symbol of pesos – $ – that is S with hyphen, is a symbol for both currencies. The symbol of the Mexican Peso, known as $, was the first one in the world (introduced in 1770), and it was only 15 years later that the United States adopted it as the dollar’s symbol.
At the supermarkets and stores (government own, of course), generally we have two prices: the big one in CUC and the smaller in CUP. The street vendors generally use CUP (Cuban Pesos), but this is not a rule. They do what they want. The only advice is to pay attention and to use your intuition.
For example, if you buy mangos, the price is around 2 CUC per one, that is, about 50 CUP (Cuban Pesos). Do not think it is worth to pay 50 CUC for a mango (around 200 zlotys). If we calculated 1 CUC as the equivalent of 1 USD, then it’s very unlikely that we pay 10 USD for a street sandwich (because a hawker on the streets will sell it for 10 CUP).
Making summary, you should pay attention to the coin in which the price is on display and relying on logic and intuition. Is this so valuable or is it an exaggeration? Prices are and they will be given in two coins in a lot of places without any rule or logic. You have to be aware of the situation.
2. Bills and giving change
As we have two coins, it is easy to be deceived when spending the rest. For instance, we have to pay 2 USD to a salesman and give him a 3 CUC bill. We should obtain an equal rest to 1 USD, that is, a bill of 1 USD or 24 Cuban Pesos. Regrettably, there is another trap.
We should have in mind that the money we spent is the correct currency. The salesman can take a chance of the situation and instead of 1 CUC give us 1 CUP (that is 1 Cuban Peso).
The rule is simple: the USD bills have monuments (monuments are stronger than people) and CUP bills have portraits (less valuable than monuments). We rely on the monuments and we rendered attention if the note has the word ‟convertible pesos”, that is the one that worth more, same as USD.
Oh, one more thing. It doesn’t have any sense to use two coins in Cuba. Simply it makes things more complicated, and we can pay everywhere in USD. Let’s not deceive ourselves thinking we will save money somewhere, because we have a different currency. No. The price will be simply converted from USD to CUP or vice versa.
3. The receipt is a sacred thing
Who on a vacation does ask for a receipt and still studying it carefully? Well … here it is easier to be deceived. Each State-owned store in Cuba has a cash register and, of course, is required to use it. The case would be simple: there is a receipt, is it all good? Nothing could be worse! But that is from the beginning.
The first rule is this: Always request for a receipt. Until you fall down. Of course, one million times the cash register will be out of service, cables have been bit by a dog; there is no electricity, etc. It doesn’t matter. You desire to have a receipt and that’s all. The salesman notes down names and prices of the products in a sheet of paper, he calculates with a calculator? Bullshit! You wish to see the price of the product and you desire the receipt (we will talk about this later).
Second rule is that the products should be patterned in the cash register (that is, scanned bar codes), no some bar codes in the cashbox. Salespeople often do this: they scan the codes that they have in the box, they do not emit the receipt, but they scanned, they earned money in the cashbox, everything is all right. No, it is not until the receipt is in your hands. Thus we go further, because everything could be in the receipt…
Of Course, it happens that the codes that are in the box are really for the products that we shopped, but very often we found the opposite…
4. Contents of the receipt
You have already a receipt, so everything seems to be OK. Regrettably it is not. Now we are verifying what there is in this receipt and fraud is subtle. You buy water it should be a capability of 0.50, 1.50 or 50 in the receipt. Unfortunately, water is a product for the tourists (Cubans do not drink mineral water from bottles), which is why fraud is more common here.
Are you buying rum? Notice if the name in the receipt corresponds with the rum that you are really buying. But that is not everything…
5. Price and name of the product
At each state-owned store, the products have the prices in the shelves. If a product does not have price (most of the time is water or good rum, often bought for tourists), the red light should turn on. What should we do then? We ask for the price of the product and, of course, we request a receipt, in case we buy it. In the receipt then, we pay attention to the contents: was the product entered in the cash register, the one we bought?
Unfortunately, if there is no price at the store, we will probably be hit by a bottle. Let’s don’t give up, we read not only the price, but also the name of the product in the price: they describe products in detail (type of rum, name, capability, etc.).
The transportation in Cuba is, of course, another fluvial theme. However, rules are simple: We always agreed the tariff before departure and we always talk direct to the driver.
7. Agents and brokers.
To be a broker or a salesman of restaurants are professions from which many people live on. The same happens with transportation, guesthouses (Cuban accommodation) or restaurants. All conscious travellers will know how to behave, but the atmosphere of Cuba and the warmth of Cubans disconcerts us. If we know the Spanish language, it should not be a problem to get along well, although brokers often speak English.
If somebody recommends us a restaurant, around the corner or even at the same street, generally it is because they will get a commission from the bill. However, this is not a just commission. Our price will simply be further incremented because they have to pay to the broker, very often, not always.
Rules are simple: We select the restaurants ourselves and we go independently to them (without the wanderings of streets ‟Cuban guards”).
Transport – How higher? The prices must be fixed before departing and directly with the driver. If we establish the price with a person that is not the driver, we always can choose not to participate. We can be sure that we will fix a better price for the same journey with another driver directly.
Guesthouses: There are a lot of brokers here, but the owner of the house shares the tariff of the room with the broker and the price is not too high. Everything depends of the price the broker gives us. Anyways, our host will put at least the half of this into the broker’s pocket. It should be emphasized that hosts do not have any problems with this: they are so good understanding and happy to have you as guests at home.
8. Cigars. Good price my friend
Unfortunately, we have been victims here also. If we want to buy cigars, let’s avoid to be invited to strange spaces hidden downtown. They have falsifications with a core made of leftovers of tobacco or dry banana leaves, etc. We buy cigars at stores or in the plantations, no on the streets. As you can see, there are a lot of scams in Cuba and you must pay attention in a lot of places not to ruin your mood during holydays…
Restrooms are not so much a fraud like a form of deceit. The so-called grandmother of the restroom that sees tourists raises the rate to 1 USD per person that of course is not adequate to … hmm … ‟toilettes”. Cubans will split out from one to several Cubans pesos. Generally I left 25 cents (USD). Besides, let’s not stretch ourselves here because there is not an official list of prices of toilets.