No, the cuteness I want to discuss tonight is not that one pertaining to little toddlers giving you the two fingers (or the middle one, in the States). Let’s talk about the other cuteness. The one with a sinister – albeit unintended – connotation and detrimental effects.
After my first ten years living here in Blighty, I realised that I had acquired an unasked-for trait: that of looking at my own country and its population through British eyes. It was a strange sensation. One minute you were still the Cuban in London, the next, you were back in Havana, looking at your birthplace through foreign eyes. There was no warning or rehearsal. The transition was swift and unexpected.
This is where the “cuteness” factor kicked in. I began to notice how “cute” we, Cubans, looked to non-Cubans (now, from my resident-in-Britain vantage point). My reaction was a mix of amusement and irritation. The latter was born out of a frustrated attempt to explain our way of life to foreigners (regardless of where, on the political spectrum, they sat) through a non-romanticised, more reality-based lenses. The former came about after listening to some of the “comrades” and “free-marketeers”. Occasionally both amusement and irritation got mixed up, resulting in a concoction I would term amuse-ritation (sue me, Oxford dictionary, I dare you).
In between working as a free-lance interpreter, translator and tour guide for a few years in Cuba and becoming an (in)voluntary immigrant in London, I amassed enough experience to formulate a hypothesis as to why we, Cubans, are so “cute” to foreign eyes. Not to all foreign eyes, I hasten to add. There are people who "get" us from the word go. The, again, these are the people who are not interested in "cute" locals, regardless of the country they visit. Any note of sarcasm you find in this article is completely intentional.
So, why do so many visitors to Cuba find us cute?
- Because we’re not just cute, but “so fucking cute” (you have to say this in the same voice as Thom Yorke in Radiohead’s “Creep”)
- Because of the way we pile up in cars (especially American cars). Eight, nine, ten; they always seem to grow extra seats, these cars. Never mind that the temperature is infernally hot and some people pass out during the journey. The whole situation is so “cute”.
- Because of the way we walk in the middle of the road at a leisure pace, shaking our money-makers (both men and women, by the way. Money-makers know no gender boundaries in “cute” Cuba). Never mind that the reason for walking in the middle of the street is because of the risk of being buried under a derelict building, pieces of which are usually found… on the same road.
- Because of the way we use our horns liberally when we drive. Hesitate behind the wheel for a split second when the light changes to green and the driver behind you (usually a bloke) will let you know in no time that you have to move off. On the same note, American cars have a funny beep. It’s so “cute” that it makes me cry.
- Because of the way men leer at women. Women of all ages, from middle-aged to pre-pubescent (unacceptable, in my opinion). But, then, again, who am I to say it is not OK to look at an eleven-, or at a twelve-year-old lasciviously? I’m just a Cuban and Cuban men are doing what Cuban men do: be “cute” to foreigners.
- Because of the way ”parqueadores” insist on telling you how to park your car, even when they themselves do not know how to drive (see previous post).
- Because of the way we sound as if we are doing you, customer, a favour most of the time, when all we are doing is our job.
- Because of the way children laugh. Once, back in the 90s, I took a British couple around the city on a sightseeing tour. That night, sitting on El Malecón, under a starry night and with a full moon on the sky, we discussed various topics. A group of Cuban children played nearby. Did you know, the man said to me, that in London children don’t laugh? My face must have shown puzzlement because he pressed on with his comment. Nope, children don’t laugh. And you can’t see the moon either, added his wife. You can’t see a full moon like this. Imagine my surprise a few months ago and many years after that meeting, when I saw a strawberry moon… in London. As for laughing children, well, at the time of writing my son is cracking up upstairs and has done so for the most part of his eighteen years. Must be the Cuban genes!
- Because of the way we are, one minute, complaining about the state of the country, and the next minute, we are praising El Comandante. The fact that we fail to join the dots make us “cuter” than “cute”.
- Because of the way our machismo is the in-your-face type. All hand-waving and crotch-grabbing. What would normally get a ticking-off from feminists everywhere in the western world gets a free pass in Cuba because Cuban men are so “cute”. Even when they hit their wives/girlfriends/partners.
- Because of the fact we insist on carrying on living in dilapidated Instagram-perfect, old buildings (not that we can do anything about it). Those faces poking out of buildings that look as if they have just been subjected to an air strike are photo-cute.
- Because of the way the “internet zombies” (copyright, moi) gather near hotels and tourist hotspots, holding their arms aloft, hoping to get an Etecsa signal to update their Facebook status or watch the latest reggaeton video.
|"Cute" people galore
All this and a lot more are the reasons why we, Cubans, are “cute”. Or as Thom Yorke would probably say, so “fucking cute”.
Photo by the blog author
Next Post: “Thoughts in Progress”, to be published on Saturday 1st October at 6pm (GMT)