Key facts

Capital: Havana

Government: Communist State

Official Language(s): Spanish

Population: 11.48 million (2017)

Ethnic Make-up: 64.1% White, 26.6% Mixed (including Mulatto, Mestizo, Zambo, or Pardo), 9.3% Black

Religions: 65% Christian (60% Roman Catholic, 5% Protestant), 23% unaffiliated, 17% folk religion (such as santería), and 0.4% other

Culture and Society: Cuban culture is influenced by its melting pot of cultures, primarily those of Spain and Africa. After the 1959 revolution, the government started a national literacy campaign, offered free education to all and established rigorous sports, ballet and music programs

Dress: Although traditional Western dress has been worn in Cuba for decades, the semi-tropical climate lends itself well to casual, loose clothing. Recognizably Latin styles like tiered ruffled skirts, exaggerated sleeves and brightly colored, embroidered shirts and blouses have had their place in Cuban fashion, but as Cuba struggled to exercise its independent spirit, Afro-Cuban influences like the African head wrap, or bandanna, began to surface, creating an individualized look and a fusion of cultures that's uniquely Cuban.


Food: Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish cooking, with some Caribbean influence in spice and flavor. The typical meal could consist of plantains, black beans and rice, ropa vieja (shredded beef), Cuban bread, pork with onions, and tropical fruits. Black beans and rice, referred to as moros y cristianos (or moros for short), and plantains are staples of the Cuban diet. Many of the meat dishes are cooked slowly with light sauces. Garlic, cumin, oregano, and bay leaves are the dominant spices. The traditional Cuban meal is not served in courses; all food items are served at the same time.



  • Publicly, a man is considered the head of household, although within the home the woman usually has control

  • Women still do most of the domestic work

  • While the traditional Hispanic family pattern in which children are almost totally cared for by parents or grandparents still remains, this dynamic has started to become replaced by a reliance on day care centers and other public institutions

  • The community (neighborhood, church, school and production cooperative) also serves as type of extended family, helping reinforce social values and emotional security


  • Being generous and hospitable is a highly valued quality

  • Whenever anybody enters the room, it is expected that Cubans will give kisses to those already present to express their hospitality and respect

  • Particularly in the hospitality industry, gift giving is an alternative option to tipping

  • When staying in a hotel, for instance it is good etiquette to leave the maid a selection of shampoos and personal care products. Due to their basic wage, such products are quite hard to come by in Cuba, and will be much appreciated.

  • Similarly, if visiting a Cuban’s house, other gifts such as towels and linen will be well received, as will toys and sports equipment for children.

notes for foreigners

key phrases

Welcome: Bienvenido (sg), Bienvenidos (pl)

Hello: ¡Hola!

Goodbye: Adiós, Hasta luego, Hasta la vista, Hasta mañana

Thank you: Gracias

Social Etiquette, Customs and Protocol

Meeting and Greeting

  • Man greeting Man - Men shake hands when greeting one another and usually maintain direct eye contact. Handshakes may linger. Good friends and family will engage in a firm hug which may be combined with a few slaps on the back.

  • Woman greeting Woman - At a first meeting, women generally shake hands. Friends and close acquaintances kiss each other once on the cheek.

  • Man greeting Woman - At a first meeting a regular handshake will do. Friends, family and close acquaintances usually share a light kiss on the cheek.

  • Communication style is more direct and some what louder than the norm is in the U.S.

  • Direct eye contact is commonplace rather than sporadic as it shows a sign of interest and respect towards the speaker

Gender Dynamics

  • Even though women hold jobs in a variety of professions, they are still usually expected to do the housework and take care of the kids when they return home

  • Cubans have a very liberal view of sexuality - this holds true for both sexes.

  • It’s acceptable for women to dine alone and walk alone at night

Personal Space and Touching

  • Cubans prefer standing close to one another while talking with someone they know.  One to two feet is normal.  When meeting strangers this distance is farther.

  • There is a fair amount of touching between people while conversing

  • Touching as a demonstration of affection is not taboo and does not carry a sexual connotation

Business Meetings

  • Arriving on time for a meeting is important even though you may have to wait 30 minutes or more

  • There is usually 5-15 minutes of small talk before getting down to business.  It is best to allow your host to begin the business discussion

  • It is considered acceptable to interrupt someone who is speaking


  • Avoid spitting or blowing your nose in public

  • Avoid taking pictures of people without asking their permission

  • Avoid littering - it is against the law