This blog's title means "Cuban-hearted woman" (very loosely translated!). I settled on this name because it had a nice ring to my unschooled ear and, more importantly, because I think the Cuban people seem to have so much
heart, and they're in my heart for that reason. In general, the people I've met in Cuba are quite consistently open-hearted and big-hearted in the way they relate to each other or to visitors in their beautiful land. A piece of my heart now resides in Cuba, with the warm, wonderful friends I've made there. This blog is not intended to be a guide to Cuba, just a forum for my eclectic bits of writing – poetry, opinion pieces and information gleaned from my personal experience and reading.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

TIPS: When in doubt, be generous!

In my immediately preceding post (below), I touched on the importance of tipping when visiting Club Amigo Marea del Portillo – or any resort in Cuba, for that matter. For many people, tips are a vital part of their income because wages are incredibly low and, from what I’ve observed, tipping is not limited to the housekeeping and restaurant/bar staff. Within the resort, typically, tips baskets are located on counters as benign reminders.

My general rule is, if someone assists you in any way, especially if it is beyond what you would expect, give a tip and/or a gift to that person. Tip the wait staff at every meal, the bar tenders and the maid every day – you’ll likely get to know them by name. Tip the guy who lugs your luggage and the one who takes you sailing. Tip the people who provide you with transportation – the bus, taxi and horse carriage drivers, or the horseman, if you go for a trail ride. Tip the guy who comes to your room to fix the hot water (a common malady, unfortunately). I could go on but I’m sure you’re already thinking you may need to take out a bank loan, just to cover the tips.

Don’t worry! Tipping in Cuba is not like it is in Canada; a buck goes a long way. There is no expectation of a 10-15% tip, even if you are paying for a service (at all-inclusives, you don’t get those handy bills at the end of a meal to help you determine appropriate tips.) In Cuba, tourists use what are known as convertible pesos or CUCs, which are worth about the same as loonies. The peso follows the U.S. dollar and, since the Canadian dollar glides along in a similar fashion, a CUC peso is pretty close to being equal to $1 (CAD).

On my first trip to Marea del Portillo, I was advised by long-time guests to leave a peso on the pillow each morning for the maid. I sometimes leave small gifts too, such as notebooks and pens, hair accessories or dollar-store jewelry. In the resort restaurants, my dining partners and I usually take turns leaving a peso or so on the table – more, if the group is large or the service has been especially good at that meal. At the bars, I tend to tip sporadically, mostly because I don’t always have pockets or a purse and I stupidly forget to take money with me! But, since the tip jar is always there, I play catch-up and throw in extra change when I do think about it.

If you budget about $5/day for tips, and throw in a little extra for the little extras, you should be fine. I’ve never actually added up what I’ve tipped, so I guessing that $35-50 for the week will be plenty. It’s not a huge sum to a Canadian but, for the Cuban workers, it’s essential supplemental income.

When in doubt about what or when to tip, I would encourage you to err on the side of generosity. You can’t go wrong by being nice!

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