Calling a Spade a Spade

Cultural differences between Cubans and Canadians are many. Many Cubans openly pick their noses. In fact, I think that’s exactly why most Cuban men grow their pinky finger nail extra long; all the better to probe their nostrils with, my dear! The sultry way Cuban women walk, no matter what size or shape their body comes in. The long-winded way they have of explaining something that would require infinitely fewer words in English. And the direct, even blunt comments they make on your appearance. If you’re black, then there’s no pussyfooting around it or looking for the latest politically correct term for your race. You’re just black. Or white, or mulatto, or chino… Easy. And nobody takes offense when you call them what they are.

In my early years working in Cuba, before I married Abel, I used to divide my time between Canada and Cuba. I was very active since I was riding my bicycle most days along with our bicycle tour guests and didn’t own a vehicle. When I’d return to Cuba in the fall, without fail my maid would comment on my weight. She thought she was being nice telling me I’d plumped up a bit over the summer since it meant that I was living well, with access to an abundant food supply. But a single Canadian girl in her 20’s doesn’t want to hear that kind of thing. A married Canadian woman in her 50’s wouldn’t want to hear it either. Unless you’ve been taking pounds off (in which case it’s perfectly acceptable to pass on a compliment), then in Canada it’s an unwritten rule that you don’t comment to your friends when they’re starting to bulge out of their clothes. My husband, thankfully, is very much aware of this rule and never comments on any fluctuation in my weight. And he knows that if any of his friends make the mistake of telling me I’m fatter than the last time they saw me, I might be smiling on the outside and agreeing that I’ve been eating too many carbs lately but on the inside I’m cursing them out and daggers might just shoot out of my eyes if they don’t change the subject soon.

When I returned to PEI a couple of days ago my niece was playing hide & seek with her sister and another friend. My niece Alexandra is 6 years old and has lived her whole life divided between Cuba & Canada. Her friend came tearing through my apartment looking for a place to hide, and then Alexa came running in after her. She said, “Kristen, did you see Paige come through here? She’s a little fat girl.” Immediately I gently corrected her in Spanish and told her that she should be more careful about talking about her friend’s weight when she was within earshot, that if she heard Alexa calling her fat that she might get a complex about it. Alexa said, “Well did you SEE her?” She doesn’t understand yet why you can’t call a spade a spade in Canada while in Cuba it’s perfectly acceptable to talk that way and nobody will get mad at you. I was telling my sister about it and she said she hopes our niece learns the lesson fast or she’ll end up with no friends at her school here in PEI!

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