Hablas Espanol? No, yo soy Cubano!
You have prepared your trip to Cuba, you have reviewed your Spanish, taken classes, practiced with Spanish friends, watched Spanish movies and tv. You are enthusiastic and can’t wait to test your improvement on site. Then you land in Havana and feel lost. Nobody speaks Spanish, and you can hardly get a word of what people around you say. Why oh why, you wonder! Well, take it easy on yourself. It is not your fault. Cubans do not speak Spanish. Or at least, not the Spanish you would imagine. It is so different from what you may be used to that it literally sounds like a completely different language, almost like a dialect from somewhere in Africa. And it may well be, as it is so incomprehensible. It is so different that I have even met Mexicans or Argentinians who had troubles understanding Cubans.
It will take you a few days to get to hear the accent, to distinguish words, to learn the musicality and appreciate the sound. Cubans use words that are not normally used in “traditional” Spanish. Matrimonio? Ah, well, that is pareja – couple. Carro? That is coche – car. And so on… It seems to be a complete mixture of words taken from Spanish, American English and Italian. But you will get by, do not despair.
Cubans will make sure that, one way or another, you do understand what they say (that is, if they want you to!). They will encourage you to speak and learn, and show appreciation for your efforts. My Spanish is ok, I had a few key sentences that I have learned to say so well that I was constantly asked whether I am “Espanola”! This made me really proud 🙂
You do not speak a word of Spanish? Well, you can bet that you will have no problems: guides usually speak very good English. And the locals, the ones you meet in the streets, the owner of casas particulares and paladares and businesses will make their very best effort to speak a few words of English, some of them speak excellent Italian, and if this still is not enough, they will point you to things, use sign language, try to find a friend who speaks English and what not.
So, by all means, do not worry! Enjoy it!
Read more of my Cuban adventures here.