Cuba, gifts for the locals
  • Thanks Terry. The middle of nowhere is exactly what we're looking for. It's been a difficult year and some time away from everything here will be a welcome relief.

    Thanks again.
  • Have a gas!

    Cheers,
    Tery
  • Ok so Ive been to Cuba before and left the usual mugs, toiletries but I noticed that some of the resorts insist that their room people (I hate calling them maids) are expected to where panty hose even though it's very warm there. Has anyone else noticed this and would it be prudent to bring these as a "gift"?
  • If for some reason you have the urge to give gifts to your maid who is already one of the richest workers in Cuba because she receives an unending avalanche of gifts every single week then I suppose pantyhose is fine.

    On the other hand you could simply tip in CUC for good service so she can buy them herself.

    Have fun.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • thank you Terry.
    I do understand that they are the richest but since I very seldom leave the resort (I do tip cuc quite often) and do like to leave a couple small token gifts, I figured these would probably be the least left for them. I was also thinking as some other folks here have said, ASA, and the like. I don't mean to sound like "me come from rich country; you come from poor" and here take my hand-me-downs or cast offs.
  • Just keep in mind that no matter what you give to your maid she receives the very same gift from many tourists over and over and over again so it'll simply end up being sold on the black market or in a local tienda. That why for a resort worker who you do not know I recommend only tipping in CUC for good service.

    Have fun.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Hi there,
    I'm going to Cuba in february for five months as a study abroad placement in Havana, meaning I will (hopefully) be interacting with Cubans and making friends with genuine local students. I have been planning to take gifts such as English soaps and papers and pencils with me, to give to my host family when I arrive and then to leave as gifts when I have finished my time there, as i heard they are hard to find. Terry what is your two cents for this? Also conscious of my baggage weight.
    Thanks,
    Clare
  • Giving a token of respectful appreciation to your host family is a completely different issue than the random gifting that I am very much against. Two entirely separate issues. The former is simply good manners, the latter is naive/uninformed behaviour.

    Leave the pencils and paper at home, they're immaterial. Fancy foreign soap might be appreciated, but until you meet your host family... who knows. Maybe a family member works at a resort and they're buried under an avalanche of free soap.

    I would tend towards something that would always be handy around the casa... perhaps an emergency flashlight that doesn't require batteries, it works with a crank... two or three nice kitchen knives, inexpensive at home but almost impossible to find in Cuba... some of those bags that fold up really, really small that could hide in a corner of a purse or in a pocket but are ready to be filled up in a moment's notice if you see a good deal walking past a market or store...

    Five months in Havana... holy crap Clare, that's a long haul! Good luck to you.

    Cheers,
    Terry

    PS Do you know your host's address?
  • Thanks Terry for your info and insight; I was worried that simply tipping at the resort we plan to stay at would not be considered "personal" enough. I was feeling obligated to bring gifts based on what I've read on the internet and what people have told me they've done when they've travelled to Cuba, usually under the premise that certain items like Tylenol are not readily available there. But the idea of giving random stuff to individual staff members whose needs and wants are completely unknown to me, topped by the fact that the majority of visitors to the hotel are likely doing the same thing, meaning the staff are inundated with potentially useless or an excess of items, makes me uncomfortable. I will follow your advice: CUCs for good service.
  • That's all good, common sense, Mom.

    Have fun.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • My husband and I are going to Cuba in a few weeks for the second time. Last time we took 3 complete ball team uniforms, balls, gloves etc. The uniforms where given to us from a local sports store that were ordered but never used. It was worth asking if they had anything! We befriended a hotel worker who took us to his mothers house for dinner, then to a ball practice where the children were over the moon with their new uniforms. They where playing with balls that the string was falling out, and their shoes had holes in them. Their coach was a famous cuban ball player who took us to his house and gave my husband one of his ball Jerseys. A are definitely taking more ball equipment this time, and staying away from junk store crap. Our friend suggested DVDs as well, so his daughter could learn English :) he was lucky to have DVD player.
  • yeah yeah yeah know i got it, thanks Terry,
    i travel to Santa Clara in a couple of days for a month, visiting my Berlin-Friend's family,
    felt funny to bring soap or tooth brushes...
    instead i will bring some first class measuring tapes for the guy, who is a carpenter plus a couple of kitchen knifes for her. All items german made of course,
  • Thank you so much for your advice..I am now planning on taking 30lb of clothing , toys,and drugstore meds to Father Marcoleta, i was unable to determine any specific things needed except baseball s and gloves..what abut the little girls and infants..I never thought as spending time with children as looking in a zoo...but don't think I will be doing that again until i have some real time to volunteer.Thanks again for all your insights
    gramma Lynda
  • Have a nice time, Gramma.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • hi Terry, thanks for the tips! I know it's a long time!
    It's hard to imagine giving somebody I haven't met kitchen knives as a gift, but I guess when I arrive things will make more sense.
    Thanks, Clare
  • Hi Terry thanks so much for all your information, I wish you could have a word with some of the idiots on the facebook page for Brisas Guardalavaca, there are a lot of people on there seriously messing with the cuban economy, I tried to tell the but sadly if fell on deaf ears, can you believe people spend 100 canadian dollars on cheap rubbish to give to staff as tips!!!! I will be tipping in CUC for good service as you advised. thanks
  • I wish those people could turn into a fly on the wall after they've left the room... they would DIE FROM SHAME if they were forced to hear what the Cubans were really saying about them.

    Oh well, the world is filled with naive/dumb/egotistical tourists who think they "know what's best" for citizens of a foreign country and culture/language they know nothing about...

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • I guess i will not bother with the school supplies....but I am thinking about powdered milk. Is there a milk shortage? Usually go to a med office....would that be good place to drop it off. We are staying in Gaurdalavaca
  • Milk is supplied free to all kids up to 7 years old.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Hi Terry,

    Thanks so much for your valuable insights. My wife and I are traveling to Cuba in a few weeks from Australia and had heard so many different versions of appropriate behavior, nice to have some clarity after reading through these posts

    Aprecio mucho

    Jeff
  • We just got back from a week in cuba and were generous tippers and had amazing service and we also took all sorts of medican that we might have needed and in the end we gave it to a server we got to know know well, he was greatful and even if he turns around and sells it all, oh well it will help someone!
  • The reason I'm against giving any medications away to anyone other than a health professional is there is too great a risk of the medication being improperly used. The language difference is a really big issue - most Cubans can't read the English labels - and there's a bad habit among many Cubans for treating foreign medicine as being very special and way better than the local medications, so if one pill is good then three must be even better... Abuse is common...

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Read the comments last year before we went to Varadero and brought various items for the children at St. Elvira's. The staff were very appreciative for these as we dropped the items off at their office. One lady was very close to tears. We are heading off to the lovely island again in a few weeks and this time with school supplies, sport equipment and will again donate them to St. Elvira's. Thank you Terry, for the informative notes. We also tipped with the CUCs and left Swiss chocolates for our room attendants. I wouldn't dream of handing out over-the-counter drugs willy-nilly. Although I might leave the sunscreen and bug spray for the attendants. I am sure someone could use that. One thing I noticed was the many roaming dogs in Havana and Matanzas. Is there any humane society there to look after strays?
  • This guy does great work with animals in Cuba. First class...

    http://www.spankyproject.org/cubaprojectframe.html

    http://spankyproject.blogspot.com.ar/

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • I thank you all so very much for your what and what not to do's. we are leaving for Varadero Cuba in 4 day for the first time and I like the idea of St. Elvira's.

    Talley.
  • Have fun Talley and thanks for being a responsible/respectful visitor to the Island...

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Back from our first trip to Cuba 8 hours ago! What an experience!
    According to Terry's advice, I did all the wrong things by bringing lots of gifts, (focus on Tylenol, first aid kits with bandaids, toothpaste and chocolates). However I brought all the items with the best of intentions.

    I had opportunity to speak with some well educated, Cuban workers - hospitality and University of Matanzas - who indicated that very often they cannot get things like toothpaste as many resorts will sell their wares only to tourists and not Cubans. They also advised that it is hit and miss for local shops to have in stock for them for stretches of time.

    I have befriended a young family in Cuba I would like to send a few things to my new friends (i.e. baseball mitts, baby clothes, a few necessities that are difficult for them to acquire) ... can anyone tell me if there is a safe/legal way to send items to them as gifts, without them incurring taxes and getting a reasonable amount of assurance they will be delivered? Is my only option to ask a fellow Canadian to take along an extra backpack with them? I have proper address, contact info for my friends, but I have been told that delivery is not assured due to the nature of the Cuban postal system and DHL will incur large costs and tax burdens on my friends. Any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
  • "... who indicated that very often they cannot get things like toothpaste as many resorts will sell their wares only to tourists and not Cubans..."

    That's a very typical line of complete BS... you were being gently scammed like countless other first time tourists. In any case no one except resort guests can shop in resort shops so it's a moot point anyway. The only thing that's important to know is that there is no such thing as "tourist only" shops in Cuba where Cubans themselves aren't allowed.

    Secondly, please don't put words in my mouth... I have never said it's bad to bring gifts to Cuba, only that it's bad to hand them out irresponsibly.

    Lastly, the Cuban postal system is indeed undependable and foreign courier services are crazy expensive so gifts to friends are much more likely to be delivered when muled to the Island by a fellow tourist. Good luck.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Hi Terry,
    Great advice !
    We are heading back to Cuba in a few weeks and would like to bring a trumpet for an exceptional musician we met last time we visited. He told us he does not own his instrument, the hotel does and it would be "as hard as lassoing the moon" to get his own trumpet. I would appreciate your advice on the following;
    Is it difficult to bring a musical instrument into the country?
    Is what the musician told us likely true?
    Thank you kindly for your advice.
  • It'll be easy to bring it into the country, if you're questioned simply tell them it's yours and you're learning to play it - hopefully Aduana (Customs) won't ask for a song or two!

    That said, I can't believe your pal doesn't own his own instrument. I have NEVER met a Cuban musician who didn't own his own, but who knows what the deal is at a resort... that's another world... but honestly, that sounds fishy, but I won't say anything more...

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • We are heading out to Varadero on Sunday and are just discussing what gifts to bring. I went to Varadero 7 years ago and I realize from reading some of these posts (I didn't get through all 5 pages, Terry! lol) that I left waaaayyyyy too much for our maid every single day. We went to the dollar store and ended up leaving pens. pencils, coloring books, gum, toothpaste, toothbrushes, kids hair barrettes, stickers, gum etc - but seriously like 5 or 6 items every single day. Then one day my maid told me she was missing a towel from my room and that if I didn't replace it she would be charged. I had never taken a towel from the room because we used beach towels, so I think she may have been "playing" me since I left so much stuff every day she must have thought I was rich! I ended up taking a towel from my friends room and leaving it in mine. Everything was fine after that and he never got asked to replace his "missing towel" At the end of my stay I left whatever I had left in my gift bag and my full sized bottle of purfume.

    Having said all that, and I'm sorry for not reading through eveything first, what would be the best items to bring. I did read somewhere that tampons were not available in Cuba. Is that true? So maybe one itme per day would be better or a couple every other day as opposed to the obsessive amounts I left daily last time?

    I'm not sure I'll get an opportunity to go into a local church or school, so I'm concentrating on staff at the hotel here.

    Thanks for any advice!
  • Ok, well in case Terry doesn't respond back before I leave, just wanted you to know I took the time to read through the other pages and now I won't waste my money on the stuff I thought I would bring. Although, I am curious about the tampons - someone somewhere else said a cuban woman would LOVE them........although I guess it would be a tease, since once they're done, they're done.

    We will take your advice and tip for good service. Thanks!
  • Have a nice time leahhi, and leave all your gifts for resort staff at home. Tip in CUC for excellent service (not to get good service) and have fun.

    Tranquilo!

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Yikes...I went to the dollar store and bought about $75 worth of stuff to take. I am going to Cayo Coco. Do you know of somewhere to drop things off there? I also wanted to ask about staff selling things on the black market. Is that such a terrible thing? Isn't it still supporting Cubans?
  • Cayo Coco is a tourist enclave off the north coast of Cuba separated from the mainland by a 27 km long causeway. There is a security checkpoint protecting the island. There are no Cuban towns or villages on the island. In fact until a few years ago normal Cubans weren't even allowed on Cayo Coco!

    So no, there are no churches or charitable institutions on the island, all there is are all-inclusive resorts for foreigners. The closest town is Moron, about a 1.5 hour round trip by taxi.

    As for your $75 worth of dollar store junk somehow enriching or helping "normal" Cubans I've made my opinion clear ad nauseum throughout this thread. You can make up your own mind, to each their own.

    Have fun.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Thanks...I have been grappling with this. I was saying to a friend that I think it is sometimes about people wanting to think that they are being benificent in giving out stuff...it is more about them feeling good than what is good for the Cubans.
  • "... it is more about them feeling good than what is good for the Cubans..."

    Bullseye.

    Truer words were never spoken.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Travelling to Varadero for the first time on the 27th. As for gifts I've got crayons, pencils, candy, coloring books (a few of each) , but also infant-adult tylenol, baby shampoo & penaten, spectro gel bodywash etc in larger quanities, just wondering what I should be doing with this (distribution wise) & is meds such as tylenol needed greatly? Any input would be appreciated!
  • Kail, you should read this thread, starting with my reply on Feb. 18, 2011.

    If you don't want to read the thread then at least read this:

    http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Travel-g147270-c129786/Cuba:Caribbean:Think.Before.You.Gift.html

    If you still insist on bringing donations then drop them off in Varadero at the St. Elvira’s Church on 1st Avenue. Any taxi driver will know it. The priests name is Fr. Jesús Marcoleta. The best time to drop off donations is 9:00am - 12:00pm weekdays.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Tomorrow will be my second trip to Cuba. The people we met at the resort were wonderful. We stayed in contact with 1 employee throughout the year and consider him out adopted son... he said they would like shoes for the children, clothes, and they do not have to be new ones.... I am also taking ... toothbrushes, toothpaste, tylenol, ibuprofen, peroxide, body lotion, bandaids, shampoo, body soap, razors, toys for the children, pencils, erasers, ..... I am also taking them a laptop computer as I have a new one and am sure someone there will get use off my old one. I am looking forward to going to his house this trip to meet all off his family and it will give me a better idea of what to take on my next trip. They appreciate anything you have for them...it is not just the people that work on the resorts as most that work there also take care off their parents and other family.
  • "... Tomorrow will be my second trip to Cuba. The people we met at the resort were wonderful. We stayed in contact with 1 employee throughout the year and consider him out adopted son..."

    ============================

    So long as you don't mind sharing him with countless other foreign, "parents." ;-)

    Jejeje...

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • thanks for the tips LornaM & Terry, we are staying at Memories Varadero, is anyone familiar with this resort & its distance into "town"?
  • Memories is at the east end of the penninsula. There's only a half dozen resorts that are out even further.

    To get back to the far eastern edge of "downtown" is 12+ km.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Alright Terry,

    I'm from Manchester, I'm a trade unionist and have been on delegations before organised by the Cuba Solidarity campaign. I am going to guardalavaca in June-so it's the first proper holiday in Cuba.

    Before I have helped give educational materials directly to schools and Cuban teaching trade unionists as part of a delegation, but am unsure about the practice as an individual.

    I was thinking of asking the hotel to contact the committee for the defence of the revolution because it would be great to meet them, but also to give some small tokens of friendship and solidarity. Do you reckon that's a goer?

    Thanks for your patience in responding to people's questions and your efforts to stop well-intentioned idiots from embarrassing themselves too much.

    Cheers,

    George
  • Personally George I'd forget about passing anything on to a CDR representative but that's just me, your motivations are much different. (I've dealt with too many corrupt and petty CDR officials to waste any time with one who I didn't know personally.)

    Follow your heart/convictions... but really... you might want to have just a holiday and leave it at that. Your call of course, either way works.

    Have a great holiday.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Thanks a lot Terry I'm increasingly coming to that conclusion myself. Besides my Missis is going to want to have a good time not messing around talking politics...etc

    Cheers,

    George
  • Have a great time, George.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Hi, I just got back from my first trip to Cuba, and since I had read your posts and similar, I didn't leave any "junk", just tipped nicely. I had veiled asks for my daughter's backpack and girls or woman's clothes, but just played dumb. I wonder what the effect is on a local Cuban elementary school if one student shows up with a new looking Reebok backpack, and the other students have old green backpacks or plastic bags? Seems to me that is going to promote bullying and jealousy. Thanks Terry.
  • Hope you enjoyed your trip, Snowbound.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Hi Terry

    I've just finished reading every single one of the preceding posts and am very appreciative of your excellent, down to earth, tell it like it is, advice. Your TripAdvisor references were also a big help.

    We visited Veradero once several years ago and are going again in a couple of weeks. We are happy to show our appreciation for good service, or good advice or help if needed but do not want to do so in an inappropriate manner.

    A friend vacationed there a couple of months ago and said he gave the porter CDN $5 for carrying his bags to his room and left the maid the same amount ever day (plus some "gifts"). According to what I have read, that amount is about a week's pay! Not a lot of money for a Canadian to tip but is it appropriate, or does it just make you look like a dumb tourist?

    Being a guest in another country is a privilege, in my opinion, and even if your heart is in the right place, I think it behooves a person to educate himself a bit about what tips, or gifts, or behavior in general is appropriate and acceptable and what is not before heading off willy-nilly with a bunch of preconceived ideas.

    Thanks again!

    - Winter-weary Canuck.

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