Cubans are generally friendly and helpful people. Remember that they earn about US$15 a month; if they can help you, they probably will, but they expect you to return the favour. If you are invited to a Cuban’s house for dinner, accept the invitation. You will really be treated like an honoured guest. It’s a great way to get to know the culture. Of course, normal Cubans are not allowed to host this kind of event, but it comes naturally.
One way to help local Cubans is to stay in casas particulares, eat in paladares or private restaurants and shop from street vendors. While free enterprise is generally prohibited, a few years ago the government started selling expensive licences to people who wanted to open rooms in their houses for rent or set up a few tables on their porch and cook in their kitchen. Not only are the licences very expensive, but the fees have to be paid every month, regardless of income, so the less well-off have no money. Not only is it more attractive to stay and eat in a local’s house, but there is a direct benefit in one of the few options.
Traditionally, Cuba is Catholic, but the government has often suppressed expressions of faith. Recently, however, it has become less frowned upon since the visit of Pope John Paul II, and there are more important issues to deal with. Other religions in Cuba are hybrid religions that mix elements of Catholicism with others from traditional African religions. The most widespread is called “Santeria” and its priests can be recognised by the full white robe with beaded necklaces they wear. Women going through the process of becoming priests are not allowed to touch other people (among other things), so if the owner of your casa is aloof and dressed all in white, don’t be too surprised. There are many museums in Cuba (especially in southern cities like Santiago de Cuba) that describe the history and traditions of the Santeria.