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Cuba’s “second national pastime”

On my first trip to Cuba, I lasted about a day before someone told me about Cuba’s second national pastime. (The first being┬ábaseball, of course.) Little did I know, I’d hear about Cuba’s “second national pastime” again and again – and the pastime would change with each new telling!

Cubans use this phrase to joke about any key aspect of Cuban life. So for example, once a Cuban friend told me all about a colleague’s personal life. I asked how he knew so many of the sordid details, and he replied, “Are you kidding? Gossip is Cuba’s second national pastime.”

Some other second national pastimes I’ve heard include dominoes, flirting, dancing, and sex. Of these, my favorite is… not dominoes.

But back to my very first experience of this expression. Sometimes people use it to joke about the difficulty of Cuban life. Because food and other goods are frequently scarce and/or prohibitively expensive, many people struggle to survive.

They may have to work a little moneymaking gig on the side, hunt around to obtain basic necessities, barter with whatever they have, and seek workarounds for problems they can’t meet head on. They wait in long lines, deal with endless bureaucracy, and otherwise navigate a difficult system. Dealing with everyday challenges takes resourcefulness, persistence, and effort far beyond what I’m used to in the U.S.

More dark humor. Outside a store, as a woman is loaded into an ambulance: "She found everything she came for, they treated her nicely, there was change in the cash register... it was all just too much for her."

More dark humor. Outside a store, as a woman is loaded into an ambulance: “She found everything she came for, they treated her nicely, there was change in the cash register… it was all just too much for her.”

A friend taught me that Cuba’s second national pastime is this constant effort to keep up with life’s challenges. It’s often referred to as la luchita – “the little fight” – conveying the familiar, routine nature of their struggle to get by. Calling this the second national pastime is the kind of sardonic humor Cubans use all the time when discussing the difficulties of life there.

So now you know: Cuba has no universally accepted “second national pastime”! There are a number of contenders – some offered tongue in cheek – but all representing key aspects of Cuban culture.

Have you heard of any I’ve missed?

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