The event is more a series of events. I went on vacation with some friends to Miami, and while not everything I experienced on that trip would count as a cultural experience, there is little question that there were some very different experiences. There was the visit to the Haitian restaurant, for example, but the event that stands out the most was my visit to Calle Ocho, the old Cuban neighborhood. As Korean student I find it challenging enough to deal with mainstream American culture, but Hispanic culture is completely different again, so this experience provided me with an interesting counterpoint to my usual experiences in the United States.
In this neighborhood, if people can speak English they do not admit it. There are coffee windows where strong, sugary shots of Cuban coffee and cafe con leche are dispensed to passers-by in a hurry. There are old men playing dominos in shaded parks. A vendor with a cart squeezed juice from sugar cane. Dinner at the restaurant Versailles was a true cultural experience for a taste of refined Cuban style. I have never been to Cuba, so I cannot say if my experiences were typical of the old country, but they were very far from my normal day-to-day life.
The coffee window as attached to a bodega, and I had to order in Spanish. My attempt to ask for coffee was first greeted with puzzlement, and then a barrage of questions in Spanish. The experience was something akin to somebody's first time in Starbucks, with all of the different permutations available, except the entire business is conducted in Spanish. The entire procedure took about a minute and I received a tiny cup of sugary espresso with thick foam on top. The lady spent the entire time was preparing my coffee talking loudly to another customer. This conversation was energetic, but nothing like the old men playing dominoes. They were shouting, arguing, and slamming tiles down with the greatest enthusiasm. I watched for a few minutes, and saw a full range of emotional display from laughter to (temporary) anger and everything in between. The conversation was constant, and seemed to cover a variety of subjects. I swear I heard one of them curse Fidel Castro.
The liveliness of the people and their high degree of personal interaction was something that I had expected, as I see this as a stereotypical trait of Latin culture. I do not have much familiarity with Cuban or Cuban-American culture specifically, however. The dinner showed me a different, more formal side to the culture. I had expected it to be something akin to a formal Mexican meal and I think there were some similarities. Everybody had a great time, as the sangria and wine were flowing, and the service was punctual and efficient. There were musicians that went around to the table, accepting money to play old tunes, like "Besame Mucho" and that type of thing. The meal fit with my stereotypes, since we were surrounded by large, multigenerational families, and everybody seemed to have tight bonds. Communication was lively among the different people and I think that our table was the quietest.
The totality of the experience holds some insight for me into Cuban-American culture in its purest form. There were elements that I believe are common among all Latin Americans, but also elements that appeared to be uniquely Cuban in nature, providing me with a rich cultural experience that I can analyze through a variety of theoretical lenses.
Part Two. Analysis -- Schwartz Value Survey
While there is a high degree of heterogeneity in the different Latin American cultures, certain values are relatively similar among the groups. Ralston (2007) studied the culture of Cuba using the Schwartz Value Survey. The author tested Cubans and Americans on a number of dimensions, including the collectivism-individualism spectrum, conservation and self-transcendence. It was found that the United States was far more individualistic than Cuba; but that no significant difference in the conservation measure was found. Cuba scored much higher on the self-transcendence measure. Two subdimensions, benevolence and universalism, contributed to the difference between Cubans and Americans in this measure. Ralston's work supports the contention that Cubans are similar to other Latin American cultures in the differences with America's predominant culture, at least along these cultural dimensions in the Schwartz framework.
Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions
Geert Hofstede (2012) describes culture as having multiple dimensions, including power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance and long-term orientation. While his website does not explicitly outline Cuban culture, it has an outline for Colombian culture, which is another Caribbean region Spanish-speaking culture and probably the closest to Cuban that Hofstede has analyzed. Power distance reflects the hierarchical nature of society. This manifests in relations between bosses and employees in particular, when applied to the workplace. Cultures with a high degree of power distance tend to have concentrated power, and lower level employees are less likely to be empowered to make decisions. Colombia culture has a higher degree of power distance (67) than does the U.S. (40). This was noted on a couple of occasions, especially in service situations. The lady at the coffee window at the bodega took her orders from the man behind the counter. He could have served me, but this is not how he saw his role, and he waited for her to take the situation. A similar thing occurred at the restaurant during dinner. When one of my friends had a problem, the server had to get a floor supervisor to come and talk to us about it and then given instructions to the server. I felt that this was different from at an American restaurant where often the server would have dealt with the problem (a wrong drink arrived) rather than consulting with a superior. To me, this supported the idea that Cuban culture has higher power distance than American culture.
From the perspective of a Western manager, this would be frustrating, to have employees unwilling to make their own decisions. As a person of Korean descent, I would find it challenging only to the extent that it differs from Korean culture. We are less individualistic and in the old country are hierarchical, but we are open to more American management styles. I suspect that people from a third-party culture would benefit from being able to adapt to the particular management style, adopting high power distance in a Hispanic-run business and low power distance in an American-run business. This type of adaptation would allow employees to transition between different types of workplaces. This raises the question of whether or not Latin American employees who have trouble making this transition deliberately avoid seeking employment in American-run businesses. There may be an element of self-selection among employees who work for Cuban-run small businesses in Miami, as they may only feel comfortable working within their own cultural environment, and have trouble adapting to other environments.
Latin cultures in general have low levels of individualism. Hofstede (1983) notes that Panama, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru and Chile all rank among the lowest for individualism of the forty countries that he originally studied. Based on this, it would be expected that members of this culture strive are more oriented toward group achievement than individual achievement. This does not mean that the old men did not want to win at dominoes, but when they played, it was something done for communal benefit. The staff at the restaurant had set roles and were not empowered to move beyond those roles, nor did they seem interested in moving beyond those roles. Only the managers had that level of motivation. This is something that would be expected of a culture with a low level of individualism. There is no motivation for people within that culture to achieve for the sake of personal achievement. The entire restaurant may achieve, for example, but combined with the power distance that manifests itself in the managers taking on the role of ensuring organizational success. Without incentive, the other members of the staff simply did the jobs they were assigned.
Latin cultures in general score higher than the U.S. For uncertainty avoidance. It is expected that since Colombians score so much higher than Americans on this trait (80 to 46) that Cubans would also have a much higher level of uncertainty avoidance as well. While it is difficult to determine this too specifically based on my experiences, the interaction between the managers and the staff at the restaurant seems to illustrate uncertainty avoidance, in the way that the staff wanted to clarify with the managers what to do. There can be little doubt that the server did not know how to handle the wrong drink situation -- surely this has happened before -- but he still felt the need to discuss the matter with the supervisor. If the employee took his own initiative, there would be uncertainty as to how management would handle that situation.