Handshaking is considered to be the normal greeting in Cuba. Whilst Cubans often address each other with the familiar term compañero, visitors should use señor or señora. Often, Cuban people have two surnames after their Christian name - when addressing them, the first surname is the correct one to use. Normal courtesies should be observed whilst visiting someone's home, and a small gift is a nice gesture if you are invited to stay for a meal. Formal wear is not often required, and hats are rarely worn. Men should only wear shorts whilst on, or near, a beach. Women commonly wear light cotton dresses or trousers during the day, but for more formal evenings cocktail dresses are expected. With regards to tipping, moderate tipping is expected. However, as tourism has grown in Cuba, people have capitalised on this and those who would not normally merit it have begun to demand tips. Some discretion is therefore advisable.
Until Christopher Columbus claimed it for Spain in 1492, the indigenous people of the Taíno and Ciboney tribes were the sole inhabitants of Cuba. Cuba subsequently became a Spanish colony, ruled by a Spanish governor in Havana - the city itself was briefly held by the British, only to be given back in return for Florida. In the 19th Century there were a series of rebellions, all of which failed to end the Spanish rule. The increased tensions between Spain and USA continued to rise however, culminating in the Spanish-American war. The Spanish eventually withdrew, with Cuba gaining full independence in 1902. In 1933, Fulgencio Batista overthrew President Gerardo Machado. Batista subsequently became President in 1940, and the country transformed into a corrupt police state. 1956 saw Fidel Castro Ruz launch a revolution against Batista, with the support of many fellow landowners. Batista fled into exile in 1959, culminating in the establishment of the republic state. Although initially welcomed, Castro had soon made his mark, establishing military tribunals and jailing hundreds of opponents. The USA severed relations with Cuba in 1961, and Castro swiftly formed an alliance with the Soviet Union. For years after, a difficult relationship existed between Cuba and USA, although the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe saw this change slightly in 1990, with Cuba encouraging increased investment in its growing tourist industry.
Catholicism is the Island's most prevalent faith, practiced by 47% of the population. An additional 4% are protestant, 2% are of the Santería faith, whilst there are also a number of Afro-Cuban minorities groups. After the 1959 revolution, Cuba became an officially atheist state. The restriction eased slightly in 1992, and in 1998 Pope Jean Paul II paid a historic visit to the Island, and for the first time in decades Christmas was officially celebrated throughout the Island.
Cuba is a multiracial country, stemming largely from its Spanish and African origins. As a result, there is not really a dominant race - 51% are Mulatto, 37% White and 11% Black In addition to this, there are groupings of Chinese Cubans and Nicaraguan Cubans who have set up home on the island. Spanish is the principal language of Cuba. Although there are no official local dialects, the diverse ethnic groupings have had a marked influence on speech patterns. Many who practice the religion of Santería also speak lucumí, a 'secret' Yorubaid language of the Niger-Congo family.