Friday, April 24, 2009

Cruising With "Ugly Americans" Who Don't Know That They Are

One of my readers pointed out a thread on CruiseCritic where a rather infamous Regent poster commented that she is hesitant to cruise Silversea, but might change her mind if, in part, Silversea "perhaps ha[s] more people from North America on board"; noting she "prefer[s] luxury hotels and cruise lines that cater to Americans/Canadians".

While it is anyone's right to have this opinion and, let's face it, Ritz Carlton's around the world are designed as...well, Ritz Carltons...so you really have no idea where in the world you are while you are in the hotel (other than that you are at a Ritz Carlton), the fact is that from an international perspective it is xenophobic and insulting. 

Seriously, what gives anyone the "right" to visit someone else's home and declare, "Pretty building.  Interesting food.  Now, I am more comfortable with McDonald's and Holiday Inn, so how dare you not have these things!".  An overstatement possibly, but not necessarily.  The problem is, of course, that many Americans have blinded themselves to their insulting ways; possibly in part because our economies and militaries have so dominated that many Americans just assume our way is "better".

Back in the 1980's I took a trip down the Peruvian Amazon; much of it in a local dugout canoe.  This trip was made up of a small group, three of which were recently divorced women who decided that surviving the Amazonian jungle would provide them with proof of their worth.  Honestly, these women had absolutely no business being there.  Gently worn paths and single log "bridges" were destroyed as they fell, collapsed and rolled over this very rustic environment.  And our guide was  local native (who was just a gem) and it was very hard work trying to deal with (i.e. pick up, hold up, assist) overweight and uncoordinated women who weighed literally three or four times what he did.

After a few days thankfully the women realized camp was the place for them, but the American habits crept in...and the complains of no running water, no hot water, unfamiliar foods, etc. were becoming omnipresent.  This, to my great advantage, also resulted in my forging a good friendship with my guide and we found time to go off ourselves to enjoy the jungle...and the peace.

One late afternoon he took me to the local store; which was a a shack with a donkey walking around a stone grinding wheel in front and...importantly...it had a propane refrigerator so that I could have a COLD beer.  As I sat there the woman who owned the "store" offered us dinner (she spoke no English).  Her monkey took a liking to me and spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening perched on my shoulders sharing my beer and dinner.  I was in absolute heaven...and I did not have a clue how to thank my wonderful hostess.

So I thought about it and decided I would ask for a second portion of food.  She smiled, brought me into her kitchen to share her world a bit (it was little more than a steel grate over a small wood fire...and a garbage disposal - guinea pigs that ate the waste and were, in turn, eaten) and then she offered to let me keep her monkey as a gift.  Why?  Because I was the first white man to ever tell her he liked her cooking.

The next day I went fishing and was using plastic worms.  The local children were scared (and fascinated) because culturally they are fearful of snakes (they have some really poisonous snakes in the Amazon).  Once I figured this out I took a "snake" and put it in my mouth to show them they were safe.  Eventually I gave them all the "snakes" and they ran to show their respective parents...who all came running out of their shacks in fear!  The laughing faces of the children I will never forget.

Meanwhile there were some pretty miserable women back in camp, demanding their American ways, and unaware they were making all those that actually lived there even more miserable.  But they paid their money, so it was their right...wasn't it?

The point is that because you can pay for a fancy cruise doesn't give you the socially responsible right to leave the United States and insist the world around you accept your disdain for the people, culture, food, social ways, etc. of where you are visiting...or who are on the cruise with you.  Money does not give you that right...at least in most parts of the rest of the world.

So to so much as criticize or critique Silversea for having international guests and/or crew is just plain insulting.  Maybe not to you, but to those that love to travel because they love cultures, people and the world. 

Sometimes mirrors are more important that windows.