Friday, June 15, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 5-10 knots, scattered showers in the morning, heavy rain in the afternoon

I’m getting sick of the de facto racism of cruisers. It’s another thing I’d been warned about--the Gentleman’s Guide says: “Culture shock is responsible for the flocking syndrome of expatriates in any country... Grumbling about the environment producing your stress is normal and even necessary.” I have vivd memories of being a child in Thailand listening to all the missionary wives klatsching together to complain about the hired help. I did the same thing when I moved to the Philippines for school. I hung out with the other boarders from Thailand, and we complained about Filipino food not being spicy enough, the mangoes not nearly as sweet, the people being obnoxious, and the beaches not nearly as nice. Everything was better in Thailand. Even when I lived in France, we Americans got together for Thanksgiving for boneless skinless turkey breasts.

Today, the issue was our propane tank. Karl went ashore with Jay and Jennifer from Gypsy Rose and left both tanks to be filled. The guidebook said, infallibly, that the tanks needed to be dropped off by twelve and picked up between four and five. Astonishingly, this appeared to be true. When we rowed back to the dinghy dock that afternoon, however, in the pouring rain, and Karl made a soaked dash down the street for the propane, the tank had yet to be filled. At 4:30. Karl, being a smart guy, talked to someone, who guided him to the guy who did the filling, talking on his cell phone. Karl assisted him in filling the tank, doing most of the work himself, and walked away with twenty pounds of propane. Mission accomplished.

Gypsy Rose was not so smart and therefore not so lucky. Their tank was left unfilled, they didn’t check on it or follow up, and now they have to wait until Monday, the next day the shop is open. So this was cause for bad-mouthing the Bahamian work ethic today. I hate it. I know that I’ve traveled cross-culturally a lot more than any of these other cruisers, so I need to give them some wiggle room, but I don’t see any reason at all to write off another race, wholesale, as “lazy.”

The work ethic differed profoundly in Thailand, too. Buildings took years to go up, and it was par for the course. Thai time was like island time, appointments were made plus or minus a full hour. Maybe two. Thais, just like Bahamians, have different priorities--things like community, or what they call in Thailand “sanuk,” which means fun as a way of life, or tradition. Just because a whitie comes in flashing his bucks US doesn’t mean he’s going to get things done the way they are done at Walmart, back in the “civilized” world. Nothing gets done down here in fifteen minutes. And why should it? Isn’t that exactly what we came down here to get away from?

I forget that just because our friends are Australian and therefore “international” doesn’t mean that they’ve traveled widely. They’ve never been out of Australia aside for holiday in Fiji. They haven’t learned that the most profoundly important trait for crossing cultural barriers is humility. I find that ta couple of acknowledgedly stupid questions, some genuine compliments, and as many snow-melting sincere smiles as you can throw at a person break down all but the highest cultural walls. Maybe this is why I get in trouble with Bahamian men. Still, all the other cruisers complain about the “antagonism” of the Bahamian women, something I haven’t encountered once. At the laundromat, I was having in-depth conversations with the Bahamian women there about childbirth and medical care until a tall, blond German cruiser showed up in short shorts. They clammed up until she left, and then continued talking to me as warmly as ever. What matters is sincere interest in others regardless of race and culture. What you have to learn first is that culture exists, that just because people from another place does something differently than you do doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Everyone should know that by now. Don’t they?

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