SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.
Sitting in a restaurant in Coba, Mexico, a few years ago, we watched as an American couple came in, sat at the bar, and started looking around for the bartender. What they didn't know was that the bartender was the only person working the front of the house. He was currently in the back, placing our food order in the kitchen. In the time he was gone (we had just spent a year in Panama, so time wasn't really accurately measurable for us anymore) they tapped their feet on the rungs of the barstool, drummed their fingers on the bar, snapped their heads around in every direction as if trying to catch a glimpse of the bartender hiding behind a curtain, and finally sighed loudly enough for us to hear as they stormed out of the restaurant. My son looked at us and said, "Americans, huh?" We were on our back to his mother country after being gone for half his life, and he was not sure what to expect. Now, he was afraid he knew.
Americans often complain that we are not welcomed in other countries. Without getting into a political discussion about how welcoming we are to foreigners in our own land, let me just say that reputations are based on realities. Our friends on Three Sheets have been in the Caribbean for a year or so, and they are noticing the typical American behavior, too, as they noted in a recent facebook post.
Being out of the United States for an extended period has been eye-opening on many levels. First and foremost has been that Americans are not well-liked. We are often stereotyped as entitled, self-important, obnoxious jerks. Initially we were put-off by this, not understanding how we Americans could be thought of this way when we're spending so many tourist dollars. After only a little time out of our country, we quickly realized that ridiculous, common American outlook really drives the negative opinions of Americans.
You see, in the States, we are taught early on, "The customer is always right." Anyone who has worked in sales or the service industry has been grilled on this point over and over. No matter how much the customer complains or berates, we are taught to acquiesce because the almighty dollar rules all. So in general as buyers, we expect that. And that's ok to some degree...that's our culture. But when we leave the US, we must leave those expectations behind. Because outside of the US, what we consider high expectations, others consider entitlement. Outside of the US, you get what you give.
Yes, many islanders rely greatly on tourist dollars. No doubt about it. But that does not mean we are better than they or that they should kiss our bottoms. In fact, I've found in most cases, the service and attitude we receive directly reflects our attitude at the time. If for example, we sit down at a bar, talk over anyone and demand drinks with an impatient attitude, we most likely will be waiting a while, if not all night. If we get belligerent, we can expect no service at all. If we approach the bar with a smile, say hello, ask how the day is going and ask for a drink when they have a second, we get the drink quickly almost every time. Wait staff are not taught to come to the table every few minutes, you must flag them down and you must ask for the check. It's "island time" for a reason...not because the tip is often included in the bill, but because down here it's considered rude to interrupt a dinner and bringing a check before being asked is akin to asking someone to leave. It's simply a different culture, not rudeness. Besides, what's really the hurry anyway?
Of course we've experienced a few exceptions where no amount of kindness and smiles from us helped the poor service we received. But that can happen anywhere can't it? For the most part, if we have a bad experience somewhere, we'll try again another time and chalk it up to a bad day. If it's really bad or repeatedly bad, we just don't go back. The main thing is, we won't burn the bridge, at least not publicly anyway. One may think writing a bad review is the way to go, but if you think of these islands as small towns, as one friend explained to me, you'll understand that bad review can truly hurt and humiliate a person or business here. I for one prefer rather than writing a bad review, writing a great review for a preferred competitor. Isn't it really better to help one business or person rather than directly hurting another?
A clerk at a local BVI market said it best on a crowded day in the store after a particularly rude customer had just left. I smiled at the clerk and said, "You must have to deal with so many jerks here," to which she responded also with a smile, "If everyone is a jerk, I must take a look at myself." I couldn't have said it any better.
Remember, it's not un-American to notice and criticize the actions of our fellow countrymen. Rather, it's a reminder of how we all should act when we are visiting another person's homeland, and perhaps, how we should treat others when they are in ours, as well.
We have been in the work yard for three long months. MONDAY we'll share that moment that so many boaters wait for.
Did you find something of interest? Consider donating $1.