Friday, November 19, 2010

Where is the "Love Boat"

On one hand, there was a whole lot of love on the cruise I took with my family this past week. My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary surrounded family and many of their closest friends. They are inspiring as a couple and as humans. 

On the other hand, I was struck by the unloving nature of how cruise lines teach about other cultures. The basic scenario is that they “visit” different countries, but in reality most excursions off the boat are basically extensions of the cruise ship. The worst example I saw was in Honduras where the ship docks on a property where the land has been bought up and a man-made beach area has been constructed. To escape this one has to overcome financial, physical and/or psychological barriers (i.e. $60 for a 5-mile taxi owned by the cruise line, a hike up a hill, and the bombardment of messages that locals are all crooks who will rip you off). How many thousands of people have gone on cruises, thinking they are visiting non-U.S. environments while engaging in sterilized versions in addition to being taught that non-U.S. communities are dangerous? I loved that we were able to push my mom’s wheel chair up the hill in order to connect with wonderful local individuals who were able to at least provide a very brief glimpse into their culture. 
A Cruise ship: Immersion education it is not. But…if you aren’t interested in local cultures, why go there? 
And I could go on about how most of the underpaid individuals doing the heavy labor are from countries like India, Africa and the Philippines (while someone is making big $ off of the $150 internet service, $2.50 cokes, gambling, and $60 taxis). Or…I could talk about the folks from the states dressed up as Mexicans when we stopped there (sombreros, big black mustaches, etc). Would it also be funny to paint our faces black if we stopped in Africa? In good fun, should Caucasians alter their eyes when visiting Asian countries? How would Mexican’s need to dress if they wanted to dress like folks from the United States? Waddle off board in fat suits? 
Many individuals from the United States often do not consider the ways U.S. culture influences their thinking. Research has shown U.S. citizens are less knowledgeable of world affairs than their counterparts in other nations (Bok, 2006). The cruise ship, while a great opportunity to be with family, reminded me how much of a problem it is that U.S. citizens so often know little about life outside a U.S. context. Call me dramatic, but to me this is the Achilles’ heal of our nation. 

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