Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Colonialism is alive and well in 2014

Do you want to feel like Violet Crawley (aka Maggie Smith)  the Dowager Countess of Grantham from Downton Abbey?  Cruise ship travel can be a voyage into the past as well as a journey to foreign destinations.   It was my daughter who provided the title for this post as she viewed the situation with fresh eyes.  The guests or cruise ship passengers departing Southampton, U.K. were 95% caucasian, mostly from Great Britain, as were the officers.

It was a little like a step back in time and culture:    We dressed for dinner, often in formal attire, we left our staterooms in the morning and found them tidied up upon our return.   At mealtimes, napkins were whisked off our tables and elegantly spread on our laps as a printed menu in an embossed leather folder was handed to us for our perusal. Our beds were turned down each evening and a wrapped chocolate placed on our pillow. 

Perambulating around the ship, we were greeted with 'Good morning, madam' from every staff member we passed and any request for information or direction was met with friendly instructions if not accompaniment to the correct location.    It was all surreal yet surprisingly we sank into our roles as though born to them.   Playing gracious lady of the manor seemed natural in the elegant surroundings of our ship, somehow vaguely modelled after the Titanic with the grand entrance staircase.

The cruise ship staff was mostly from the Philippines, some from India and other former British Commonwealth colonies;  this was, after all, a British cruise ship company.   We shared frequent smiles and jokes with the staff.   But were the workers still smiling when their long shift was over and they were back in their cabin, a much less luxurious cabin than mine? 

I feel disconcerted when I read that major cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean are incorporated in foreign countries like Panama, the Bahamas, Bermuda and Liberia.   Their ships fly the flags of foreign nations and thus avoid all U.S. and British taxes, labour laws and safety regulations.

It is my understanding that the crew signs contracts of nine months on, three months back home.   We chatted with our waiter, a most capable and hardworking individual, and discovered he had a wife and five year old daughter at home in India whom he was looking forward to seeing next month when he was due for his break.   The assistant waiter, from the Philippines, had been working with the cruise line for many years. I know that many people from the Philippines come to Canada as nurses and nannies.   They come from a poor country that, despite a hardworking population, does not seem to be able to provide citizens a better standard of living.   Women leave their own families behind to come here to care for our children and elderly relatives and send home money.   Some eventually bring their families over but only after many years.   I understand that cruise ship jobs are coveted although the salaries and hours required would not be acceptable to North Americans or Europeans.  

In a way, cruise ships are a little like Disneyland for adults:   a fantasy world full of guilty pleasures.  

Or there's always the tour bus alternative.

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