Ask me what my greatest weakness is and I will tell you – I love a good debate. Why is that a weakness? Well, opinions and spoken idealogies are not a smart mix in the job of hospitality. The 3 rules definitely apply –
Certainly, this is a no-brainer. Everyone has their views and on these subjects, the potential to deeply offend is high. These subjects are the most contentious of all and can spark a heated debate from zero to 1 sec.I am madly interested in aspects of all three – particularly politics.
As a kid, I picked up a book called Understanding American Politics and have been fascinated ever since.
To resist the temptation to indulge and share my opinions is like putting me in a candy store and saying you can look but no eating.
I manage, but the opinions expressed by guests can be brilliant or seemingly ignorant (in my highly subjective opinion).
The art of biting my tongue, smiling and ducking out of the exchange is a learned one.
What has a cruise got to do with politics?
Nothing and everything. The reason why I write this article is that I was interested in how the political front in both Britain and the US was playing out with our guests.
A cruise is a highly sociable environment with an eclectic mix of people brought together from all walks of life and backgrounds. This is not a common thought rally ground. It is a broad canvas of differing ideologies
On a ship with 190 guests or less, as on a Viking river ship, the question would be just how does this cultural mix manifest? I found it an interesting exercise to observe and make some mental notes.Listening is learning
On reflection, I learn a great deal by NOT getting into the debate. I am forced to listen without considering my own opinion during the discourse.
This allows me to focus only on what is being said and not to be distracted by thinking about what I should retort and argue with.
Politics for the demographics of our guests is probably the most potentially pervasive in conversations.
We have mostly Americans and British guests on my operation. The Brits are usually concerned with Brexit and their current Prime Minister, and the Americans are naturally focused on their President and party politics.
When the two nationalities collide in conversation, I have witnessed lively discussions about nationalism, Brexit, US isolationist policies, etc.
I have also, more times than not had people turn to me for a third opinion. “What do you think, Rob?” I smile and say “I don’t” and try to steer the conversation away from the topic or smile again and depart – quickly.
Sure, they know I have an opinion, but gracefully they let me escape or distract.So, are America and the UK as divided as their home nations seem within the microcosm of a cruise ship? Do I see sharp divides that are splitting both nations within their borders?
Our percentage of British guests is too small on my current operation to really make any kind of judgement. But with the majority of our guests from the US, the answer is yes, I think so.
Certainly, I have noticed that like-minded people will group but that is not exclusively the case.
Democrat, Independent or Republican?
I thought I could spot the Republicans and the Democrats relatively easily. That is not the case. Conversations are hybrid. It seems this current state of American politics is less about fiscal or social considerations but more on an emotional like or dislike basis.
If in doubt, I can always determine, through careful conversation, what channels of news they like to watch and the answer CNN or Fox or neither will be my clarity.
I am constantly surprised by someone who I would expect to be a conservative suddenly blurt out a liberal concept and then, on the other hand, someone who I would swear was for sure a Democrat, clue me in on some very conservative, pro-Trump ideals.
There are no stereotypes.
I find that some couples have made it an agreement between themselves to never speak politics while others have told me of their sadness at the shrinking table at Thanksgiving due to differing family and friend opinions in politics.
The divisions, on hearsay at least, seem to have depressingly broadened to a canyon.
Is the divide reflected on a cruise?
For all the fear and trepidation of a divided UK and a fractured US, I do still witness one overriding aspect. Regardless of their politics, the Americans are Americans first and they share that commonality. This is their identity.
The UK is perhaps slightly different in the fact that one does come across the occasional fierce nationalist who see themselves as Scottish or Irish and, in less frequent cases, as Welsh independents.
However, the unification of nationality and flag is still apparent. The Brits tend to keep their Brexit for or against conversations limited with Americans and avoid the conflict with fellow Brits.
While Brexit is a very topical and hot area of focus on any British nationals life, the conversation, at least on a cruise ship, remains mute.
The point here really is that when the noise stops, when the environment is conducive, the conversations are not as devastatingly harsh as the media allows us to think.
But, of course, this is in a controlled environment that demands a certain degree of graciousness and tolerance.
When social situations become hazardous
Certainly back in the US 2016, elections, the arguments and open hostility between Republicans and Democrats at dinner and on the coaches was a bit concerning.
People were passionate about their candidates and more than once I thought I would be breaking up a fistfight. The emotions were raw at that time.
Over the past three years, the media assault may have numbed people to such an extent that the cruise became hallowed peacetime, away from the political fray. Maybe our US and UK guests just want to switch it all off and tactfully navigate their differences.
Whatever the reason, the heat of tribal politics seems to have cooled – at least on the cruise. Sadly, judging by the current climate, it is anything but cool in the home zone.
The interesting point is in the dining room and the policy of free seating.The dynamic of being seated at a table of strangers and searching for common ground in dinner conversation has the potential to switch to politics every time.
Sometimes, it does. But political discussion is becoming the new taboo in social interaction.
The lack of political discourse
Is the increased silence a good or a bad thing? Hard to say. I always felt that dialogue and an exchange of ideas is a healthy thing.
However, a vacation may not be the appropriate place. These days, I think people realize just how divisive the topic can be.Politics is an intensely private issue now, perhaps more so than in the past. I still see the Dems roll their eyes and the Republicans disdainful looks at the liberals.
The partisan nature of the crowd is still evident. However, this is more a subtle (in)tolerance of the opposing view. But is this really an accurate assessment of the bigger picture? I have my doubts.The cultural tribe divides are apparently widening. I came across an interesting statistic the other day. It stated this
The proportion of parents who would be disturbed if their child married someone from the opposite party has risen from 5 percent in 1960 to about 50 percent now.
That is scary!
Where is the love?
Perhaps living in my bubble world where all nationalities get along just fine (crew and guest alike), the perception of diminished divide is a falsehood, with passion, anger, frustration and negatives buried beneath the surface. Then again, the tolerance implemented on a cruise ship may be just the panacea for our worldwide woes. We simply get along.
It tells us, with some spoken and unspoken rules of engagement and an open mind, it is possible to stop the nonsense of considering ourselves different to each other in any real way. Bottom line. We all have the same needs, thoughts of family, health and security. What really is different?
The fact that one of us face the east and pray? The fact that we are either more liberal or conservative than each other?
We may be British, South African, Iranian, American, Mexican or anything else but, at the end of the day, we really all want the same thing. Peace, prosperity, freedom, health and equality.
Truly, why is that so hard?
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