Friday, November 22, 2013

Taxonomy of Life On A River Cruise. Or Who Do You Think You Are?

When Brad and I walked into the dining room for the first time on our first-ever cruise, we both had the same thought: why does this seem so familiar? Yes, it was just like we were starting high school and trying to figure out where to sit in the cafeteria. If we sat at a table for two, would that mean we’d never meet anybody? But what if we sat at a table for four and nobody ever joined us? Wouldn’t we look like a couple of losers? Would we wander the dining room seeking a spot to land, isolated outsiders and clearly newbies in the cruise world while everyone else started on their first course?

Happily, none of those worst case scenarios happened during our week on the Seine River.  The thing about a ship with only 150 travelers, though, is you quickly encounter everyone and figure out who to avoid and who could tell a good story, especially for those daily dinners, which were always open, rather than assigned, seating.

The first evening taught me about a special genus called competitive cruisers ad nauseum. Even from across the main lounge you can hear them name-checking the places they’ve visited and which ships they took. If someone asks a question, they’re the first to answer because they know everything even though they’ve never been on this ship or this tour. Don’t bother sitting with them at dinner unless you’re somebody who likes to listen while someone else talks.


In a small space like a river boat you can’t avoid the second group of people, i.e., cruiser queribundus. The complainers, they’re the same people on dry land who always find fault with the smallest thing. They’ve perfected their grumble. The cruise director isn’t as animated as their last cruise director. This gourmet food selection and unlimited wine at every meal wasn’t as exciting as back home in their town with four Michelin star restaurants. Nobody told them in advance where the most famous paintings were in the museum we visited. Meanwhile, the entire country of the Philippines has practically been wiped off the planet by the largest storm in recorded history AND you have chocolate on your pillow each night and a 24-hour espresso bar. PERSPECTIVE, people!!

Sigh, we find the indecoris Americanus still exists. This group and the cockroach will continue to exist after the zombie apocalypse. While no country produces perfect tourists, I still feel like I need to run up and apologize when I see the performance of an Ugly American in the flesh. A woman from the cruise walked up to a guard in a museum and said, in English (in her outside voice), “Where’s the bathroom? I haven’t been able to find it anywhere.” Yes, in English. As if she assumed the guard should speak English just for her. No bonjour or s’il vous plais, or merci. No attempt to use the most basic travel word, toilette. On my first trip to France I clutched my phrasebook like a lifeline. The best part of owning a smartphone is the dictionary/translation app. But people still assume the world bends to their comfort zone.

In true high school fashion, this cruise offered an example of the genus cool kids. They didn’t take Latin, hence the modern title. They travel in a herd. The whole lot of them booked the cruise together and have no use for the rest of us. They eat together, they tour together, they sit together on the tour bus. My close encounter with this high school royalty occurred early in the trip when after dinner I took my computer aft to the “quiet” lounge to complete my MFA homework. The cool kids had set up camp with bottles and bottles of wine and a laptop playing party music at top volume. Never mind that music, dancing, and drinking were happening in the main lounge. “Do you hear that sound? That’s not how the engine on our last cruise sounded. That doesn’t sound right. This boat needs an overhaul. Those glasses on the table shouldn’t have moved like that. That engine needs an overhaul, I tell you.” Repeat a dozen times, each iteration louder and louder to sound over the music and successively slurred as bottles empty. They never even acknowledged my presence. I wasn’t part of the cool club.

Gaudium est - life is a joy. And we found plenty of this type throughout the week. There was the couple where the husband surprised his wife with the trip just a couple of weeks before they were supposed to leave. “Thank heavens my sister and I had just made a shopping trip to New York,” surprised wife laughed. Or the couple whose suitcases never arrived until just before dinner on the last night. The ship kept moving and the luggage was always one day behind. They appreciated the crew doing their laundry each day and joked about the situation because, well, what else could they do. The joyous set said c’est la vie when the flooding Seine meant some of our cruise was cruisin’ down the highway in a bus, and the cold and rain of Normandy made us feel like we were going to grow mold. There was the group united by knitting on rainy afternoons and others, like me, who thought the espresso machine that also delivered steaming, foamy milk for hot chocolate was worth the price of the cruise.

If you’ve done group travel, what categories have you encountered that I’ve overlooked? Share with us in the comments box your own close encounters with any of these kinds of creatures on your own travels or your own taxonomies.

The photos are the colors of Honfleur, the French port town that played an important part in the Hundred Year’s War and that I remember being mentioned of in Shakespeare’s history plays. This was one of two days of the trip we had some sun. It was also a favorite subject of Impressionist painters.


Muriel said...

Well I can relate to this post. I totally hate groups if French tourists. They usually make rude jokes in a French thinking that nobody understands. And most of the time it is not even funny!

Tami Clayton said...

You're hilarious, Julie. Your categories of tourists is spot on. I'd like to think I'm in your last grouping, doing my best to roll with things that go awry and seeing the best in situations that are less than ideal. I'm glad you found some like-minded people on your cruise. (PS I LOVE your photos. So gorgeous!)

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