I wrote this back sometime in 2001 or maybe 2002, and it was intended as a spoof of my fellow cruisers. Most don't have the attitudes suggested, and it's grossly unfair. Still .............
The teak sparkles with countless coats of varnish, the stainless steel glistens, and the fuel filters are new. You just changed the oil and replaced all the rusted hose clamps. The halyards and sheets are pristine. The refrigeration works perfectly, and the ice maker puts out more ice than you can possibly use. The new frambis you brought back from the States has been installed, and as soon as you figure out the instructions (translated from Japanese into Ubangi and thence into English) and determine what it is for, you will play with it. You’ve been dragged from your favorite cruiser hangout to see a few of the more interesting sights in Puerto Mujeres Feas. You’ve read Caribbean Compass cover to cover and memorized all the interesting advertisements. Nobody in the anchorage seems to want any help, except for the guy who wants someone to go up the mast and retrieve a lost halyard. You’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt, and have no interest in repeating the experience. There isn’t a pot luck supper till next Tuesday, and you have read all of the really good books available at the book exchange. What can you do to stave off boredom? You could, of course, pull up the anchor and leave. But you are waiting for mail and it looks as though the weather might get rocky in a few days and what’s the point?
This is a problem constantly faced by cruisers, and the U.S. Government has finally created a new mental health program designed specifically to help bored cruisers cope. Unfortunately, it will remain in the beta test mode until 2005, and is currently available only in Idaho. So, for a while at least, it is up to you. Better get busy. Here are some ideas. They all involve getting out of the “cruising rut” and mixing it up a bit with the locals. You will enjoy it, and they will benefit immeasurably from the experience as well.
Learn a Foreign Language
Many of the places frequented by cruisers have quaint and colorful foreign languages. Given even a passing acquaintance with the local language, you will be able to interact with the local foreigners and discover many interesting things about their primitive cultures. You will also be able to tell the waiter that you wanted a cold beer, not the exotic mixture of fruit juice and curdled goat milk he just served. Want to have your injectors cleaned, no problema. Just ask, in the local foreign language.
This project can occupy you for days, if not weeks. There is so much to learn! Here are six simple rules, applicable to all foreign languages prevalent in the Caribbean with the exception of pigeon English:
1. Foreigners are obsessed with sex, and everything has a sexual component. The boat is male. The house is female. The dog can be either male or female, depending (strangely) on its actual sex. The fuel filter is male. The fuel itself if female. The propane bottle is bisexual. Properly, you need to use a verb, pronoun or adjective of the corresponding sexual orientation. As a cruiser trying to learn a foreign language, this is all very difficult. You are not a professional linguist, so just ignore the problem: use the same prefixes and suffixes for everything. It is not only easier that way, it is the ultimate in political correctness, like bisex auto body shops. Some particularly dense locals may experience difficulty in understanding you, but most will have no problem. They will be so happy that you are trying to communicate in their own language that they will offer you free beer at every opportunity.
2. Avoid irregular verbs. There are more than enough regular verbs to meet all of your simple requirements.
3. There are numerous tenses: present, past, future, present perfect, present imperfect, future perfect, future imperfect, past perfect, past imperfect, future really good, past not so great, etc. Don’t bother. Just use the present tense.
4. There are formal pronouns and verbs. Properly, to ask someone you have known for less that six months for a glass of water, you should use the formal forms of the pronouns and verbs. It is all very classist and connotes a less than democratic attitude. Use the informal forms with everyone. It’s friendlier that way, and you don’t want to seem to be a snob.
5. The imperative is used when telling someone to do something. It’s sort of complicated, so just use the present tense first person and speak more loudly and with more authority.
6. Often, simply adding an “o” at the end of an English word will convert it into Spanish. It’s worth a try. One minor caution: you do not want to buy “gaso” for the dinghy. It sounds a lot like gasoy, which is diesel fuel. In any event, English should be the universal language, so it is perfectly acceptable to use English words if the foreign word is too obscure. By placing English words in an easy to understand context, you will help the foreigners to learn English. They will appreciate your efforts.
Follow these simple rules, and you can learn to speak any foreign language real good.
Discover the local culture.
Now that you speak the local language, you can easily learn everything worth knowing about the foreign culture. The first thing to do, of course, is to get off the boat and head into town. Do not go to the cruiser bar, where all of the other cruisers speak at least some English and probably don’t know any more about the indigenous people than you do. You want to experience these things first hand. That’s one of the reasons you came cruising, isn’t it?
In any town of reasonable size, just going for a walk will allow you to meet many interesting foreign people. On the pretense of trying to sell you a hat, a package of chewing gum, or even some charming native handicraft, they will approach you in pitifully broken English. Surprise them! Speak their own language. You can do that, now that you have learned how. Engage them in a discussion about their culture. Ask why so many of the local people wear funny clothes and ingest strange food. Why is the “Gringo tax” so high? Why is petty theft a national pastime? Haven’t they learned to watch football on television?
Visit a local outdoor meat, fruit or vegetable market. Ask about the many colorful fruit and vegetables which are unfamiliar to you. Why do they coat the hanging goat carcasses with insects? Is it to cure the meat, or just a misguided effort to keep the flies off the customers? Go ahead. Ask. They will appreciate your interest. You might suggest that the carcasses be sprayed with DDT; that works.
Check out a local cathedral. They are all very beautiful, and most are in a state of quaint disrepair. Some cruisers feel that without the appropriate formal clothing (long pants, a clean shirt, and even shoes), going inside might seem disrespectful. Don’t worry. The religious functionaries in such places spend most of their time inside, in cool, dark places and sadly have little opportunity to meet cruisers. Anything you would feel comfortable wearing at a local cruiser bar is just fine. A cruiser knapsack can be used to cover your head, should you feel a compelling need to conform to the local custom to that extent.
Get Involved in the Local Community. Cruisers take a lot from the foreign communities they visit, and a little “give back” can go a long way to help the local foreigners. Befriend a foreign child, and teach him how to clean your hull. It is a skill that will enrich his life, and provide him a way to earn a living when he grows up. Take some little street urchins sailing, to provide an incentive to study and work hard so they can have their own sailing yachts when they grow up. Organize a pot luck dinner and raffle to benefit the local leper colony. Collect English language soap opera magazines from other cruisers and donate them to the library, so that the foreigners can learn all about American culture. Take an interest in the politics of the foreign country, and be sure to offer your helpful suggestions on ways that things could be done so much better, like we do in the States. Just keep in mind that many foreigners are very sensitive, and avoid any suggestion of superiority or of indifference to their rich and multifaceted primitive culture.
Learning the local foreign language, discovering the local culture, and helping the foreigners you meet in strange places to understand the cruising life will go a long way toward the avoidance of boredom. You will gain a newly awakened sense of satisfaction with what you have accomplished. It should all be a major part of the cruising experience.