Updated: Apr 9, 2020
In my experience American crew members tend to struggle more with certain aspects of ship life than other nationalities. It’s important to note that I’ve been working on Carnival Cruise Line ships. All the ships that I’ve worked on sailed from American ports with mainly American guests. Yet, out of the around 900 crew members onboard, usually only about 12-15 of them are American. Even though Americans aren’t far from home and don’t have to speak a different language, they still struggle.
On my second ship our keyboardist was American and his name was also Patrick. Our nametags were the same, except that on mine it said Switzerland and on his USA. One night we decided to switch nametags for a couple of days, so I proudly started walking around with my new American nametag. Since the two of us had just signed on, not too many people knew where we were actually from.
One day I got in an elevator with a few Indonesian guys from the garbage room. I think it was three of them and me. We started talking, just normal stuff like how they liked the ship, if they’re signing off soon etc. Small talk, you know. When I was about to get off the elevator and I said bye the guys said: ‘Bro, you’re the first nice American that we meet.’
What the hell? This really surprised me. That same night after the show we switched nametags again and I told the band what had happened. Three of the bandmembers were Americans and I think even though they couldn’t understand the situation, they could all relate to it. To me Americans are some of the nicest people and many of my friends are Americans. But why did those Indonesian guys feel differently?
NoName Bar in Cozumel, 2015.
Whenever I see something Swiss in random places I get super excited.
Working for one nationality
Since most of our guests are Americans many crew members have to serve Americans all day and don’t want anything to do with Americans when they’re off. It’s got nothing to do with the nationality, but with crew wanting to make a clear distinction between work and time off. So they avoid the people that talk like the people that piss them off during work.
Imagine a Philippino cabin steward who’s cleaning rooms all day working 14 hours a day. I don’t know how many guest cabins they have to clean but it’s a lot, let’s say 20 cabins per day. Imagine there’s one guest in those cabins every cruise that just complains about everything and makes the cabin steward’s life unnecessarily hard. And because most of the guests are Americans, it’s just more likely for the complaining guest to also be American. Having to deal with such people every week might affect the opinion the cabin steward has about Americans. Now, the cabin steward has been working on ships for five years and every week onboard he or she had to deal with that kind of guests. That adds up to a lot of people. It’s just natural, that that cabin steward doesn’t want to hang out with any Americans when not working.
Non-English speakers from different countries have different accents. The funny thing is, that nonnative English speakers often understand ‘broken’ English better than a native speakers. I think that’s because people that had to learn English as a second language made many of the mistakes that the other non-English speaker is making. People who grew up only speaking one language, that language being English, never had to learn the language and never got confronted with possible mistakes and mispronunciations.
Also, when a group of all native English speakers hangs out and they have a good time, it can be an intimidating situation for somebody that doesn’t speak or understand English very well. This creates a barrier for crew that aren’t very outgoing, shy and don’t speak English that well.
And then Americans and other native English speakers ask themselves why nobody approaches them.
The latino mafia, Cozumel, 2015.
I'm so grateful for having grown up speaking Spanish & German. Language is important when bonding and creating communities.
You know how I talked about everybody onboard going through the same experience and being able to relate to each other? Well, Americans don’t. They don’t have to deal with the same emotions as other nationalities do. Since they’re not far away from their home country and most guests are Americans, they don’t feel as far away from home as other nationalities. Also, the home ports being in America they get to be in their country once or twice a week while others aren’t in their home country for a couple of months. This ‘closeness’ to their homes is, I think, standing in the way of them fully integrating themselves in shiplife and ship culture. To me shiplife has it’s own culture, it’s own people and it’s own rules. Being fully integrated is important for having a fulfilled and happy experience onboard and it's necessary for creating meaningful relationships. These issues can make Americans feel a little left out.
Most American crew members work in the entertainment department, which is not necessarily the most popular department onboard. Now, people don’t have a problem with the department per se. It’s just that to work in that department you have to have a certain personality. People there are usually outgoing, friendly and energetic. Musicians, dancers, entertainment & social hosts, cruise directors and entertainment technicians are all part of the entertainment team. Most of them are positions that require you to be onstage every now and then to be the center of attention. For the outside world this might be a bit intimidating.
Entertainment party on the Carnival Conquest, 2015.
Imagine being a bartender and hearing the same jokes and the same performances every week and the guests love it. It’s the first time the guests hear those jokes but you as the bartender are getting sick of hearing the same thing week after week. But the guests still come and love it. If the bartender has never thought about how much work it is to make an audience have a good time, then it’s just logical that the bartender will feel that his or her job is underappreciated and the guy onstage is overly hyped. Performers do the same thing every week, but still get a better paycheck, people cheer for them and they work less hours. 'What’s wrong with the world', the bartender might think.
Of course, there’s so much work and dedication that goes into a performance that an audience doesn’t see. But I’m assuming that the reader of this blog is also part of the entertainment business and I don’t have to prove that music, dancing and entertainment is hard work.
I think crewmembers don't really think about these issues regarding American crew and how & why they might feel a certain way when onboard. It’s a complex issue and it might also be just my impression and maybe I'm way off. But I’ve had many conversations about this, with many different people from many different countries and positions.
I don’t think this is specifically an American issue. I think it would be the same with any nationality if the circumstances were similar. Also, many of the mentioned points apply not only to Americans, but to most native English speakers from Western cultures like; Canada, England (UK), Australia and New Zealand. If there’s somebody from these nationalities onboard they’re most likely to be part of the entertainment team as well.
It’s an interesting topic and I’d be happy to hear your opinions and your experiences, as perception plays a big role as well. Let me know what you think, I'd appreciate your insights.