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Things You Should Not Discuss on a Cruise

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I have a theory – two of the main reasons why cruise lines have replaced traditional dining with open seating are (1) the cruising public has become a cross section of America and (2) politically speaking the American public has become entirely intolerant of differing opinions.

In the 1980s you could be sure that most of your fellow cruisers would be college graduates and employed. Not true anymore. A Los Angeles Times expose just showed us that a number of welfare recipients on the dole in California have been taking cruises. How do they know? The state benefits are given to the “needy” in the form of a debit card which essentially looks and works like a regular credit card. Lo and behold, many of these card’s transactions were being charged aboard cruise ships. Eight of those ships were sailing out of Miami, not California.

The California state government has now instructed the bank behind the debit cards not to allow charges from cruise ships. Not too surprisingly there was another location where many on the dole were spending their money – Las Vegas casinos. Something like $12-million was spent on the Strip in 2009 alone. They also put an end to that. However, California welfare recipients are still allowed to charge items in Hawaii and Mexico, even if they are in the Four Seasons Hotel gift shop on Lanai.

Now, you could be seated with a cruiser wearing a brand new set of pearl earrings from the cruise ship gift shop and you just might mistakenly ask them what they do for a living. What are they going to say? If you find yourself dining in uncomfortable silence, at least you can take heart in knowing you can start afresh the next night with an entirely new set of dining companions.

Here are more topics of conversation topics one should avoid on a cruise ship:

“Where are you from?”   This used to be the standard opening line at any cruise ship dining table – an ice breaker that never failed. But these days there is hardly a state in the union that doesn’t already have a reputation for political leanings. So, if you are from Utah and you ask mistakenly ask someone where they are from and they reply, “Berkeley, California,” you are doomed to an entire night of awkward silence.

They are probably interested in Napa wines, while you don’t drink; they probably voted for Nancy Pelosi while you live in a state where Ronald Reagan was considered too liberal. All of your children are probably legally married with LOTS of kids, while at least one of their children has a “life partner,” and a toy poodle, and you probably drive to your non-union job daily, while they go to government union job on the BART subway system.

Bottom line; never ask anyone where they are from during a cruise.

The next topic of conversation to avoid is “Do you have any children?” In this economy children, even adult children, can be an embarrassment. There is a good chance they are nearing 30 years and still living in the basement.  A lifetime of Internet usage has diminished their social skills to having more affinity to their “Doom” avatar name of “Vulcanized Robber Bear, On!” that their real name, which is your dining companion’s name – plus junior.

The only thing that can make this conversation even worse is if that child happens to be on the cruise with the parents. This is highly likely since mom and dad believe their antisocial child’s depression will only get worse if you point out his shortcomings rendering him unable to face the possible rejection of job interview for another two years.

I once met a lovely couple on a cruise who were both quite affable and good looking.  They were funeral directors, but that was not the eye-opener.  The shock was how willing they were to talk shop so openly. But after all, they were on vacation.

They met at a convention, for funeral directors, of course. They fell in love when they realized how few “normal” people could ever perceive either of them as anything but ghoulish – despite their apparent good looks. Well, could you make love to your spouse knowing they had their hands on dead people all day long? Okay, that’s an indelicate question and I apologize, but I couldn’t help thinking it.

As we got to know them better, they really opened up. Did you know one of the biggest complaints funeral directors have is interference from the government health department? Now, mind you, the worry isn’t that the environment will become unhealthy for living people, as you might think. The concern of the health department is that the dead should be kept in a pristinely clean and germ-free environment. This was deemed to be highly over-burdensome by our new friends because as they put it, “They’re dead! They don’t care!”

Now that I just wrote that I realize it sounds terrible, but these people were actually very nice. It made perfect sense to them, purely from a business point of view, but all we could do is nod our heads and say “Yeah, that makes sense to me….”

More topics you should never discuss on a cruise ship:

Favorite television shows or commentators. The days of Walter Cronkite are gone. In this modern age if you mention even one commentator you are revealing your entire political philosophy and opening up a real can of worms. The same is true of favorite actors. Whether it is Sean Penn or Charleton Heston, Tim Robbins or Mel Gibson; chances are they have been affiliated with one political movement or another and you cannot discuss their movies without getting into choppy political seas. Television shows are also off the table since Bristol Palin went on Dancing with the Stars.

The only safe topics to discuss any longer are pets. Pets are non-political and non-religious. Gardening is also safe, because plants are like pets that don’t run around. Vampires are also okay; because they are dead and don’t vote in most states.

Keep it simple – pets, plants and vampires.

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Comment from Dave Beers
Time October 5, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Good topic. I’ve been very careful over the past several years and so far I don’t think I’ve offended anyone at dinner. It was tough a couple of years ago though, when we (husband, wife, teenage son, conservatives from Alabama) were seated with an outspoken liberal man traveling solo, and a gay couple from Las Vegas. Now, we are not anti-gay and we thoroughly enjoyed their company at dinner but the liberal man would draw the gay men into political discussions which were uncomfortable for me. I happen to listen to conservative talk radio daily and on our cruise Michael Jackson died. The liberal man brought it up at dinner and said “too bad it wasn’t Rush Limbaugh who died”. This was an awful thing to say about anyone and totally uncalled for. But boorish people are everywhere these days and it is a shame I have to brief my family before that first shipboard dinner about topics we need to avoid.

Comment from John
Time October 5, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Definitely one of the funnier cruise ship ratings and reviews I’ve read. Unfortunately, I’ve never been very good at holding back my opinions and don’t think I’d be able to limit myself to talking about vampires.

Comment from Paul Motter
Time October 5, 2010 at 7:23 pm

I will go out on a limb and break a lot of stereotypes here. One of the best groups I traveled with was on a jazz cruise. we had a table of three blacks and three whites; me and my wife, a mixed unmarried couple and an older lady and her young daughter.

This was during Obama’s inauguration week and you recall he was still deemed “unimpeachable” in any sense of the word back then.

The older black people were the most critical of Obama (the single man, retired San Diego cop) and the mother. The single white lady (his companoin) was most pro-Obama as was the younger (30s) daughter. My wife and I are conservative.

The two blacks were saying “I’m in ‘wait & see’ he hasn’t proved anything to me yet” The two pro-Obama people were just typical pro, as you could say my wife & self were skeptical.

My point is that there were no stereotypes at that table, so my piece above is comedy in that sense. In fact we all got along very well, as Americans should, by respecting the fact that people have the right to their own opinion first and foremost.

BUT – unfortunately, you do run into some people who are insufferably ideological these days and they think they have the right to criticize the other side mercilessly just because…

No, they don’t, whether you are right or left; no one is ever completely right or wrong. My message is for tolerance and how important it is to respect others. Whether or not I agree with you is not the point, the point is that you have a good time on a cruise and not be disrespectful of anyone.

I was kidding about “safe” conversations, but if you do find yourself in an uncomfortable situation I suggest you just extricate yourself and move on. You are not going to change anyone’s mind by being rude.

Comment from Roberta
Time October 6, 2010 at 1:16 am

I live in California and I know their are alot of people that have abused the welfare system. But this is mind blowing, 12 million dollars spent on the Las Vegas strip last year with their debit cards from welfare. Unbelievable! Does this state have a problem or what???

Comment from Dave Beers
Time October 6, 2010 at 3:40 am

I just either smile and say nothing or concentrate on my food and tune out when the discussion is not to my liking.

I have a general rule I follow – one that is time-proven and often a rule at various websites. I don’t discuss politics or religion on cruises unless I know the people I’m talking with.

Comment from Anne
Time October 6, 2010 at 7:25 am

The old cliche is true: don’t talk about religion or politics. Both subjects are likely to raise the blood pressure and certainly increase the odds of friction.

But in terms of why cruise lines moved to open seating, it’s because when one does it they all do it in order to remain competitive. I’m sure lots of people who cruise today wouldn’t if they were told when and with whom they had to dine.

Comment from Jose
Time October 6, 2010 at 5:51 pm

People, talking is so 20th century. Who needs it when you got texting? I don’t care where I sit, I don’t wanna talk to you and you to me – so here is my # and text me…ok? LMAO – I couldn’t resist making this remark – but hey its happening already. Go to any restaurant and I gaurantee you will see at least one to two people texting or on their phone instant messaging someone/checking email and these people are not tweens but adults!

Comment from Bob
Time October 7, 2010 at 7:23 am

Pets a safe topic? No way! There are cat people and dog people. Within the dog people there are big dog people and little dog people. I guess we are stuck just talking about the tableware 🙂

Comment from Dave Beers
Time October 7, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Oh, the pets! We once mentioned we had an Irish Setter and a tablemate broke down in tears and regaled us with the story of how her dog had recently died – while they were on an earlier cruise. I felt bad for saying it but really, it was just a throw away comment to pass the time.

Comment from Paul Motter
Time October 7, 2010 at 4:51 pm

OK – forget mentioning pets.

I have a friend who is a cruise writer who grew up in a nice Jewish home in NYC. I knew he would be on Epic and a friend of mine warned me that he is particularly mad at republicans this year. (gee – do you think the democrats might have been stirring that pot a little bit?).

She actually suggested I apologize to him for being republican when I see him (and I don’t even consider myself a republican, although I definitely don’t identify as the other either).

BUt that is pretty bad if you can’t even mention pets any more…

Sticks to plants I guess – plants die but no one grieves.

Comment from Diane
Time October 8, 2010 at 7:45 am

I disagree. I think of the problems with Americans now is that we don’t talk, respectfully and tolerantly, about the major issues confronting our country. We need to have a national dialogue about what our values are, our goals and how we accomplish them. Silence in families is called denial, Americans are a family and we should no longer be in denial.

Comment from Paul Motter
Time October 8, 2010 at 8:09 am

Diane… I could not agree with you more! The problem is that we no longer have respecy for differing opinions and the media is teaching us that it is OK to ridicule and speak in abusive tones to those with differing views.

That was never considered the American when I was growing up. We were taught that this is a land where free speech and the open discussion are how we solve problems.

These days it seems the person who can shout the loudest wins.

In fact – the truth is that what we have now – a nearly monopoly on government by one party is a rare occurence, and it usually onlu happens during a president’s first term. Gridlock is the normal state of affaires in this country and I sense we will be “back to normal” soon. At least in government.

Now, if we can only fix the economy we will have something going.

Comment from Jose
Time October 8, 2010 at 10:13 am

All joking aside, its true – we are losing our civility, our respect for others and our tolerance. We are becoming a nation of angry self-centered people with very little to no tolerance for literally anything that goes against our “belief system” or anything we percieve as “inconviencing” us.
The anger may stem from the poor economy, unemployment, loss of home, poor upbringing, the breakdown of family, whatever – but its there. The old saying “let’s agree to disagree” is no longer the norm – now it’s if you don’t agree with me then f**k you.
This is very scary for a society to behave like this becuase its self sabotaging and self destructiive – it literally destroys what makes us humans not savages.

Comment from Jan Shaughnessy
Time October 10, 2010 at 3:44 pm

No Paul, You can’t talk about plants either. The Californian at your table would be crying because their Marijuana plant just died.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time November 2, 2010 at 5:57 am

Basically, one shoul not talk about anything that may offend a passenger on a ship. Get to know them and their background, or, just jump in, and if they don’t like what you have to say, or you don’t like what they have to say,so what. I’m a liberal, and I am proud of it. Maybe I like to rub it in. Conservatives certainly like to rub it in.

This reminds me of an incident that happened while I was on the Sagafjord in 1973. We had a booked group of 6, that became a group of 20, with new found friends on board, and we were a rowdy bunch, Norwegian America Line was not a rowdy line, for sure.

One night, in the Main Ballroom, we were drinking and having a good time. This was a 21 day cruise, begun in NYC, with passengers also embarking in Ft. Lauderdale.

On the second night out was the rowdy night mentioned above. Comments, rather loudly, were made about the terrible magician who performed that nigt, he appeared drunk, and dropped his props, and slurred his words. Well, a lady at least she thought she was, sitting with her husband, jumped up from her seat, pointed at our large group, and drunkenly yelled These Jews are making too much noise. I am leaving the ship in Florida.

Mind you, that was her personal prejudice, we were not Jewish. We just ruined her self imposed rarified air of false decorum.

She complained immediatlely to the Captain about us and our noise. Well, the captain came over, said he enjoys seeing his passengers enjoying themselves, and he sat with us, bought us drinks, and all was fine with world!

As for the woman, she left the ship in Florida, I trust embarassed. Her husband? He stayed on and joined our big group.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time September 23, 2011 at 8:13 am

I just have to laugh at the above comments, if some are to be taken seriously, even better is the laugh.

My rule, and it is my set in stone rule, I always take a table for two, regardless of what the cruise line has foisted on me, or what the maitre or table captain has arranged. Period. I make the table change, and never pad anyones palm. Never.

I have put up with wine abusers, the ones that will drink our wine, and never buy one for the table to share, the “we don’t like this or that or …..” these arses have their own agenda. The ones that try to force all at table to say grace, give me a break, I have seen these hypocrits smoking in the casino, how godly is that?

Pet dies? Mention Florida, the whole ship could cry, everyone has a relative in FL that has died.

Get a table for two – and say grace and amen to that.

Comment from chef matt
Time September 26, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Great article Paul. My first cruise ever this woman my wife and I were dining with was talking about how she was jewing down people on the Island. All this while eating breakfast and my wife kicking me under the table for me to keep my cool. What hurt the most in bingo she wins a free cruise. lol. Anyway people are so uptight. Growing up on 70’s tv shows the were based on sterotypes people need to laugh. i hate all this politically correct nonsense. Although in life politics and religon should not be talked about.

Comment from Matt
Time September 26, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I completely disagree with this article. I cruise all the time. I talk frequently about anything and everything. I find that people typically loosen up on cruises and leave their political and social hang-ups at the door. Don’t like the conversation or crowd at the table? Then move or hit the buffet. The most important lesson one could learn in life is the ability to have a sincere and open conversation with someone of completely different views. We learn from each other…or at least we have the option to if we choose to do so. Don’t forget…listening is equally – if not more important – than talking.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time September 27, 2011 at 4:54 am

There are bits and peieces from in the above comments that ring true, for sure.

Using the term “jewing” is NOT accceptable, and this may well be an insight in to kind of biggoted and ignorant person that pens it.

Comment from Janna
Time December 14, 2011 at 8:06 am

The last thing I want to do at a dinner table on vacation is have a “a sincere and open conversation with someone of completely different views.” — I’ll save that for discussions with friends and family, and continue to have polite conversation at the dinner table. — Thank heavens for Freestyle dining. It makes getting away from boors easier.

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