I just returned from a marvelous 40-day cruise on the Marco Polo
's Grand Africa/South America tour. It was a wonderful experience in almost
every way, but I have to air a few gripes about a certain group of passengers...
This cruise was unusual in that it was actually two cruises, the first from Mombasa (Kenya) to Capetown and the second from Capetown to Buenos Aires. On the first half the passengers were a fairly mixed group, mainly Americans, Africans and western Europeans. The composition changed dramatically in Capetown where about 2/3's of the passengers disembarked and were replaced by [mainly] Brits. The demeanor of those on board changed dramatically at that point, and I'm sorry to say, for much the worse. I always had the notion that the English were a very civilized, cultured people - and for some individuals that was certainly true - but there were many instances where it was not the case.
My first negative impression came in the dining room. I had second sitting for the first half of the cruise and enjoyed pleasant company in a tranquil atmosphere. My new table mates were fine, but the noise level in the room was such that conversation was virtually impossible and caused headaches and indigestion. All the shouting and raucous laughter made it sound like a beer hall. OK I thought, people are entitled to enjoy themselves, but since I'd rather listen to my immediate company than those three tables away, I reluctantly changed to first sitting. The noise level improved somewhat, and I was seated with three other couples, one American and two British. As it turned out the two British couples were from different social strata and at first would barely speak to one another. They even sat so there was an empty chair between them. By the end of the cruise class differences had been set aside and we were one happy family. But there were some difficult moments.
The British seemed anxious to squeeze every moment out of their holiday. Whenever there was a queue of any kind, they literally pushed and shoved to get a place in front. Being generally at ease, I held back and let them have their way, but the constant clamor to "push ahead" and linecutting got annoying after a while. This behavior was most apparent when it came to reserving space. The Marco Polo
has a policy of no reserved deck chairs. This worked well in the two weeks prior to the British invasion. There was almost never
a shortage. People used chairs as needed and gave them up when done. There were plenty to go around. After Capetown, however, there was never a place to sit. People would get on deck first thing in the morning, grab a chair, 'reserve' it with a towel and book, and expect to keep it the rest of the day. It was not uncommon to find eight empty chairs in a row, each with its placeholder book and no one in sight. It got so bad the ship's Daily Program had to repeatedly publish the no reservation policy with a warning that belongings left unattended would be returned to the pursor's office. That problem never resolved itself and there were a lot of unhappy confrontations.
An English company called Mr. Bridge had booked a large group for the South Atlantic crossing. These were totally dedicated bridge players who required strict silence and no signalling between partners. They even had a monitor who patrolled the tables making sure there were no infractions. They played with this intensity for eight hours a day, never speaking or looking up from their table. It was amazing to watch. This odd obsession wouldn't have been a problem except for the fact that on the first day at sea they comandeered the largest lounge and made it their exclusive domain. This was also the area that had been designated for ballroom dancing and the only bar with a happy hour for pre-dinner cocktails. Those of us who wanted a drink had to enjoy it in silence at the bar. I really missed listening to the dance musicians for the rest of the cruise. I spoke with the ship's bridge director about it and discovered that she was also upset about the situation. This group had not made arrangements beforehand and shunned her suggestions to accommodate them in a more reasonable fashion. They insisted on having it their own way and because of their numbers, the staff had to defer.
There are a lot of other anecdotes that are more humorous than worriesome. I ordered a whiskey and soda with ice one night and was amused to hear someone remark very sternly to his companion that "Americans had no idea how to consume beverages and had to have everything chilled". The team trivia games - which I had enjoyed success at initially - changed for the worse when the questions started coming from the British edition of the game and seemed to include a high percentage of soccer and English political trivia. We Yanks had to switch to the left staircases to avoid traffic. The pale-skinned Brits seemed determined to soak up enough tropical rays to achieve the most phenomenal burns I've ever seen. Smoking increased dramatically both inside and out of the designated areas. Wherever the accepted currency was dollars and not pounds, indignation was made known loud and clear.
In retrospect, I have to say I got to know several very nice people from the UK during the trip, but my illusion about the 'well-mannered English' is gone and I'm less inclined to agree when I hear references to 'ugly Americans'. All present company are excluded from this gripe, of course