Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Did We Even Leave America?

When the girls started making plans for our cruise back in October, we looked into getting passports. Char had never had one, vowing she would never get on a boat or a plane so never saw the need, and mine had expired a few years back. However, procuring a passport is an expensive endeavor and upon seeing their clothing allowance diminishing before their eyes, Teri decided to call and verify that a passport was truly necessary. Cheers went up and a shopping trip planned when we were told that a driver’s license would do. Of course, the Monday before we were to set sail Teri was checking us in early and noticed that the driver’s license had to be enhanced.

Enhanced. That doesn’t even make sense. Enhanced how? I mean, when a woman goes for a breast enhancement the results are quite visible. But a driver’s license? Does it shoot out a hologram that displays all of my background information including how I like my coffee and which side of the bed I sleep on? Then we discovered that only three states have that special driver’s license and Florida isn’t one of them. Teri picked up the phone again, only this time with more panic in her voice.

“No, ma’am, a driver’s license will do. You just need to bring your birth certificate to prove that you’re a citizen of the United States.”

We scrambled to get my birth certificate expedited because somehow in all of the moves it had gotten lost. However, when we arrived at our vacation destinations, I didn’t see the point in needing a passport to begin with.

I understand the cruise ship being Americanized; it is, after all, an American port catering mostly to Americans who want an expensive sight-seeing trip. I just wish that once we had left the ship we had entered another world instead of what seemed like an extension of the Florida Keys. Living on the Space Coast of Florida an hour away from Disney, Sea World, and Universal, I am very aware of the gift shop mega stores that have cropped up to coincide with the 7-Elevens and McDonald’s on every corner. What I wasn’t expecting was for Freeport and Nassau to have them as well.

Okay, the mega store part is an exaggeration. They were more like mega booths or mega shacks, but each hut had practically the same thing. Almost all of the shirts were alike, as well as souvenir shot glasses and mugs. All the wood carvings – the coasters, the ashtrays, the wind chimes – could be found at every booth. Everything seemed mass produced and Bob Marley reigned.

As I stared out at the blue buildings in Freeport, the first sign I saw advertised a sports bar. A sports bar! Why in the world did Freeport have a sports bar? Did they even have sports teams? A sports bar is an American hang out. Did the Bahamas get mad at us because we stole their tiki bars, so retaliated by playing loud television in smoky taverns?

I didn’t go in. I don’t go into sports bars at home, so why would I go in one while on vacation? That wasn’t the island experience I was looking for. It was a simple ploy to make us feel more at home and loosen our purse strings – not that I carry a purse, because I don’t. Really, I don’t. Furthermore, I didn’t want to feel like I was at home; I wanted to feel like I was in the Bahamas.

Yet, American enterprise is everywhere. After ferrying over to Paradise Island, I stared, dumbfounded, at a Starbucks next to a Ben & Jerry’s. I was getting annoyed. I mean, we left the States, right? Did I really pay for a cruise to another country in order to be surrounded by the same Corporate America that I had waved goodbye to from my balcony?

I needed a drink, but then again when don’t I need a drink? After touring the Atlantis Resort, a hotel for the over-indulged, we popped into the Bimini Road bar. We sat down and browsed the menu for exotic beverages with alcohol. As the girls discussed which rum they wanted I stared at the bottles of booze occupying the shelf in front of me and again felt the weight of disappointment. Jim Bean. Grey Goose. Crown Royal. It was like shopping at the ABC Liquors back home. I wanted booze that sounded like it wasn’t bottled in America. This was not worth the cost of a passport.

Yet, it’s what we do; we make everyone like us.

Several years ago when I went on a mission trip to Haiti I was surprised at how many shirts I saw with American logos: soft drinks, sports teams, even colleges. How on earth could a Haitian struggling to survive in Milot where there is barely electricity be a fan of the University of Florida? It’s as if we send our leftovers, our castoffs, overseas. We want everyone to be just like us; dress like us; eat like us and build like us. Missionaries have a bad habit of this, as well. They try to proselytize, not only their religion, but also their country. We need to leave other cultures alone.

Someone once told me that most vacationers want to be surrounded by what they know and are comfortable with. Not me. If the Bahamas are just like Florida, then why would I want to go? It’s too expensive to take a cruise just to see the same surroundings. I want to explore how they live, what they drink, and what they eat. I want a non-American adventure. Otherwise, I’m staying home.

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