Frankly My Dear, It’s All About the English- Saint Maarten

The first time I ever took a cruise, and I believe the total now is up to three, I noticed there was a definite pecking order according to skin tone.

Seriously, the darker the employee, the farther down on the ‘great job’ ladder they would fall. Nigerians and Jamaicans were room stewards, hall sweepers, Norwegians and Finns crewed the the boat.

On the Allure, though, I noticed this got a little scrambled. For example, there’s a perky species of human known as the ‘cruise director’. Ours was a balding, energetic multi-talented dude of about forty. Stocky and oozing charm, he’d extol everything from salsa dance lessons to jewelry classes. Then, he’s get on stage to warm up the crowd before shows, and give a good rendition on a guitar of some lame eighties song in a dorky getup, eliciting some pretty good laughs.

Last night I sat with Christopher in the last (clean) comedy show of the night, and the cruise director bounced on to the stage and started with his intro. Maybe because I was worn out, but it took me a beat to realize he was as black as the Caribbean night.

“Huh?” I turned to my son. “Did he change nationalities?” This guy was a doppleganger for the white dude, with some serious sun exposure!

As the kids (#portableparty) and would gad about these various excursions and places, I got to tell them stories about things their father and I would do, and the very cool people we would meet. 

See, when Chris and I first started teaching, it was English to Speakers of Other Languages. (ESL) What a great job. We are lucky to live in the most adventurous country in the world, and people still clamor to get here.

English is still the ticket to movin’ on up, it seems.

Now, our adventures are bulkier, costlier, and much, much more satisfying. See, to me, a sabbatical or a break is not so much about relaxing as it is about difference. Differences in relationships is especially fascinating to me. 

In Saint Maarten, for example, it was a riot to educate these kids about advertising. When I advertise any of my business, I do all the usual stuff. Print, paper, realtors, all kinds of things. In Saint Maarten, if someone wants to braid your hair, sell you a t shirt or a beach umbrella, they plant themselves firmly in your path, intrude in your personal American space bubble, and ask. I find that hilarious. But it’s effective! You want a T shirt, Selene has three for ten bucks. Beach Umbrella? Verizon has nothing on the local network of ebony folk signaling each other a block away.

The beaches of Saint Maarten are unmatched. White powdery sand and the distinctive Caribbean blue, it’s what they have to sell. Who can blame them for getting in your face to make a living?

Running with the "Silent Girl" pirate crew to see the turtles at Tortoise Cove

Running with the “Silent Girl” pirate crew to see the turtles at Tortoise Cove

So I rent their boat and tip them to take me to a cool snorkeling spot. I pay for Christopher to discover how wild it is to hover next to a barracuda. I chat up the lovely French diver and her boyfriend, and discover that there actually is a niggling, sneaking appeal to chucking it all and living in the islands. Maybe for a little while.

Dialects and code switching are especially great to watch.

See, the white folks who chuck it all and come down here to live rarely get the island patois.

But to listed to one black-as-night islander talk to another is just like music. I can make out a few words, but mainly, get carried away on the tones and the flow of the sound.

I mean, for all I know, they could be saying “Let’s take the white lady for all we can, and laugh about it when the giant boats leave. ”


Ha! But I don’t think so. The islanders on Saint Maartan strike me as pretty universal. Ordinary folk with families and lives, doing the best they can with the tools they’ve got.

Great day in Saint Maarten.

Much love,



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