During Mid-Semester Break in October, I traveled to the Bahamas on a cruise with my parents. It was my first time out of the country, and I was taking “Caribbean Women Writers” with Dr. Comorau at the time. I was ready to get some exposure to the region—even though, geographically, the Bahamas are in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean Sea.
I went right after all of the hurricanes hit, so a part of me felt guilty. I kept asking myself, “Is it acceptable–and appropriate–to vacation in a place that’s just experienced a natural disaster?” I decided that since tourism is the main contributor to the Bahamas’s economy, I would just try to put what money I could from my own wallet into the hands of Bahamian people selling wares or braiding the hair of tourists.
I challenged myself to dig in and appreciate the local culture on the trip. Because cruises are really “white-centered” and I am a white woman, I didn’t really have as many opportunities as I would’ve liked to get out of my comfort zone. It was mostly the food for me. Every time we ate a meal, I made sure to try something new. This ended up being my favorite part of the trip–I would recommend the cracked conch. I also loved hearing a local woman describe what the Bahamian flag represents in her eyes as she braided my hair: the island, the sea, the sky and the sun.
While I was so excited to see the cultural differences between the cities I visited and the places I had been back home in the United States, I was completely appalled by my fellow tourists. One example in particular sticks out in my mind. I was in a taxi on my way to the Port Lucaya Marketplace, and a woman in the seat next to me asked our taxi driver, “So, what are schools like down here? You do have schools, right?”
In 2017, a teacher from Georgia asked her taxi driver if his country had education. Immediately, my eyes widened and I looked around at everyone else in the taxi, as if to ask “Did you hear what she just said?” But they all honestly seemed eager for the answer.
The taxi driver didn’t seem insulted or even slightly surprised. “Yes, we have a very good school system.”
Before we made it to Port Lucaya, we passed by a Wendy’s. This was quickly followed by hoots of excitement and questions about how American this place was: “Do you have McDonald’s? What about KFC?” Not one tourist in the taxi asked about the culture of Freeport, save for the inquiry about the existence of schools.
Maybe it’s my own fault for having higher expectations of other Americans that choose to spend their Thursday afternoon vacationing in the Bahamas. But I’m still angered by this lack of curiosity about our differences, and only questions about our similarities. How American are you guys down here? Do you even educate your people?
The moral of my story is this: when you travel someplace new, take it upon yourself to learn some new things while you’re there. Or even before you get there. Eat at the local restaurants and leave a big tip to say “Thank you for sharing this part of your culture with me.” Don’t just stop by Wendy’s because that’s American and we have to show how much better our country is.
Take pride in the way that our differences show, not in how similar we are. Similarities may be what bring us together, but differences are what makes each country interesting, unique, wonderful, important, valuable.
Nicole White ’18 is a Nonfiction Writing and Politics & Government double major. She spends her time participating in writing workshops, hanging out with her housemates in the House of Linguistic Diversity (HOLD) and meshing feminism with the modern political climate.