Cool Tourists (…Coolists?)

“No mayonaise.”

I look up from my computer in our beloved Trigo de Oro café in downtown La Romana to see four American tourists sitting at the table next to mine. There are three women and a man, and all seem to be more or less in their late 60’s. Initially I am pleased to hear English. And then it happens.

“No mayo. No…mayo….naise. Good lord. No mayonnaise!…whatever. If they’re going to serve tourists they should learn to speak English.”

The man is pointing to the picture of a chicken sandwich on the menu and yelling at the waitress who clearly doesn’t understand what he’s saying. So he resorts to the three immature stages of people who haven’t seen enough comedy to know they’re a big cliché: talking slower, yelling, and frustrated failure.

Fortunately, this doesn’t happen as often as you might think, but it does happen, and more often than it should. Although to be fair, I understand why it happens and it’s almost unfair to the tourists. You work hard all year and spend money that may or may not be expendable, so you develop a lot of expectations for those six or seven days. You’re at your most hedonistic and you worry less about your own standards of behavior. Heck, I show signs of being that way when Kristy and I go to a hotel. She always points out that that’s when she takes the opportunity to dress up and I dress more casual.

So, like all situations, at times you’re dealing with jerks and other times you’ve got decent people in unique circumstances. Nevertheless much of our long process of integration has included intentionally addressing many of the stereotypes about Americans that are a mix of American media and interaction exclusively with tourists.

So you’ll understand the pleasant surprise it was to receive an e-mail from the main office looking for volunteers near La Romana who might be available to spend an afternoon with a couple people arriving on a cruise ship. These two, David and Anna, were potentially interested in joining Peace Corps after retirement and wanted to meet some volunteers. When I e-mailed them back they were enthusiastic to come visit our site as well. So, on December 15th we met them downtown, they bought us lunch, and we brought them back to Villa Hermosa to see our site. They also brought us a killer care package and have expressed interest in supporting our upcoming groups.

Anyway, a huge hello to David and Anna, and thanks for representing our country well as you’re out traveling.

David and Anna in front of our apartment

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3 thoughts on “Cool Tourists (…Coolists?)

  1. I read the Colombia blog as well and recently read a similar experience at a restaurant in Barranquilla. As strange as it sounds, people seem to expect great things from others – like knowing everyone’s language (and maybe mind reading.)

  2. Thanks for the nice comments! Here is what I wrote on Facebook about our visit with you:

    “La Romana: This is a large city on the southwestern coast of the Dominican Republic. This country shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. We had never been on a cruise ship that stopped on this island, and even though Haiti is far worse off than the Dominican Republic, we knew that poverty was a big problem there. Anna and I thought that maybe we could find some sort of volunteer program that we could help out for the day that we would be spending there, instead of a typical excursion.

    We were not able to find anything, but with less than a week to go before our departure, I decided to contact the Peace Corps office in the Dominion Republic to see if we could meet with any of their volunteers. We were contacted by a Brian and Kristy Humphrey, a wonderful young husband and wife team from the Seattle area who are working on the outskirts of La Romana. We arranged to meet and buy them lunch at a restaurant they recommended near the central park downtown.

    After our initial food and conversation, they took us by bus to their “barrio” to see how they live. This was not the nice tour buses they use for picking up tourists at the cruise port—this was one of the unmarked, beat-up Mitsubishi vans that runs with the sliding door open at all times, transporting the locals around town. They took us to their apartment (where their mosquito netting was demonstrated), and we enjoyed a long conversation there about their work with the Peace Corps. It was an adventure we never could have done without Brian and Kristy’s expertise. It provided a real-life overview of the bustling metropolis of La Romana.

    Even though we had only communicated through a few quick e-mails prior to boarding the ship, the hours we spent with Brian and Kristy that day were filled with a non-stop conversation. We also provided them with a “care package” we had created for them (carried in a WVU Mountaineers drawstring backpack, of course). It was very interesting to see the “real” La Romana that few tourists ever see. We eventually boarded another van for the return trip, and then accompanied Brian and Kristy to the “Jumbo” store, which is kind of like a Wal-Mart in downtown La Romana, before finally saying our goodbyes.

    The Humphreys, like all the other Peace Corps volunteers I have known, make wonderful ambassadors from America to these less fortunate lands. I applaud their efforts to help the locals and to make the United States look better to those outside our country. I’m glad we reached out to try something different than a typical excursion—it was probably the most memorable stop of the entire trip.”

    [By the way, we spoke with several other people on the ship after our visit (including a former Peace Corps volunteer), who thought our “excursion” sounded great. I’m so glad that it all worked out for all of us! Keep up the good work!]

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