December 21, 2009

Servitude abroad

I just spent a week on the lovely little island of Anguilla (and if you're wondering how I can afford such a vacation, it's because my boss at my office job owns a home there and is very generous with his Christmas gifts).

As much fun as the vacation was and as relaxed as I felt, I still got a little uptight over the whole "rich (um, relatively) white person travelling to mostly black country to stay in huge house and lay on the beach while being served by the locals who live in shacks and work for peanuts" thing. I believe this is generally described as White Guilt, however I attribute my feelings more to class issues than to race. But I digress...

Just about everyone we encountered on the island was remarkably friendly, especially the servers. As this is kind of a spendy island to visit, these folks are used to dealing with celebrities (OMG Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt totally broke up there!) and other wealthy people. There are no cruise ships or flocks of fanny pack-wearing tourists coming in, and no "Give Up the Booty!" shot glasses with drawings of a pirate's hook dangling a thong - you have to go to St. Martin for that. So since I wasn't really there on my own dime, it was kind of hard for me to reconcile my own serving experiences with the experience of being waited on hand and foot.

When we thought the rental car's tire might have a leak, the chef from the restaurant we were visiting came out of the kitchen and promised to change the tire or take care of whatever we needed. The chef! When have you known an American chef to a) not be a sociopath and/or drunk and b) ever in a million years take it upon him or herself to actually provide customer service?! "You go to the beach and have all the fun you need," is what he said to me when I started to freak a little. "We'll take care of whatever you need." Go, James! Our server at another place, Jerell, remembered us and the plans we had told him about four days prior.

I kept trying to figure out if people were being nice to us because we were white, and therefore presumably rich tourists in need of coddling, or if it was because we were nice, and therefore presumably not assholes. It's kind of an uncomfortable thought, but maybe there are people who can just truly be happy serving other people, race and class aside. Maybe the servers of Anguilla are proud of their country and of the fact that people come there to experience paradise. Maybe they don't get any bitchy customers because it is paradise. Hell, if I lived there I wouldn't mind slinging rum punch on the beach, even if the customers were dicks. And if Minnesota somehow became a sought-after vacation spot and Anguillans like James and Jerell were my customers, I would go back to serving in a heartbeat.

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