Last week, I met up with an old English friend for coffee. She was reminiscing about her yachting years and would rattle off things like, “Oh, do you remember that time in St. Maarten when…” and, “Remember how much fun it was when we got lost in the old town in Genoa?” For yachties, this type of conversation is completely normal, and it would be somewhat strange if outlandish stories about international adventures and mishaps were not a part of your past recollections.
The superyacht industry is not bound by borders or specific regions, so it makes sense that crew comprise various nationalities, a mixing pot of cultures who are thrown together in a small space where they have to live, work, and play 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months on end. It would be fair to say that there may be arguments, temper tantrums, and hot-headed disputes.
To prevent these frustrations, there has to be a procedure in place on board to alleviate the tension — things like the education and understanding of the yacht’s common language. By common language, I don’t mean English as the universal spoken language at sea, but specific terminology most commonly used on board amongst the crew, plus its culture and work expectations.
What does it really mean to be culturally aware on board? Mastering this skill will enable you to understand your international colleagues better. Moreover, it will enable you to learn about your guest’s cultural nuances to deliver a higher level of service. Every culture has different social norms, food expectations, ideas, perceptions, and values. Cultural awareness is defined as “the understanding of the differences between themselves and people from other countries or other backgrounds, especially differences in attitudes and values.”
Culture awareness will enable you to learn about your guest’s cultural nuances to deliver a higher level of service. Every culture has different social norms, food expectations, ideas, perceptions, and values.
Due to globalization and social media, most yachties naturally have a basic understanding of cultural awareness. But as with everything in yachting, we need to raise that to the highest level — for me, it’s not just about acknowledging the differences but trying to view, understand, and anticipate those differences. For example, it may be something as simple as having rice available at every meal for your Filipino crewmembers, or plenty of vegetables and alternative protein sources for your vegan and vegetarian colleagues. Never try to force your “non-drinker” crew to have “just one drink” after they have expressed that they do not drink. Don’t stand too close or invade your colleague’s personal space and, lastly, remember to keep your outdated colonial jokes to yourself.
Extending these concepts to your guests on board, it’s always wise to educate yourself about your guests’ cultural norms before they arrive. For example, ask the welcoming yacht agent what they think are the top five cultural norms of their country. Spend more time with your foreign colleagues and ask them about their homelands. The point is that by talking to people, you get a more comprehensive idea about culture and social norms than what you might glean from a Google search.
With that being said, here are a few dates to mark on your calendar to set you on your cultural awareness journey.
New Year’s Day
January 1 is New Year’s Day according to the Gregorian calendar and is normally a public holiday. It’s commonly celebrated in western cultures — but not in China. Chinese New Year changes every year based on the lunar calendar, usually some time between January 21 to February 20 on the Gregorian calendar — in 2022, it’s on February 1. The Chinese celebrate in many ways, including with dancing dragon performances, gifting red envelopes usually filled with money, and with families coming together for a large feast, including rice, walnuts, fruit, duck, and sweet rice soup.
For your Australian guests, and if you’re cruising in Australian waters, then mark January 26 on your calendar for Australia Day. Australians tend to be quite relaxed with their celebrations and enjoy fresh fruit, high-quality seafood, craft beer, and crisp wine. It’s wise to have a cricket set and rugby ball on hand should your guests wish to play a game on the beach.
In 2022, Ramadan begins on the evening of April 2 and ends on the evening of May 1. It represents the most significant date on the Islamic calendar. Ramadan is more than fasting from dawn to dusk (including water); for Muslims, it represents the holy month whereby people are encouraged to reflect, participate in charity, and avoid gossip. The month ends with Eid, which is a great social event with friends, families, and acquaintances coming together for a grand feast.
U.S. Independence Day
July 4 is the most iconic celebration in the United States of America, as it celebrates the declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776. In essence, it’s the birthday of modern America. Common festivities include parades, fireworks, barbecues, and simply spending time with friends and family. Table decorations must always include the very patriotic colors of red, white, and blue. Remember to include stars, ribbons, flags, and, of course, fresh flowers.
Of course, there’s so much more to becoming culturally aware than knowing just a few international public holidays. The world is an amazing place full of color, history, happiness, and sadness. Being able to examine other people’s beliefs, traditions, and perceptions, you’ll easily be able to walk in their shoes and understand where they’re coming from.
This article originally ran in the November 2021 issue of Dockwalk.