You know how sometimes you meet people for the first time and they’re unnervingly familiar with you? For my newest ship, I decided to be that guy. I called my social experiment Operation BFF. Rather than go through the rigmarole of the awkward shyness stage, followed by the introduction stage, then acquaintance stage, I thought I’d just skip to the fun part: the friendship stage.
The rules were simple: I would treat people as if I’ve known them forever. And I’d get drunk with them every night in the crew bar. Alcohol is not only a social lubricant but drinking games are one of the few competitive sports I’m actually good at (after Scrabble and Monopoly).
After 3 weeks, the results are inconclusive. There was just one flaw in the plan: I didn’t know anyone’s names (probably because I skipped the introduction stage). And no one seems to recognize me when they are sober. And drinking everyday with the same people gets old fast (and it’s exhausting). Okay, three flaws.
In many ways, working on a cruise ship is just like being in high school again, except there are no punks or goths (only because it doesn’t comply with dress code). Basically, the rule of thumb seems to be that your first month will kind of suck, while you are trying to form your own wolf pack to hang out with in ports. I call it Suck Month.
It’s dumb. In other travel-like situations like summer camps, hostels or couchsurfing, it’s so much easier to make fast friends. I don’t know why it’s more awkward on ships. Maybe it’s because not everyone comes on ships to travel. For many, it’s a career and the money is great especially for senior positions or if they are from a less developed country. For some others, it’s a convenient escape from reality. And let’s not forget, it’s a wonderful environment for budget-conscious alcoholics, as heavy drinking is normalized on ships and it’s duty-free!
On previous contracts, I’d tried various different experiments to overcoming Suck Month. On my first contract, I started with cruise resolutions and tried to introduce myself to everyone. The cruise resolutions itself were very effective for goal-setting but introducing myself to everyone wasn’t the right approach. On the contrary, I now believe that talking to everyone only works if you’re an officer and/or have a vagina. On my second contract, I tried to be more aloof, sort of like Fonzie from Happy Days but that wasn’t effective either. I think it’s because I don’t own a leather jacket. Then on my third contract, I decided not to bother talking to anyone at all for Suck Month, which just resulted in me not getting any hugs for a month.
In comparison to my previous experiments, Operation BFF seemed like the most promising. But then I realized something. Although I normally rather be with people than by myself, hanging out with crew while in port usually sucks. Thing is, your average crew member’s idea of a good time is finding free wifi. Not that I blame them. When you’re paying US$12/hour for internet on the ship (yes, it went up), finding free internet ashore is like bumping into a unicorn in a dark alleyway ie. very serendipitous. I guess when you travel for such a long time, you start to crave normalcy like reading or going to the gym or Facebook poking friends back home. Admittedly, its does feel exotic to Facebook poke someone from Mykonos or Istanbul but the traveler in me dies a little every time I waste an entire day online.
Solution: back to basics with this next cruise. Yes, new cruise resolutions! This cruise I’m going on some solo adventures. And I’m refocusing on health and fitness. (Turns out, drinking everyday is kind of bad for you. Who knew?)