Working on a cruise ship is an interesting experience. Not just because of the obvious benefits of making money while you travel, but because it provides a glimpse into a microcosm of society. It’s almost like a social experiment, where you throw in a mix of cultures, label them according to hierarchy and see what happens. And just to make it a bit more interesting, you make it 9:1 men to women. It’s like that movie The Experiment meets The Love Boat meets Beerfest meets a sausage fest.
Anyway, when I first joined cruise ships I found this all very fascinating. I had erroneously assumed that it would be more like a summer camp, where people came to work onboard because of their love for travel. In reality, there are so many other valid reasons to work in cruise ships. Really, for most people it’s a career just as one would work for an airline. For some, it is indeed a short-term gig to earn money while traveling. And for others, it’s to save some money and get work experience. Then you have a few more who rather escape reality and/or are thrifty alcoholics.
Being a traveler, couchsurfer and an ENFP at heart, I was excited to meet everyone when I first started on ships. So what if there were 1000 crew? These were 1000 friends I just hadn’t met yet! I called it Operation Cruise Control but soon realized that a lot of people weren’t all that interested in meeting new people. Or at least people without a vagina. (Men on ships are generally very excited to meet women. You’d think they just saw a unicorn or something equally magical)
I guess it’s the same way how not everyone in an office will be friendly. Or in some cases, it may not be culturally accepted to be friendly to strangers. Or it could plainly be a lack of social skills. I did end up meeting many people but it was also frustrating how some people were so cliquey. Being rejected in the dating world is one thing but being rejected while trying to make friends just seemed bizarre.
For my second contract I decided to try a new strategy. I called it Friend Pick-Up Artistry, and attempted to make friends the same way I would approach chatting up a girl. I would be very suave and elusive, like James Bond. Ok, who am I kidding? I would get drunk and chat people up but try not to come across as too keen. The results were similar. People liked congregating in wolfpacks and it took a long time to get invited into one. (My measure of being accepted into a wolfpack is when you get invited to a cabin party or to hang out off the ship with a group).
For my third contract, I thought I’d give up on socializing altogether in order to develop greater self-reliance. Besides, it seemed like socializing on ships is considerable effort for a low ROI. After 6 weeks of no hugs I realized that I had become much more productive with writing and drawing but also felt like a tortured artist. I quickly realized that without sharing the experience with friends, travel isn’t quite as fun.
So for this contract, I thought I’d be radically friendly during Operation BFF. I wanted to skip that awkward acquaintance stage and jump into familiar-mode. Except that it kind of backfired and seemed to take much longer, to build rapport with people. I think people were weirded out that I was overly-friendly. Plus, by skipping the acquaintance stage, I didn’t get to learn many people’s names, making it even more awkward!
I’ve finally realized that rather than experimenting with social behavior, the best approach is to just be yourself. Some people will love you, some will dislike you and some will just need time to decide. All you can do is to accept that’s the way the world is and not to take any of it personally!