Before we arrive in a new place I like to read about the etiquette. It is important to me that I don’t upset anyone or their values. Recently an article I was reading had a paragraph about how to fit in and not stand out as a tourist. It occurred to me that I can easily learn etiquette but changing our attire to fit in is not so easy to do. The boat has limited space for clothing so our clothing tends to be more functional than trendy.
Even if I do dress to blend in as soon as I open my mouth they are going to know I am from another country. I lived my life in Southeastern and Southwestern United States. I even sound strange to fellow Americans. Adding a foreign language to my twangy tongue only confuses the listener more. Thank goodness the kind people of Panama are patient listeners. In the past five years we have learned bits and pieces of four languages but none of them very well or fluently. It is also not unheard of for people to see our pasty skin and very American attire and call out, “Hey Ms/Mr. American!” Yeah, I don’t think we are blending in very well.
We have been in the tropics for a long time. I am sure on occasion Mark has mentioned how hot it is here. If we dressed like the people who live here we would be in long sleeve shirt and blue jeans. I would die of heatstroke before I got off the dock. We definitely stand out as tourists in shorts, short sleeve shirt, sandals and for us gals, ponytails. But, now that I think of it, many of the guys have ponytails too.
You have never met versatile until you have met the shoes cruisers wear. I am not talking about the cutesy kind at the marine stores that are called deck or boater shoes. Those shoes are too pretty for this lifestyle and do not hold up well. Our shoes are rugged, multi-functional and a bit on the ugly side (at least I think so). We need rugged shoes because in our world going to the grocery just might require getting in the dinghy, getting out in the shallow water, dragging the dinghy to the beach and walking to the grocery store. I remember when my shoes only needed to be adaptable enough to go from work to an evening out. Now they have to be comfy, actually fit so as not to cause blisters, good arch and ankle support for long treks, waterproof (not resistant—proof) and have great traction yet not mar the boat deck. When I see people look at my shoes disapprovingly I am not embarrassed. These shoes have taken me climbing and hiking in some very beautiful places. So if my attire does not scream tourist my shoes sure do.
Another dead giveaway is our big floppy hats. We spend a lot of time in the bright sunshine and need protection. A person can generally tell how long a cruiser has been ‘out here’ by their hat. The longer cruising the more practical and functional the hat. A must is a chin strap for windy days. There is generally some sort of neck protection whether it is a big rim or a fabric that covers the back of the neck. I have to admit, I almost do not recognize other boaters at night without their sunglasses and hats.
Speaking of sunglasses, more than one pair is a must. Add a lanyard so the wind does not take them off your head and send them to the ocean floor. Yep, now you are getting the picture. It is all about comfort and being functional.
Then there is the camera which is permanently attached to our bodies. Depending on where we are it is our SLR or a small digital camera that fits into our pocket. So if we are not dressed like tourists then stopping every few feet to take pictures sure gives us away.
In the article, it said to try to act like you are familiar with your surroundings. That is not easy when we are not at all familiar with our surroundings. We often look lost because we are lost.
And finally, don’t forget the ever-present backpack that we all have strapped to our backs. They are waterproof for all the same reasons as the shoes. Like our hats, the condition of the backpack tells the tale of longevity at this lifestyle.
No matter what we call ourselves, boaters or cruisers, we are in actuality tourists. A huge part of the way we dress is an effort to take care of ourselves in our environment so we can spend many more years exploring wonderful places in the world. So I guess I will just learn the etiquette part and just be who I am—a tourist.