Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The All-Inclusive - As a Social Experiment

Have you seen this man?  If you’ve had the pleasure of the All-Inclusive experience then you most certainly have!

Okay, maybe not this particular individual but some specimen with very similar traits.  It has been known to be either male or female but is usually attired in a ball cap and a beer t-shirt.  It is never shy and is liable to walk up to you at anytime and blatantly engage you in conversation.  A conversation that often renders your dignity compromised in an especially tasteless way in the name of “fun”.  It is unafraid of crowds and will often be spotted in either of its natural habitats; on the resort stage, possibly adorned with undergarments on the outside of its clothing or more likely holding court at the swim-up bar surrounded by a large crowd of followers and an even larger number of umbrella laden drinks.

I’m speaking of course about Sunandsandius Idiotosus or better known as “Resort Guy”.

This migratory mammal’s sole purpose is roaming the resort grounds, making a spectacle of himself and anybody who has the misfortune of momentarily associating with him.  He appears to have the ability to do this for a continuous 168 hours without tiring.  The only thing around him that hints at tiring is the expression on his wife’s face. 

He’s the guy who appears to be playing every sport the resort offers, often with the sole purpose of not just winning but humiliating his opponent.  He’s the guy who can never walk past a microphone, often ripping it from the hands of the Animation Team, in order to impart a nugget of resort lore at a decibel level likely to blow out an eardrum.  He’s the guy who always seems to be at the same ala-carte restaurant you’re at, loudly regaling most of the wait staff with another of his accomplishments while you meekly sit there with the unreal hope of acquiring a glass of water.

The only thing seemingly more ubiquitous on the resort grounds than Resort Guy is the drink in his hands.

To be perfectly frank I greatly admire “Resort Guy”.  In fact I’ve always been somewhat envious.  Every time I have seen him he has offered me an example of someone totally at peace and at one with himself.  He moves through resort life with an effortless grace never once even considering a self-conscious thought.  He remains totally engrossed in his walking, talking, beer and bacon consuming seven-day meditation.

Now before I let you go and misinterpret the direction of this article, let me just say that “Resort Guy” is just the most obvious symptom of the freakish social experiment that is the All Inclusive Resort vacation.

There are a multitude of other peculiar behaviours that I’ve always wanted to write about but only now got around to.

Here is a list and a brief description of a few of my favourites:

The hypnotic power of the term “even the tipping is included”
Yes, the literal definition of the term “inclusive” would indeed lead one to believe that at no time do you need to pry open that ten-year-old hunk of leather that is welded to your right ass cheek.  Hey you’re in a third world country, where the average yearly income is probably something like four hundred bucks.  Drop a toonie or two would ya?

The enigmatic power of the beach towel
This could be my favourite.  Who was the social-science genius that realized you could control hundreds of fat, drunk, exceedingly white people with just a large chunk of stripped cloth?  The most enigmatic behaviour one will witness at the All-Inclusive is the 6am towel placing adventure.  This is where sleepy eyed men, at the insistence of their partner, leave the warm comfort of their den to roam the resort looking to claim the next best location by simply draping their towels over it.  I guess pissing on the area would be too confusing.

Observe the uptight anglo outside of his natural habitat
My favourite experience was in St. Marteen 2000, my fortieth birthday, at the time the only all-inclusive on the Dutch side.  I watched a young couple from Toronto on their first Caribbean experience.  Their room, like everyone else’s, wasn’t ready when we arrived at the hotel.  We were given the A.I. prana we all desired, in the form of the bracelet, to appease the growls in our bellies and our raging thirst, as this was to drag on for a while. 

I watched the agitation in this kid grow as time rolled on.  He just couldn’t wrap his head around the sheer incompetence of not having his room ready when his frozen pearly white ass showed up from the great white north. 

After a number of sorties to Reception he went up one last time and let this poor guy have it.  Never have you ever witnessed someone so disinterested in another’s plight as the guy behind the counter.  And the kid knew it too.  His little girl friend was at his side so he had no choice but to lay down the “let me speak to the Manager” line.  And of course, you guessed it - he was speaking to the Manager.  Priceless!

The mess left after the true definition of all-inclusive becomes clear
I have witnessed this every time I’ve been to an A.I.  To be perfectly frank it happened to me my first time too.  It was margaritas, day one, Puerto Vallarta 1997.  Some people only realize that they can drink as much as they want, when they actually get there.  And so they do!

Eating as a contact sport – experiences in the buffet line
Do not, I repeat, do not go near a warming tray in the buffet line that’s contents has dwindled to just a few items.  One risks serious injury remaining in close proximity to said tray.  You must remain constantly vigilant and ready to escape the trajectory of the single-minded slobbering individual, blindly racing to get the last sausage.

A study in Scarcity Mentality - Is this Punta Cana or Dante’s Inferno?
Just because that hot plate holds enough under-cooked side pig to cause a massive coronary in a single sitting doesn’t mean you have to attempt it.  Can you tell me why it is that when you’re at home for the $5.75 breakfast special at Resto chez Jean-Luc you don’t go over the counter demanding another fifteen pieces of carbonized pork?

The enigmatic transformation into a no-crime zone
Why is it if you’re at the beach at home you would never think to leave your daughter’s water wings alone on your chaise without an armed guard?  But at the All-Inclusive you don’t think twice about leaving your I-pad, I-pod, rings, necklace and twenty bucks cash sitting in full view of 500 perfect strangers?

Yes, the ultra-violet rays of the sun can be dangerous
Why do I even have to write this one these days?  But why is there always at least one genius obviously in no fear of splitting the atom any time soon, strutting the beach with third degree burns still completely exposed to the elements?

How I spent a week in a foreign country and the closest I came to a cultural experience was eating a Jalapeno pepper
The vast majority of resort-dwellers seem to have little or no interest in getting off the resort, even for a day to explore the culture that surrounds them.  I’m not talking about spending $125 to go and swim with the dolphins or the three-hour twilight booze cruise.  The chance of bumping into to a cultural experience on any of these contrived adventures is slim to none.

There are simple, inexpensive ways to immerse oneself in the local culture. Unfortunately, up-tight North American travel vigilance often keeps us from these real experiences. 

How about engaging some of the local people who work on resort?  Many of them will bring you to their homes for a meal.  Sitting down and breaking bread for three hours with a local family in their home is what I call a cultural experience.  Many of them have cars and will be happy to tour you around the area.  Wouldn’t you rather put money in the pockets of local individuals than into the burgeoning coffers of the day-trip travel companies?  Rent a scooter or a car and travel around the area yourself.  This is often much cheaper than the day trip and far more flexible.

My opinion is, stop being so afraid and immerse yourself in an experience.  I’m not suggesting that at 3am, in the center of the local disco after 15 shots of waitress administered tequila, you demand to dance with the local drug lord’s wife. Don’t be foolish and put yourself in a tenuous situation just like you wouldn’t at home but go ahead and live a little.

That’s not a pool, that’s a toilet
As my Sister-In-Law Louise has so aptly put it.  Next time you’re at an AI and if you happen to be sitting around the pool or swim-up bar, take a real close accounting of the guys at the swim-up bar and the ratio between glasses of beer and the number of times they get out to go pee.  I’m just sayin! 

I was going to try and stay away from getting political because this was going to be a funny post about an interesting social phenomenon and now it’s going to be funny and political and really, really long.   

Granted many of us have impossibly cold winters and sometimes it’s worth just about anything to escape.  And these days they make a hiatus in paradise so damn affordable. 

Of course, the affordability is created by the operator’s business plan of utilizing cookie-cutter efficiencies.

They find the oldest carbon spewing pressurized tin cans with wings, give them garish paint jobs, then load the interior with so many seats that anyone over 5’8” is guaranteed to leave with a lifetime groin issue. 

They cram these birds full of pasty white North Americans and unleash them on some unsuspecting third world populace where they expect to be waited on hand and foot, oh and where there is an endless supply of alcohol.  Yikes!  

They buy up huge blocks of rooms in behemoth hotels constructed on large tracts of unspoiled beach which I’m sure sometimes even meet the service codes of the local authority, if indeed there is or was a code at the time.  The mere idea of the necessary sewage infrastructure makes me shudder.

A whole infrastructure of tourist businesses designed to meet the whims of the captive audience they’ve flown in, sits in wait.  These businesses usually exploit the unique flora, fauna and heritage sites of the local area.  They load vehicles packed to the rafters with tourists at a hundred bucks a head to view these unique areas, often with detrimental consequences. 

Of course all of this is done locally under the guise of economic development and quite often our governments are involved through the dreaded international joint partnership.   These partnerships can often be the result of the fine print in a past foreign aid package.  We couldn’t just go ahead and supply aid to a population in distress without getting something in return, could we?

Then of course our governments enlist the private sector to assist in the “development project”.  I find this an especially perverse thing when greed capitalism gets in bed with the third world.  Just imagine the flexibility and room for exploitation when these upstanding partnerships come together.

Then of course they must hire a strictly local workforce that they can pay peanuts due to the relative economy of whatever island country they happen to be in.

Even all the food and booze is prepped and distributed using formulaic efficiency.  

As you can probably determine by the mere fact that I’m writing this, our Canadian winter is so fucking cold that it has made a hypocrite out of me numerous times.

Whenever I indulge I attempt to appease my conscience by bringing down a suitcase full of goods to distribute, by hiring the locals as much as possible and by throwing loonies and toonies around like they’re going out of style.  Please do the same.

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