Walk down Duval St. in Key West or just about any street in Maui and chances are you are going to hear a lot of different languages. Spanish, Hawaiian, Russian, Chinese, German, French, Japanese, and whatever they are passing off as verbal communication in New York City can be heard. (Seriously, how the hell do you city people understand each other there?). Anyways, because the Florida Keys and Hawaii are international destinations, meaning people from all over the planet come and visit, and in some cases in Key West, a few from other planets occasionally show up, when you visit either of these islands you will encounter a wide variety of cultures and customs you may not be used to from wherever you come from.
The Keys and Key West in particular are heavily influenced by Cuban, Latino, Bahamian, Haitian, and Caribbean cultures. It’s reflected in the majority of the restaurants and menu items, the signs in both English & Spanish, and the general way of life.
In Hawaii, the islands have a distinct Polynesian flavor to them, brought by the earliest settlers from other Pacific islands. There is also a heavy Asian culture here, where the locals have adopted many far Eastern customs like the habit of taking off one’s shoes before entering a home.
If you are coming from another part of the planet, say for example, the hills of Pennsylvania, like I did, where life is quite different than living on an island, you are in for some interesting encounters during your visits. Everything is going to seem different. People look different, talk different, wear clothing which does not match your taste in fashion, and eat different foods than what you may be used too. The weather is definitely different as is the scenery. The architecture may be something you are not used to seeing. Customs and laws are different. Political views may not match what you are used too. The animal life is different. How often does a whale sighting or manatee encounter occur where you live? The point is, life in the islands is going to be a bit of culture shock for most visitors. And there are basically two ways said visitor can react to said culture shock.
The worst way, and I’ve seen it so many times in my travels, is to look down upon other cultures as inferior to one’s own. I’ve watched more than a few tourists make fun of the way people look, act, or talk simply because said people don’t match what said tourist is used to back in Bugtustle or wherever they come from. These visitors are rude, obnoxious, and treat everyone who is, ‘different’, in a derogatory or demeaning manner. It’s downright embarrassing especially when you see someone from your part of the country come here and act in such a way.
Sometimes it’s nothing more than just a rude gesture or condescending comment. I remember standing in line at the grocerteria in Key West when a fat woman from someplace up north berated the cashier and bag girl because they were speaking in their native language, Haitian, to each other. The fat woman demanded they speak English, because they were in ‘merica and dammit we all speak English here. She even went so far as to go to the manager and complain. Said manager just nodded, rolled his eyes, and went back to whatever the hell it is managers do. All the fat woman did was put her ignorance on display for the entire store to see.
Other times, things can get a tad more dangerous. In Key West, a man identifying himself as a supporter of the Trumpenführer chased down 2 gay men on bicycles with his scooter, shouting gay slurs and knocking one off his bike. They caught him and he is facing felony charges but damn, really? How does somebody’s lifestyle, especially someone who lives nearly 1000 miles away from you have any effect on your life? Enough so you feel the need to attack them and cause them bodily harm?
Hatred of other cultures works in both directions though. Many of the native Hawaiians resent the tourism, the invasion of other cultures, and make no effort to hide their resentment. There are some neighborhoods where one does not go if one is not Hawaiian. I can’t blame them to a certain extent given what Western ‘civilization’ has done to the islands but still, hatred is not the solution.
Given the current political climate, all the racism, sexism, and hatred of anyone who is different should not be surprising. The little shithole town I grew up in is a fine example of bigotry and prejudice in action. There were two kinds of people in said shithole. Those who were white, and those who were just passing through. My family was racist as hell. It was simply their way of growing up. Anyone from outside the shithole was looked at with suspicion, disdain, and hatred. We were all brought up to believe our way of life was the only correct one and the entire rest of humanity was wrong. Today, they still believe it. I found out things were way more better, and being different was not necessarily a bad thing, once I escaped to see the outside world beyond the hills of said shithole.
Rather than look down on other cultures, I have found from personal experiences it’s way more better to look, explore, learn, and accept how others live. You don’t have to completely immerse yourself in other cultures but taking the time to learn other customs, trying food other than what you are used to eating, picking up a foreign language (something I never could do as I have no ear for any language other than English, Pirate, Profanity, or Sarcasm), or just generally accepting how other people live will enrich your own life exponentially.
I would never trade all my travel experiences for a life back in the hills of Pa. In the 40 some years since I left, I have met people from all over the world. I’ve got friends in Europe and Africa. I’ve met people from Russia, Asia, and Australia. I even once met the royal family of Tahiti. I did business with many from Europe when I worked in the motorcycle industry. All of them had their own stories to tell. All of it was interesting.
As soon as I got out in the real world my eating habits changed considerably. Where once, food consisted of little more than meat and potatoes, now I am a junky for anything seafood. I discovered my beloved Key Lime Pie. Since coming out here to Maui I am thoroughly enjoying all the exotic and wondrous tastes of Hawaiian dishes. I know people back in Pa. who consider Red Lobster to be exotic seafood dining, provided of course whatever they ordered has been fried to the point all the flavor is gone. It’s pitiful how much they are missing out on. There is so much good food out there and it’s well worth the effort to expand one’s culinary horizons. You may not like it all, but you owe yourself to at least give it a taste.
In my travels I managed to experience so many things which were unheard of back in the hills. Scuba diving, living on a sailboat, just to name a couple. But it’s been more. Just walking around Key West on a nice day, or exploring the Maui beaches and parks. Going to the local festivals and celebrations and just soaking in the local scenes. It’s a far cry from the life I was stuck in growing up. And my travels are nothing compared to some who saw the light and really got out to see the world when they are young. Had I not wasted so much of my youth pursuing a useless middle class false dream, I could have gone overseas and seen more of the world, and perhaps, even at 62, with a third of my life gone, I may still do so. You never know. Lots of places to see unless the current government burns it all in a fiery thermonuclear war or unfettered climate change.
This whole idea of ‘America First’ which has permeated the country all sounds nice and patriotic to a certain extent, but in reality, it’s neither practical nor ideal. Like it or not, we live in a global economy. We are all dependent on others in some way, shape, or form and it’s getting more global as technology advances. Don’t believe me? Think you can live in your little town without the need for them furenners running around being different?
Just about everything you own and use, your vehicle, your clothing, your appliances, the device you are reading this soon-to-be-award-winning post on, are all made possible by cooperation and trade with other cultures. The minerals used to build said things, the labor to put it together, the ships used to transport it from here to there, it all takes the entire planet to make it work. Yes, there are bad things out there. Child and slave labor. Dictators. Corporate warlords who put profits over life. And it’s even worse in other countries besides the good ole’ USA. But we keep moving forward. We have advanced to this alleged higher plane of existence, with all the bounties we enjoy, because somewhere, someplace, people put their differences aside, and worked together. If we were still suspicious of anyone different from ourselves, we would all still be living in caves and eating twigs and sticks.
Ok, enough preaching.
The whole point of this post is this. If you are coming to the Keys, or Hawaii, or visiting anyplace different than where you come from, come with an open mind and a eagerness to explore all you can about wherever you are visiting. Do some studying before you come so you can enjoy what these destinations have to offer more better. There are so many interesting things about these places and you would be doing yourself a favor if you take the time to explore the different cultures and meet the people who reside there. But be careful, you may learn stuff.
On the other hand, if you are intolerant of others different from yourself or your way of life, do us all a favor out here in the rest of the civilized world, and just stay home.