|White people burdened with turning brown|
My family thinks that I’m a snob about mass tourism, but they’re wrong. It’s just one of those things – like fat-necked bigots, hysterical touchline soccer moms, gun-waving pyschotic killers or, worst of all, fans of the Irish popular music combo known as Ucunting2 – that I’d rather avoid if at all possible. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible.
Family life is all about compromise, so after subjecting my kids to several holidays spent in the middle of fields full of mostly wet, British sheep, I consented (or should that be condescended?) to join them for a week in an “all-inclusive” beach resort in Punta Cana, a mainly foreign-owned enclave populated by tens of thousands of revolving, wealthy colonists in the south-east corner of the Dominican Republic.
First, a quick word about the meaning of all-inclusive. It’s all-inclusive in much the same way that the Democratic Republic of Korea is democratic. That is, it’s all-inclusive unless you want to drink wine that doesn’t taste like it was made from grapes fomented in vats of ferret’s piss. Or if you want a steak that it won’t take you a day to chew. Or if you want some spa treatment, or if you want to play tennis after sundown. Etcetera. That is, it’s all-inclusive, except for the bits that aren’t included. Brought to you by Holidays With An Asterisk.
Now, it was by no means a bad resort, if you can stop yourself from laughing at the overall concept – plane after plane of fat, pasty Caucasians flying in as part of a vain attempt to make themselves look more physically attractive by sitting still for hours under a cancer-causing sun, all the while being waited on by handsome, lithe young locals whose very presence taunts the visitors’ expensive but futile efforts to nudge up their Sexy Factor. But there’s always something better, if you’re willing to pay.
I grumbled that there was something suspicious about us being coaxed into a guided tour of the resort on our first morning, but no one’s paid any attention to me grumbling for the best part of a decade now. And so we found ourselves subjected to a sales pitch for our next visit to Punta Cana, when we could be upgraded to VIP status, and get deckchairs with our names on far away from the plebs, and stay in suites with multiple flat-screen TVs, if we only committed to joining The Premiere Club (or something) for the next 50 years. After many requests for an actual figure were slickly avoided, we were finally quoted the initial down-payment of $38,000 for the pleasure of staying here a week a year (or in other resorts around the globe that looked pretty much identical), plus a $933 annual fee, plus flights, plus food.
“Ha ha, no chance,” I said, pleased that we’d wasted two hours of their time, and annoyed that I’d wasted two hours of mine.
“So you don’t think your family deserves it?” the saleswoman, Bernadette, asked me for the third time. No, I felt like saying by this point. They deserve a field full of wet fucking sheep.
Bernadette was, at least, a bona fide Dominican citizen we actually got to know and, before she started trying to sell us a half century of purgatory-by-the sea, a very personable individual. Unfortunately for her, she made the mistake of assuming that I was the household earner, thus targeting her pitch at the family member least likely to go for it, even if they’d been asking 38 cents rather than 38 grand. My other big local friend was Juan, a cigar salesman in a nearby market, who embraced me as a soul brother for having a similar name, but mainly for paying him $25 for some very rough smokes.
There are three approaches to haggling. The first one my youngest daughter took, much to the delight of one stallholder, by charitably paying the first price asked. Second, there’s the no-nonsense, tough Yank approach, where you bark out the price you’re going to pay, thrust down the cash, and then stalk off without having done much for international diplomacy, but having publicly advertised the fact that you’re an asshole. Then there’s the third, more nuanced, approach, where you barter down, make a deal, then both sides cheerfully pretend that you haven’t been utterly ripped off. You get some dodgy tobacco or unusual jewelry that’s going to fall to pieces in three weeks, and Juan or whoever gets to feed his family.
At some point, though, bargain fatigue sets in, and even the smiliest liberals have had enough of being hassled to re-distribute their evil imperialist currency. By the time you return to the airport, entrepreneurialism has taken on the mantle of desperation, which is how, for the first time in my life, I was rugby-tackled by a Dominican flower girl. As you headed for customs, all departing travellers were funnelled into a line by the flower girl, whose two similarly dressed colleagues would then grab you for a parting photo to be taken by a fourth employee. Once you got through customs, you had the chance to purchase this touching memento.
I made a beeline for the space to the right of the flower girl to avoid the picture, but she grabbed me and started yelling, then shoved me back into line. If they managed to snap me at all as I piled through, there’s a picture on file of a cursing Brit with a scowl, wishing that he was walking across a muddy field with nothing but bleating ewes for company. As Bernadette might say, Isn’t that what you deserve?