I am that guy by Dave Schanding

Writer’s note: We were to write as if we were another person. Beginning around 2010, my wife and I began taking and enjoying cruise vacations. I wrote about a Filipino housekeeper we got to know on one longer cruise. I got into a little difficulty in class for singling out one ethnic group. I realized in discussion with a classmate afterwards that our classmates didn’t realize that 70-80% of cruise staff come from the Philippines and Indonesia. I intended to portray the reality—that the majority of service staff on cruises are from these islands and that they are universally seen as being extraordinarily friendly on cruises. But one must keep one’s reading audience in mind, and I missed the mark that day. The learning curve continues…

These cruisers must think that all Filipinos are perpetually happy and smiling. Most of us have learned to be this way as our job is to make the cruise patrons feel like they are REALLY on the vacation of a lifetime. My friend, Maribel, tells me she enjoys seeing the smiles on people’s faces as she sprays their hands with a hand cleanser as they enter the dining room. Her “happy, happy, washy, washy” sounds like she just came from a remote village, but it gets a smile and helps keep food borne illnesses down on our ship.

I’ve been with the company for eight years now, cleaning bedrooms, 10 per day, twice a day. We call the bedrooms ‘staterooms’ or ‘penthouse suites’ and this seems to make our guests happier with the money they’ve spent. And I’m NOT a housekeeper. I’m a stateroom attendant. Some of my cruisers learn my name and talk with me like I’m a fellow human being. Others just talk with me when they need an extra towel or a bucket of ice. Regardless, I do my job well and keep smiling.

I could write a book on the habits of my cruisers. Some leave clean staterooms that look like I’ve already been there. Others don’t seem to know that drawers and closets are the preferred location to store one’s clothes. I won’t go into the conditions of bathrooms I clean.

I start my day at 8 a.m.. I get a three-hour break in the afternoon, then do my evening rounds. I put in 10 hours of work. We work every day for eight months, then we get a two-month paid vacation. Sometimes I use my 3-hour break to head into the town we are visiting. This week we’re traveling to Croatia and Greece. Over the years I’ve visited several of the Greek Islands.

Yesterday I used my afternoon break to head into town in Corfu. I went along with Maribel, and we stopped for some local cuisine. We looked at trinkets that looked like Corfu, Greece but probably were made in Corfu, China. I ran into the couple from Stateroom 8662. I don’t think they recognized me. 8670 seemed embarrassed that they didn’t know my name and didn’t know what to say to me away from my job duties. The fellow in 8630 yelled out my name and chatted like we were old buddies. I feel really good when I’m greeted like this. After all, I am more than my stateroom attendant self.

I’ve learned to swallow. Like when I ask a guest how his day went and get a barrage of how it was too hot and the pavement was too uneven and how the filet wasn’t cooked to his satisfaction. Oh, you poor thing, I think. I had to work extra today, so I missed the chance to get out. And my feet are ALWAYS tired at the end of the day. And the only filet mignon I get is ground up and says 84% lean. Yes, I swallow and smile. Mr Smith, it must have been a trying day for you.

It’s a strange life working on a cruise ship. If my guests are nasty, I have solace in the fact that they will be gone in a week or two. And I always seem to have one room of this type. When my guests are friendly and ask about my life, my family, my opportunities to see the sites they see, I feel sad when their tour of duty is over. People come on cruises to be pampered and to see interesting places, and I enjoy helping this happen, at least most of the time. And I’d definitely rather clean staterooms than greet everyone with ‘happy, happy, washy, washy’.

by Dave Schanding

One thought on “I am that guy by Dave Schanding

  1. I appreciate this exercise in empathy (aka fiction) and your willingness to both try it and share it! Fun title, too.


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