Behind the Smile: The Working Lives of Caribbean Tourism

Behind the Smile: The Working Lives of Caribbean Tourism

Behind the Smile: The Working Lives of Caribbean Tourism

Behind the Smile: The Working Lives of Caribbean Tourism

Synopsis

Behind the Smile is an inside look at the world of Caribbean tourism as seen through the lives of the men and women in the tourist industry in Barbados. The workers represent every level of tourism, from maid to hotel manager, beach gigolo to taxi driver, red cap to diving instructor. These highly personal accounts offer insight into complex questions surrounding tourism: how race shapes interactions between tourists and workers, how tourists may become agents of cultural change, the meaning of sexual encounters between locals and tourists, and the real economic and ecological costs of development through tourism. This updated edition updates the text and includes several new narratives and a new chapter about American students' experiences during summer field school and home stays in Barbados.

Excerpt

When people talk about tourism, they usually talk about their own holiday experiences and the places they have seen. Rarely do they consider the people who serve them and make their vacations possible. Behind the Smile is an inside look at the world of Caribbean tourism—specifically Barbados—as seen through the working lives of twenty-one men and women. The workers come from every level of tourism, from maid to hotel manager, gigolo to taxi driver, redcap to diving instructor. Their stories reveal the work of tourism and the encounters between “hosts” and “guests,” as workers and tourists are known in both the travel industry and academe.

The tourism dealt with in this book involves travelers from the most developed parts of the world who are vacationing in an economically less developed region—the Eastern Caribbean. In Barbados, the guests are primarily British, American, and Canadian. Through interviews with the tourism workers, we learn how they interact with the visitors and what they think of them—of their affluent lifestyles, their moral character, and the manner in which they pursue leisure. We learn what they admire about them and what they shun. We discover the generalizations or stereotypes they make about nationality and gender. Do women on vacation complain more than men? Americans more than Europeans? Are Canadians cheaper than all others? Are Americans less curious? Brits more prejudiced? We also hear how Barbadians assess the costs and benefits of international tourism for their island and society.

My interest in tourism evolved slowly over a two-decade span of research and teaching in the Caribbean. Initially I went to Barbados in 1982 to study emigrants who had returned home after spending many years living abroad in England and North America. I was interested in comparing the experiences of Barbadian returnees with the return migrants I had studied earlier in Ireland and Newfoundland (Gmelch 1992a). Since then my wife, Sharon Bohn Gmelch, and I have taken groups of anthropology students to Bar-

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