Since we started cruising, I’ve had a difficult time getting up the nerve to row up to someone’s property, beach our kayak or dinghy, and say hello. For whatever reason, I have this preconceived notion that I will be bothering them, or invading their privacy, or in some way disturbing their peace. Carol, of course, has no problem doing this.
I know that in future countries we will be expected to row ashore and greet the local bigwigs or officials at every anchorage, and it is easy for me to do so when I know that is “the rule”, but so far, in Canada, the US, Mexico, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia, it isn’t required.
Still, it is polite and so I’ve been forcing myself to overcome my mild anxiety.
Of course, as it turns out, most of the people we have introduced ourselves to are living in remote places and welcome the occasionally company. We have never, not once (yet), had a negative interaction after rowing ashore to say hello.
We have been invited to have coffee, try smoked salmon and visit and learn about the salmon smokehouse. We have rowed to shore, wearing rash guards and board shorts, on our way to snorkeling, and ended up sitting down for a BBQ (in our ridiculously inappropriate outfits, which of course no one minded). Just a few days ago, we paddled to shore to say hello, ended up with a tour of the property, an invite to go spear fishing the next day and came back with our hats full of fruits and vegetables.
The same vibe applies to asking permission. In French Polynesia, we ask someone for permission to do almost everything if there is someone there to ask. We didn’t start out by doing this, but have gradually come to feel over time that it is our best chance both making friends and of avoiding making a social mistake in a new culture.
Usually, in French Polynesia, the person we ask seems surprised we are asking, says it is no problem, and goes out of their way to help us do whatever it is. For example, if we see someone on the dock, we ask if it is OK to put our trash in the public bin. They usually look confused, smile at us, and say “of course”. Then we ask if they know where we can get a propane tank and they end up driving us to their house, selling us one of theirs (at the same price as the store that is out) and driving us back to the dinghy so we don’t have to carry the tank.
However, *occasionally* we ask something similarly innocuous and learn that if we had done what we intended we would have been making a mild mistake. For example, we have also been told (about trash) “yes, of course…but maybe instead of that small can it is better if you use the big bin over at the town hall” ..and then been given a ride (with our several bags of trash) to the town hall, and back to the dinghy, chatting and learning about the island all of the way.
So, I will continue to be brave, and say “hello” and with sign language or words, ask permission.