I act as internet-concierge for a Dominican hotel/restaurant business. Three thatched roofed cabanas on the sand. Each one for rent on any given day. I am the faceless individual that makes contact with strangers from other countries. I do the multiple languages with my trusty laptop and google translate and as much decorum as possible. I’m sure I’m not great at the latter but I think I understand what a guest expects prior to arrival and I am polite. It helps being Canadian, one of the first phrases I learned in Spanish was, “lo siento” … I’m sorry. We Canadian’s are such putzes!
I answer guest’s questions and requests prior to their arrival and their reviews after they leave. I pass any special request, like an anniversary or birthday, along to Wendy and I try to respond to there questions and comments using that ‘decorum’ stuff I mentioned earlier. Most reviews about The Playa are positive and I will thank them and for those that are not, I will respond appropriately. Remember the first phrase I learned in Spanish? I will mention things to Wendy on occasion if it is something she can control, but if it is a complaint about the insects… I put a tip right in my reply to them and it’s on the website! What more am I to do?!! We have bugs that bite!! Come prepared!!! There is little I can do to argue, so I let it pass without reply.
For a month this year I was able to step out from behind my trusty laptop and the anonymity it affords me, and meet some of the people that I have had interaction on-line with. At least the ones that spoke English. I was able to introduce myself and shake a hand and see a face. To practise more ‘decorum’ up close and personal. It was enlightening because I learned how little I knew about the area that I am promoting. When you’re face to face with someone for the first time they can ask ‘mucho’ questions, most of which I could not answer. When I am online and get a question about the area, I have time to ask Wendy or look it up before I must reply. These people were right there! I have no idea about buses and local points of interest. I don’t know where chocolate grows on the island. I could tell them what little I knew, and suggested they talk to Wendy or if they preferred, I would ask her. They had no idea that they all spoke better Spanish than I did!
I told one guest, the guy who asked about the chocolate, that I wasn’t sure where it grew but probably up in the hills where most of the farms are. It was an honest answer! I mentioned the conversation later that day to Ginger and The Earl and Ginger told me about Dominican chocolate and where it grew. Oh! Oh! I didn’t know that chocolate grew on tall trees and the nut grows in large pods! The damn trees are all the way down the access road to The Playa!! I sent the guy up into the mountains!! He paid for a farm tour!!!
When I next saw him, I practiced my decorum with him and used my ‘first-phrase’, telling him that I was sorry about the bad information. He said not to worry, that he and his wife had had a wonderful time and all was good. It was obvious that using ‘my decorum’ had saved my ass.
The next day as Honey, Ginger, The Earl and I sat having an afternoon beverage on the cabana deck, the guest approached our group.
“I have something to show you, amigo”, he said to me and produced a large yellowish-orange pod about the size of a small football (North American), “this is how chocolate grows.” He then slammed the pod into the cabana pillar that supported our cabana roof. The whole roof shook!
He proceeds to crack open the pod with his hands and extends it towards me. Inside were a dozen or so small nuts covered in a white mucus. He explained to me that to make chocolate you break open the slimy covered nut and inside are seeds that you grind to make a chocolate powder. “This is how they make chocolate here,” He said at the end of his infomercial. He extended the gooey mess into my face inviting me to eat one.
Are you serious dude??? Those things are covered in snot!! It’s okay he tells me, just don’t bite down on the nut. The snot is sweet he says! That does nothing to change the repulsiveness of the offering! Just to reassure me that they are safe, his wife reaches in, grabs a snotty nut and pops in her mouth! Ooooow, that just looked nasty!!
He’s waving the pod in my face. The Earl, Ginger and Honey are starting to heckle me, trying to goad me into eating one. They know what I am thinking and they know the predicament I am in. I sent the guy to a farm! They’re getting great pleasure out of this moment. The guys wife reaches in and takes a second nut, popping it into her mouth. “It’s okay,” she says, the challenge is obvious.
I reach out to take a nut out of the pod. They are slippery and I have to re-position my fingers in the snot to get a firm grasp. I remove the nut from the pod. The snot oozes down my fingers. I look at it and muster the final ounce of courage I have left; the guy offers the pod to the others who politely decline. What??? Really??? You cowards!!! I put the mess in my mouth…
It did not take long to know the answer. “It’s very interesting,” I say diplomatically. That’s right… it tasted like decorum.