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Chan Lowe: The Italian shipwreck


I went on a cruise once. What intrigued me the most was that the various service occupations on board appeared to be organized by nationality. The stewards were all British, the bartenders were Filipino, and the deckhands were Indonesian.

The dining room was segregated in an even subtler way. To those with incurious minds, it looked like the place was staffed entirely by Italians. Upon closer inspection and study, however, the perceptive cruise guest discovered that the table waiters and busboys were Sicilian, while the headwaiters and the maître d’ were Northern Italians.

Why is this important? They may have all been Italians, but they didn’t speak the same language as their mother tongue. The Sicilians spoke their rich dialect, while the folks from up around Turin and the Alps had theirs, and the dialects were mutually incomprehensible. They were reduced to communicating in textbook Italian, which they had learned in school as practically a foreign language.

The two factions did not work well together, which may have been due to regional chauvinism. Our waiter occasionally made a disrespectful gesture involving his fingers and the underside of his chin toward his superior when he thought he wasn’t looking.

I describe all this because, in an emergency, this polyglot band of service workers is suddenly expected to act as caretakers of the passengers’ safety. Each is supposedly trained to hand out lifejackets, man a lifeboat, herd people here and there, or whatever.

If they don’t get along, and moreover can’t even speak one another’s language, one can see why lives might be needlessly lost due to “human error,” to put it diplomatically.

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An Italian tour director related this story: "Verona plays soccer with Naples in a home game. They put up a banner: 'Welcome to the civilized world'. Later when Verona played at Naples, the banner read "Juliet is a b**ch". 2 different countries with quite different histories.

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About the author
Chan LoweCHAN LOWE has been the Sun Sentinel’s first and only editorial cartoonist for the past twenty-six years. Before that, he worked as cartoonist and writer for the Oklahoma City Times and the Shawnee (OK) News-Star.

Chan went to school in New York City, Los Angeles, and the U.K., and graduated from Williams College in 1975 with a degree in Art History. He also spent a year at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.

His work has won numerous awards, including the Green Eyeshade Award and the National Press Foundation Berryman Award. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His cartoons have won multiple first-place awards in all of the Florida state journalism contests, and The Lowe-Down blog, which he began in 2008, has won writing awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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