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.