Do you imagine that we are all returning beautifully tanned? Perhaps even slightly sunburned? Well, judging by what people look like on the beach, and the sunburnt folks on the plane coming home, getting a suntan seems to be part of the vacation culture. We even heard one person say, “If you didn’t want a tan, then why would you even go?”
I’ll spare you the shock of a photo of my bare chest in the summer, but suffice to say that my pasty white skin does not tan easily. On the beach, I reflect the sunlight so well that people put their sunglasses on as I approach. I burn quite effectively, but tan, I do not. My wife is the same way.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that I got burned in Jamaica. But not the type of burn that you think!
Let me explain.
See, on our last day there, a guy selling juice on the beach said, “welcome to Jamaica, man! Is it your first day?” Burn! We were so pasty that as far as that dude was concerned, there was no evidence that we had even been there! A few people repeated this in a more positive way on the plane coming home: “You did such a great job at keeping your baby out of the sun!” “He has no colour at all!”
We slathered on sunscreen like we were genetically predisposed to get skin cancer (which, in fact, we are…), and in an informal, hour-long tally of people passing by on the beach, I counted about 200 people, and only 4 who were whiter than Kathleen and I. Cool, huh? Or perhaps you think this a bad thing? I guess it depends on how you define a successful vacation.
On the way to the hotel, we had a great chat with our driver, Antonio. We passed a political rally (there is an election coming up) and the conversation shifted to politics and culture. Antonio didn’t vote. He explained, “In Jamaica people don’t tend to vote on issues, instead they vote blindly for their party.” Apparently you can predict the vote in Jamaica based on the region – just like in the United States and to a lesser extent in Canada. Each party has their stronghold. “Things never change...” Antonio lamented.
Antonio went on to tell us about how the way people vote is just one instance of this odd, societal peer pressure. “So many youth are disengaged in Jamaica! They spend their whole days just standing around.” I asked him why he thought that was. “They hang out with people who are lazy.” But then Antonio added, “people CAN break out if they try, it just takes effort.” I agreed, “it’s hard to go against the grain!”
While it’s maybe not as consequential as something like work ethic, we realized that the culture of tanning was also a great example of this peer-pressure. Everything around us, both in Canada and in Jamaica, was telling us that “success” on the beach was getting a great tan. It took effort for Kathleen and I to break away from this and do what was right for us.
Fully protected from the sun, we hung out on the beach, my son had his first taste of sand, we took walks, ate outside while watching the sea roll in, and even tried a little stand up paddle boarding. Despite a few emotional burns from bronzed passers-by, we are pleased to be home sunburn-free – pasty as ever!