Tag Archives: communication

Heul doch! Türkische Diktatoren und deutsche Hetze

23 Jul Mesut Özil via 123rf.com

Ich interessiere mich eigentlich überhaupt nicht für Fußball. Immer nur mauern, immer schauspielern; immer erst fünf Sekunden auf dem Rasen herumrollen bis die richtige Kameraperspektive gefunden ist. Langweilig! Selbst von der gerade erst vergangenen Weltmeisterschaft in Russland habe ich nur ein Spiel gesehen – zufälligerweise exakt das Spiel in dem die deutsche Nationalmannschaft glimpflich davongekommen ist. Und auch das nur, weil ich im Parkclub eine Einmietung betreut habe bei der die Gastgeber unbedingt das Spiel auf unseren Fernsehern verfolgen wollten. Nur so kann man mich überhaupt dazu bewegen mich zum Fußball zu äußern: indem man unabdingbar und laut lärmend um mich herumdribbeln.

So nun las ich in der Morgenzeitung über den Rückzug von Mesut Özil aus der deutschen Nationalmannschaft, begründet nicht, wie sonst üblich, mit altersbedingtem Leistungsabfall, schlechter Presse, oder höherer Gehaltsaussicht im Trainerposten, sondern durch Fremdenfeindlichkeit. Das Thema ist natürlich ein alter Hut, und wird hierzulande mittlerweile mit Gähnen kommentiert. Umso interessanter ist allerdings die Diskussion unter den Kommentierenden.

Mesut Özil via 123rf.com

Mesut Özi bleibt immer in Bewegung. Auf dem Platz rollt er in seinem eigenen politischen Abfall; außerhalb weich er deutschem Rassismus aus. via 123rf.com

Die deutschen Pressestimmen lassen in ihrer Darstellung keinen Zweifel daran, dass hier ein politisches Neymar-Manöver stattfindet. Erneut geht es um Özils werbewirksames Foto mit Sultan Erdogan, kurz vor der türkischen Präsidentenwahl 2018. Erneut geht es um Özils fotografische Unterstützung eines mutmaßlichen Diktators, und um die Frage ob ein gebürtiger Deutscher sich in die politische Agenda eines osteuropäischen Gewaltregimes einspannen lassen sollte.

Wer aber Özils Erklärung gelesen hat, weiß, dass die Presse sich hier ihre eigene Geschichte zurechtbastelt. Ganz offiziell begründet der Gelsenkirchener mit den türkischen Wurzeln seinen Rücktritt mit dem plakativen Rassismus der ihm in Deutschland entgegenschlägt. Und das sollte man eigentlich auch genau so respektieren.

Natürlich ist von Nationalspielern eine gewisse Abhärtung gefragt. Jede Putzhilfe muss in ihrem Arbeitsumfeld mentale Erniedrigungen ertragen; da sollten Pressesternchen mit Millionengehältern auch nicht zimperlich sein. Kann gut sein, dass der ehemalige Nationalspieler mit derart viel Rassismus und Fremdenhass konfrontiert wurde, dass es ihm einfach zuviel wurde. Da kann man schon mal seinen Job kündigen, wenn man sich am Arbeitsplatz nicht mehr wohl fühlt. Angeblich zahlt Arsenal London ihm um die €20 Millionen jährlich, und die Inselbewohner sind ja auch nicht gerade Musterbeispiele der Toleranz. Bei den von Özil vorgebrachten Anschuldigungen gegen deutsche „Fußballfans“ insgesamt, und Vertreter des DFB im speziellen, wundert es mich nicht, dass er seinen hiesigen Posten aufgibt. Das Londoner Gehalt reicht locker aus um mehrere Großfamilien bis ans Ende ihrer Tage durchzufüttern; der zusätzliche Stress in der deutschen Nationalelf, und die damit verbundene Moppelkotze die durch die hiesigen Boulevardblätter strömt, muss man sich bei aller Vaterlandsliebe nicht antun.

Mesut Özil Nationalabschied via Twitter

Mesut Özils Nationalabschied via Twitter. Um Politik geht’s da auch, aber seine Begründung fußt erstmal auf Fremdenfeindlichkeit. Und da hat er recht.

Eine wesentliche Kritik muss ich aber doch anbringen. Wer sich ungezwungen mit dem türkischen Amts-Sultan ablichten lässt, der kann sich nicht darüber beschweren als Deutsch-Türke bezeichnet zu werden. Du bist Deutscher, mit türkischer Familie. Es gab keinen deutschen Nationalspieler ohne türkische Familie der sich mit Erdogan fotografieren ließ. Die Verbindung ist daher so offensichtlich wie jener zu deinen Sponsoren Mercedes und Adidas. Erdogan hat ja nicht einmal was in Özils Spendenbox geworfen; warum also die Werbetrommel für ihn rühren?

Da kannst du gern hinterher beteuern nichts gewusst zu haben, von den Inhaftierungen und Foltern, dem versuchten Genozid an den Kurden, der Presseverfolgung, dem Verbot kritischer Meinungen, der Anstrebung einer Diktatur. Über Erdogans schändliches Verhalten wurde jahrelang und ausführlich berichtet. Wenn du davor deine Augen verschließt ist das deine eigene, bewusste Entscheidung, die sich nicht durch „Respekt vor dem Amt“ wegwischen lässt. Wer einen Diktator unterstützt, und sei es nur verbal, der ist hierzulande gezwungen sich dazu zu äußern. Politisches Engagement lässt sich durch kein Sportabzeichen der Welt überkleben, und in diesem Punkt fehlt bei Mesut Özil bis heute jede Einsicht.

Sportplatz in Alesund, Norwegen

Blühende Landschaften, nicht nur im Osten. Hier mal ein friedliches Bild von einem Sportplatz in Norwegen.

Mein Fazit ist dies: Mesut Özil spielt nicht mehr für die deutsche Nationalmannschaft, und hat seine Entscheidung mit der offenen Fremdenfeindlichkeit deutscher Personen und der politischen Agenda des hiesigen Fußballbundes begründet. Dafür respektiere ich ihn. Er hat aber auch maßgeblich dazu beigetragen, dass im mittleren Osten ein neuer Diktator an die Macht streben kann, und hat in der anschließenden Diskussion selbst die Rassismuskarte gezogen. Und für dieses politische Naymar-Manöver denunziere ich ihn.

Cruise Photography Aftermath

6 Jul Globe Monument at the North Cape, Norway

It is Thursday, and I have to re-adapt to a world where this (and the time of day) are meaningful information. The first novelty after returning home was the simple fact that the day consists of three meals, and none of them is rushed. And when I require additional sustenance, I can simply grab a snack item or a glass of water from the kitchen. And when I need to sit down, I sit down, and continue working. Things that are so normal for most folks, and are usual even for employees in any sweat shop or burger parlour, these things are virtually impossible during work hours with ABC Cruises.

A sceneic view of Molde Fjord, Norway

Cruise advertisement is usually full of blue skies and greeen lanscapes. The actual job, however, is not.

I am happy to leave ABC Cruises behind, not just my position as cruise photographer, but the entire ordeal of working for a company that puts financial profit above everything else, be it physical health, public perception, or simple integrity. I worked for one of the biggest cruise companies worldwide, and probably the fastest growing one. Their impact on sea tourism is beyond measure, yet they seem to lack the basic ethical responsibilities necessary to take a leading role for the market. The officers are almost exclusively Italian, indicating that it is nearly impossible to acquire a high-ranking position without kissing ass. You can think of that what you like, but I doubt that being a great kisser qualifies anyone to lead the fate of a multi-Billion Dollar company, and particularly that of its hundreds of thousands of employees.

Now, why am I even writing this blog? (Why do you keep reading is the more interesting question, but that’s none I can answer.) My motivations are three-fold: 1) I use writing as a way of stress-relief; 2) I want to warn people who are toying with the thought of becoming a cruise photographer about the actual perils involved in the job; 3) there is a slim chance that someone at ABC Cruises will read this, and improve working conditions for their crew, as well as care for their paying guests.

To date I wrote more than sixty blog posts about my experience as cruise photographer, over eighty pages of text contemplating my existence, and that of my chosen path. It was an interesting ride, but I am glad that it’s over. In order to provide a comprehensive overview over the reasons for my decision to stop working for ABC Cruises I hereby provide you with my complete list of pros and cons for signing off.

Spitsbergen is not actually THAT cold in spring. But tensions aborad the ABC RypMeOff chill most photographers to the bone.

The working climate aboard the ABC RypMeOff was often frosty

Reasons to sign off

  1. The pay is inadequate to my work load and stress, and much lower than promised (I am paid about one quarter of the original figure).
  2. The food is of mediocre quality. Too often the healthy vegetarian choices are limited to options such as rice and fruit, which lack the nutrients and minerals that I need to sustain a healthy body.
  3. Spare time is often scattered throughout the day, due to training sessions, buffet times, drills, laundry visits, and other small jobs that require my attention, and are badly synchronised with one another.
  4. Job time, however, is filled with boredom, as I stand in my photo studio for hours, waiting for hotel guests who don’t even want their photo taken.
  5. Similarly, I am sleep-deprived, because I go to bed after midnight snack time (2 A.M.), but get up around 7 A.M. to enjoy port time, or get ready for work.
  6. Overall, I lack exercise, physically and mentally. I spend six-hour blocks standing in a portrait studio, only interrupted by two short food breaks. My knees hurt really badly as soon as I try to actually bend them. After six weeks my legs joined that club of complainers, because I don’t get to stretch and exercise them often enough.
  7. Internet access is so bad that I rarely get to successfully send an e-mail, particularly when I try to send attachments. It’s also expensive. Which I understand, because otherwise crew would likely abuse the narrow bandwidth provided by the satellite dish; but there are other ways to limit bandwidth that would not make the web experience ridiculously slow and unreliable.
  8. The crew predominantly converses in Italian, Portuguese, or any Balkan language. Barely anyone speaks the Queen’s English, making it difficult to communicate, or at least have a halfway pleasant conversation.
MSC Preciosa 72

Behind all the glamour with ABC Cruises there are rather dirty work practices.

Reasons to remain with ABC Cruises

  1. More trips to Iceland are coming. (With many repetitive Norway cruises in between.)
  2. I could go spot some whales with Stefanie. (But only if I am actually allowed to leave the ship, and spend more than two consecutive hours outside, which there is absolutely no guarantee for.)
  3. Maya Buffet is really tasty, and offers a great choice of unhealthy food items. (But hugely interrupts the flow of the day, because to me it is only available on port days, and only for a narrow time window.)
  4. I learned some interesting things about portrait photography, and would undoubtedly learn more. (But rarely get the opportunity to practice those skills.)
  5. See the world (and watch it through a cubby hole, because we are not allowed to show ourselves aboard the ship when we are not working.)

 

As you can see the list of reasons for staying with ABC Cruises is not only much shorter than the leave-list, it also features hidden obstacles in every positive argument. I am a realistic person, so you would naturally expect a certain degree of negativity, but ABC Cruises really seems to be bent on making you labour and suffer for every positive experience. I just have too many good alternatives to consider any cruise job that is not labelled “musician”. In Germany I could flip burgers full-time, and not only make more money than I did with this multi-Billion-dollar tourism trap, but also have more time for myself, AND spend that time any way I please. The concept of individuality seems so foreign to my former bosses that one wonders if any of them ever was descended from a human being, or whether cruise managers are cultivated in a special lab in Geneva. Given these ludicrous working conditions I made the executive decision to leave ABC Cruises behind.

Invergordon via MSC 2-31

Cruise Photography is dead to me. But maybe it still sounds like a challenging work place to you.

According to our more seasoned colleagues the working conditions aboard this vessel are particularly dreadful, and previous contracts featured better management as well as more spare time. Thus, there is hope that things might improve, if one was to skip ships. Mateja actually has similar doubts about her occupation as I, but she first wants to try a transfer to a different ship before quitting the job completely. I had that option as well, but leaving the ABC RypMeOff was relatively easy for me, compared to other vessels of the same company. Their other ships cruise around the Pacific, or the Atlantic, or make five-day cruises around Japan. That would be interesting to see, but ABC Cruises demands that every employee who terminates their own contract should pay for their own trip home. In Germany that cost is a €50 train ticket. In Japan that would be a €1,000 flight. That means, pulling out early was way cheaper than trying to fumble my way through the peculiarities of a different ship, with a different team and manager.

I have little doubts that this was my last encounter with ABC Cruises, because I put little faith into my application as cruise musician. For the moment, I am just glad to be back home, where I am able to eat and live a healthy life. And photos I take only for pleasure. My own pleasure.

Manager Party – photo minds don’t think alike

1 Jun Photo Gallery aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This is only the second Sea Day of this cruise, and the experience is dragging already. We currently have a load of weird people aboard, and I’m not talking about the rich idiots that pay €5000 for a boat trip to Iceland. No, we are graced, simultaneously, with the presence of the fleet manager, a photography instructor, and the next manager of our department, all of which are desperate to explain to us why everything we do is wrong. So far we did not have to endure special training sessions, but we are threatened every day to have those added to our schedule.

Photo Gallery aboard the ABC RypMeOff

My primary work place, the Photo Gallery, iactusally looks dull enough. It is not massively improved by the contrasting opinions of four managers, who all believe to be right.

Our next Photo Manager, Ash, appears to be a decent human being. Manager Mihai does his best to portrait his team as a bunch of incompetent, lazy lunatics, but if we can keep a straight face for the next ten days we might a) get rid of Mihai indefinitely, and b) convince Ash of our value as working-class people. Separating fact from fiction may not be simple in this conflict, but for the moment I retain hopes that our next manager will be able to tell the difference between the things he sees, and those that Mihai tells him.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This is a terrible portrait. It might look interesting to you, but by ABC standards it is just terrible.

Photo Instructor Vito is a highly paid cruise veteran who was hired by ABC Cruises to improve the output of our department, both in quality and quantity. He tours across all the vessels of this company, holding seminars and practical sessions in which he shows the photographers how to approach the guests, and how to shoot grand portraits. His efforts are somewhat diminished by the fact that both the Photo Manager, and the Fleet Manager have opinions that differ vastly from his. But it seems that Vito genuinely wants to help, which is a novel experience from my side. For the past three days Vito has rarely been sighted, and at first I hoped he intended to earn his money like all the other officers aboard the ABC RypMeOff – by stalking along the corridors with a grave look on his face. Well, he does that, too, but occasionally he also stands in the Photo Gallery, or in one of our studios, points at a person or a picture, and mumbles something to the photo manager. So far the nightly debriefings are our only real contact with Vito, but that is supposed to change soon-ish.

The fleet manager, Kosmos, is a lanky Eastern European with a car salesman smile, and very neat English language skills. Kosmos is the type of character that folks at the mall gather around, to buy from him the latest gossip on non-sticky frying pans. He is also the reason adults lock up their children at night; not for fear of molestation, but because he might rip off their faces in order to steal himself a second facial expression. Kosmos, probably named after the share of this world that his parents believed he was entitled to, actually was employed as a photographer many years ago. I don’t know whether he worked his way up, or was simply dipped into every department aboard, but he definitely has some knowledge about the subject. Now he is one of the most influential officers at ABC Cruises, and the value we feel through having him on board is indescribable.

Vegan breakfast for cruise crew

For legal reasons I cannot show you a picture of our fleet manager. But his single facial expression is as genuine as my breakfast is wholesome.

Kosmos first showed up three weeks ago, and his infrequent assistance more than warrants the generous payments that ABC Cruises extends towards him (and all other equally useless officers). From the first day onwards he has been nagging me about my attire, probably because I did not purchase my uniform directly from the ABC Uniform Store. First he bothered me every day with a request to wear black socks, which by the way is not even part of the official dress code. When I started to only wear black socks (at least on the days when I knew he would inspect my ankles) Kosmos moved on to criticise the blackness of my socks, because some of them have white stripes, which also disagrees with his imagined uniform code. Every time that car salesman scores a minute with me alone he reminds me that “next time we are in Hamburg” I “will go to the store, and buy a pack of plain black socks.” If any other lunatic with immovable smile was directing me in how to spend my meagre coins, I would likely draw their socks up to their elbows, but in the case of the Fleet Manager my choice of actions are far more restricted.

So, next time we are in Hamburg I will go out, and attempt to buy black socks, and “gala shoes”, whatever on earth that might be. Alas, there still is hope to avoid additional spending. So far we have been in Hamburg four times, and we were never allowed to leave the cruise terminal, because shooting embarkation photos pretty much consumes the entire day of every member of this department. Also, with four different heads trying to run this department there is a great chance that some of them will devour each other before turning on the ill-fed workers.

Invergordon, and the Swimming Mall

31 May low tide at the port of Invergordon, Scotland

Today is my second visit to the Scottish town of Invergordon. As you recall from its last blog entry, Invergordon is a beautiful flower among Scotland’s already astonishing greenery, and it is difficult to imagine how any humanoid may develop negative thoughts when visiting landscapes like this one. But even today the passengers aboard our swimming five-star hotel develop issues that they need to discuss with their friendly neighbourhood cruise photographer. Since I lack the poetic skills to adequately describe Invergordon’s visual pleasure, I will take the opportunity to talk about passenger problems. As I mentioned yesterday, I feel for our guests, and that empathy is one aspect that keeps me going.

yellow fields in Invergordon, Scotland

Invergordon, to me, is the best place to be. But even this view can’t distract all passengers from complaining away.

The predominant issue that passengers complain about, by far, is the price of the photos. Approximately €20 per photo sounds like a lot of money, especially with today’s ready availability of high-quality cameras. When we shoot photos on deck, or on excursion, the lighting conditions are usually so uncontrollable that even the latest generation of smart phones could reproduce the quality of our pictures to about 70%. That is certainly good enough for a visual memory of a cruise trip around Norway, so people rather shoot themselves, yet still complain about our price policies. However, outside of our regular promotion sales we can’t really do anything about this issue, so I will just move on to the next subject instead.

Cruise Photography with portable lights

Everything is shiny aboard the ABC RypMeOff. But apart from visual standards guests also have needs of  serb´vice and civility, and ABC Cruises does not meet those easily.

People can book certain cruise packages that already come with a few free photo prints. In particular, members of the Yacht Club pay at least 50% extra, and in return get access to their own restaurant, and other premium items. The package also includes a free photo, and every day elite passengers complain about the policies behind that photo. The fine print says that elitists can have one picture for free, one that was taken at the Captain’s Dinner. That policy has been in place for a decade, and still passengers come up to the counter, and argue about it. Granted, some of them did not read the fine print, and are consequentially perturbed by our rejection. But if this really is your twentieth cruise, you should actually know the rules, and stop bothering us with your request for items that you already know are not included in your package. Our seasoned counter clerk frequently complains about the aura of entitlement that seems to engulf our high-paying costumers, and I can’t say I blame her.

On the other hand, when you pay €5000 for a return trip to Norway, you rightfully expect to not argue over the deeper meaning of the phrase “free photo”. I know that rich people often feel entitled to more than their unfair share, but is it really too much to ask for the company to fulfill their promises without bickering over fine print? Even though club members likely have enough money to pay for a barrage of photos, they are potentially not in the mood to spend it, especially if the counter clerk tells them that they misread their order form. Handing out one free photo to every rich man aboard would cost us literally nothing, because we print all the pictures anyway, and repeaters WILL NOT BUY any photos from us. After the twentieth cruise those portraits are just documenting the aging process, and our passengers genuinely don’t feel the need to pay for that. Our rich guests either take their free photo, or none at all. And the more of the latter they get, the grumpier they become, and the less likely they are to return to this company.

Invergordon via MSC 2-31

Not even death is free, but do we really have to put a price tag on EVERYTHING?

Other passengers are just annoyed with ABC’s very exclusive definition of “all inclusive”. Many guests have the foresight to book food and beverage packages with their cruise, and are then surprised that only one out of eight restaurants caters to their package, while the beverage menu consists to 80% of items that they are asked to pay for. That’s like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet at an international restaurant, and being told you could only take food from the Macedonian table. You still get a filling meal, but you do wonder why other guests have a selection that is ten times as big as yours. People go on cruises, among other reasons, to feel a little special, only to then find out that they are still very much excluded from the life that they paid for.

And when you do eat at the free buffet, where almost every food item is glazed with butter, you are left to wonder why the beverage menu is so restricted, and the pizza is nearly always hand-warm or cooler. Or why the restaurant manager sends you to the reception to validate you beverage package, while the receptionist sends you to the restaurant manager to do the same. Some people also wonder why we have a “cruise manager” aboard who informs us six times a day about additional opportunities to spend money, but who refuses to employ the speaker system when the ship is trailed by a group of whales. You know, the kind of sight that you actually booked that cruise for.

While our Italian masters insist that guest satisfaction be our highest goal, the actual management of this ship is geared towards extracting the maximum amount of money from our guests. The ABC RypMeOff does not feel so much as the swimming hotel that ABC Cruises is trying to sell us. It’s more like a swimming mall, and vendors are hawking luxury items at every corner. It is an exhausting experience, both for the guests and their wallets, and not even the sight of beautiful Scotland can distract from this industrialisation of vacation. If you have seen Invergordon, you know that is a troublesome statement. If you haven’t, click here to view one of the most beautiful sceneries on earth.

And if you have a business that caters to humans, make it about the people, not about the money. Because the money does not re-book you; a happy guest just might.

The native language bias

24 May Botanical garden in Tromso, Norway

It’s another one of those sea days, with eleven hours of work lying ahead. I am lucky to start my work at half past noon, leaving the morning to ponder on the meaning of my existence. As an added bonus I wake up just before 9 o’clock, thus having enough time to rush into the Staff Mess, and bag a few bread rolls for breakfast. I do try to return to sleep, but after an hour of rolling around I decide to just pack my laptop and head for the crew bar. Staying in the cabin is out of question, because my cabin mate will start his first shift when I do, and he attempts to sleep until ten minutes before work begins.

Crew Bar aboard the ABC RypMeOff

The Crew Bar aboard the ABC RypMeOff is a desolate place. At least there are two TVs, tuned to different channels, mounted on opposing walls.

The crew bar lies nearly desolate in the mists of late morning. Three figures lumber their way through the depths of the internet-ready computers, shrouded in the fog of late alcohol and early work. They are accompanied by the catatonic babble of an Italian morning TV show. Since nobody is actually watching I manage to reduce the volume of the TV to a manageable level. After about ten minutes the three zombie waiters leave the bar, and I turn the telly off. Now that is a great start!

Apparently yesterday some terrorist exploded at a concert in Manchester, and I realize once more how far removed I am from the happenings of the outside world. It is rather difficult to follow even the most poignant global news, if every TV on the ship is tuned into Italian or Portuguese channels, your cabin mate sleeps all day, and every second of internet usage costs you money that you barely have. And so, instead of chasing after the latest global gossip, I continue writing my blog, because I generally have precious little time to do so.

The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

A cruise ship is a lonely place, if you have nobody to talk to.

The crew on this ship originates from a few dozen countries, and although the official language aboard the ABC RypMeOff is English, most people continue to talk in foreign tongues. From my Eastern European colleagues, to the Brazilian bar tenders, Filipino laundry personnel, and Italian officers – at least half of the crew prefers speaking in their first language. That starts with watching Brazilian news for breakfast, continues through the conversations at work, and ends in the nightly gym visit, where the TV exclusively plays Portuguese summer hits, and the occasional music video from the 80s Pop charts.

Unsurprisingly, English skills are dearly lacking from most of the personnel aboard. Not a day goes by without me having to resort to charades and spelling competitions in order to communicate to one of the working hands I depend on. It is frustrating and time-consuming to labour through anyone’s bad language skills, but it is particularly annoying when I see that person turning to his colleague and discussing my problems in Farsi, and after several minutes condensing the entire conversation to the words “Is OK”. Maybe if you didn’t spend your entire work day talking in your mother tongue, you would actually be able to communicate with me directly!

Vigo, Spain, a view of one of the many narrow back alleys

Even the shop personnel in the cities we visit usually speaks better English than much of the crew aboard the ABC RypMeOff.

I know that my English is better than that of some of our Bristish guests, and I understand that not everybody gets the opportunity to study at a Canadian university, especially if they are straining for a career in mopping floors. But the blatant unwillingness of this crew to assimilate even the smallest specks of English is really taking the piss. Barely any of the officers speak English well enough to hold a conversation, and the lower-ranking crew members fail accordingly in their own feeble attempts to communicate. Since every department predominantly hires new personnel from their own home country, the situation has no internal drive to improve. Most Photo Managers are Rumanian, and almost only Rumanian photographers appear to ever make it into the management program. There is no way of changing this country-based recruitment bias without making vast changes to the cruise company itself, so it is not likely to ever happen.

However, ABC Cruises could take at least one simple step towards improving the language skills of all crew: remove non-English TV. By allowing the kitchen personnel to chose Portuguese breakfast TV for the Staff Mess you exclude everyone else who eats there from understanding the program. Yes, it would be beneficial for me to improve my Portuguese language skills, but the need for that is far smaller than that of all other staff to learn proper English. Crew should not have to learn Italian to communicate with their officers, Rumanian to advance in the Photo Department, and Farsi to get their laundry done. First and foremost we should all be able to form complete sentences in English. That can only be achieved by challenging everyone to speak that one language, and by removing the needless use of all others. And the simplest way to do that is by eliminating non-English TV channels from the menu.

The people I share this boat with have stopped asking whether my cruise experience differs from what I expected. Maybe that’s because they know that with every day the broken expectations keep accumulating. I have to get up before nine o’clock to avail myself of breakfast. I have to pack up my equipment, and arrange it in the crew bar, in order to be able to write. I have to battle Italians and Brazilians for access to English TV and/or silence. This is definitely not what I expected. And that’s not even counting the terrible management, the less than average food, and my blatantly profit-oriented job description.

Maybe I will learn some Spanish curse words, just to properly complain about the food aboard.

Alesund, and the power of friends

20 May Alesund, one of Norway's card fjord towns

Tonight I will roam the Photo Gallery again. I spend two out of three days in the gallery, whereas most of the other photographers only get that duty about once or twice a week. While the rest of the team has to stand in their studios and lure in passengers, I merely have to wander around, assist costumers, and apprehend thieves. Yes, thieves! The photos that we take in our department are genuinely great, but also expensive, so many guests try to steal the paper prints from the gallery, or at least snap a picture of their picture on a smart phone. Every one who succeeds in his criminal activity costs us revenue, so my job of Gallery Watch really is one of importance.

Photo Gallery aboard the ABC RypMeOff

The Photo Gallery is normally full of passenger portraits, and a few passengers trying to take pictures.

Still, gallery duty is not nearly as exhausting as shooting portraits, so my coworkers start to dislike the fact that I spend considerably more time in the gallery than they do. Already I expend little time socialising my colleagues, mostly limited to the meals and the occasional chat in the hallway, while we are collectively waiting for the daily debriefing with our manager. The only real spare time I have happens in the morning, at a time when they are asleep.

My coworkers finish every work day by smoking cigarettes, and drinking cheep beer in the Crew Disco. There are various reasons why I never join them there; my need for sleep and my inability to breathe in that smoker’s den being the most prominent ones. According to my photographer friend Mateja I am expected to show up there at least once or twice a week, and people have started to spin rumours about potential reasons for my absence. But I am not a disgruntled teenager – I genuinely can’t be bothered to care what my coworkers think of me. Having a smoking parlour in my bathroom is bad enough for my health and attitude. I really don’t need to visit another one; thank you very much. If my colleagues would value my company, they would congregate in a non-smoking part of the ship, or join me in my port visits, as Mateja does. But they only care about their nightly smoking party, a hobby that I do not share, and therefore do not participate in.

My shared non-smoking toilet aboard the cruise ship

My shared bathroom still looks like this, so I still don’t want to increase my time of passive smoking.

Since it appears to be impossible for me to become friends with the majority of my colleagues (not without massively devaluing myself), I have formed social bonds with other crew members. For example, almost every morning I meet the German entertainment couple at breakfast. They play dance music in one of the bars until 1 A.M., so they get to bed around the same time as I do. They both smoke, but barely ever visit the Crew Disco, because getting to bed late means missing day light. And oddly enough they both value the sight of Norway’s scenery higher than a puff among sociopaths.

Until now this cruise adventure has featured short days and drudgingly long work nights. But my job as cruise photographer is markedly gaining value now that we start to visit the postcard section of Norway. And the acquisition of actual friends among the crew makes my work more bearable. After work I regularly visit the late night section of the crew mess. Not because I long for piles of French Fries, but because talking to real people helps me calm down after spending seven hours in the company of problem children.

Anyway, my new German musician friends sent me on a quest for Alesund’s peak. Like many other Norwegian tourist towns Alesund is situated in a fjord, so the view from the ship is already worth the trip. I was advised to hike the stairwell to the greatest cliff on that peninsula, and in retrospect I agree that the view was worth missing lunch at the cruise buffet. For me as a geologist the view adds a particular educational bonus, because I get to reminisce on the processes that formed these mountains, and the abrasive workings of glaciers that grinded them down. But even without that knowledge Alesund looks gorgeous from above. To view my gallery of inspirational Alesund photos click here.

Alesund, one of Norway's card fjord towns

Alesund, one of Norway’s post card fjord towns

I do not share many common interests with my cruise friends. However, we have enough overlap to support each other on stressful days, and point out interesting hiking paths or food opportunities. I guess the point of my ramble is this: if you feel stuck at work, get a friend. It doesn’t have to be someone who shares your office. Just a few encouraging words every day will go a long way to preserve your outer calm, and pave the way for a scenic future.

CRUISE – Handling stress in coworkers

18 May

We are in Hamburg, and you know what that means: we shoot embarkation photos. Lolek, and Bolek, and me. And Henry, if he can be asked to stop rambling, and start contributing. By now you know what scheme the events will follow: I get shooed around the canvas, and due to being held to impossible standards I get verbally abused every half hour. That’s life as a rookie photographer. It’s no longer news, so instead of continuing to whine I will discuss my thoughts on work stress and human intervention.

Hamburg town hall

This is my third port day in Hamburg, but once again no photographer has time to leave the cruise ship.

Embarkation shootings follow a very repetitive scheme. The incoming passengers line up, we ask them to pose for a photo in front of a canvas, we shoot, and the crowd slowly moves on. I am supposed to “crowd control” the passengers, i.e. keep them in line, and push them in front of the canvas. And whatever I do, my Macedonian colleagues usually perceive it as wrong, because approximately every ninety passengers we get a rude Italian couple that just stalks right through the photo studio, dragging at least a dozen other passengers behind them. And although that happens to every photographer who “crowd-controls”, it only is worthy of comment when I do it. And even when my “team mates” make me switch positions with them, the problem remains: whatever I do is wrong, even if I do the same as everyone else.

This type of harassment of coworkers fits snugly into the definition of “bullying”. If this happened in any regular office job, you would go to your boss, and ask for an open discussion with your colleagues. Unfortunately, that option is off the table, because our boss is a lunatic. We all avoid talking to Manager Mihai, because we rarely receive answers that are less than offensive. Constructive criticism is not part of his repertoire, so asking him to mitigate a dispute is like asking a ferret to pick a chicken.

Cruise Photography during embarkation

Cruise Photography: embarkation shootings usually get two teams of photographers, because picturing 4000 passengers takes a lot of time.

Option #2 is this: I talk to my coworkers, and ask them to extend their criticism to other photographers, or stop picking on me. In order to do so I would need to pull them aside for an hour, which I cannot find the time for. In the morning I get up early, while they stay asleep. (Yes, even on port days.) During work hours they are totally stressed out, and the manager forbids us to speak to each other anyway. The meal breaks are about thirty minutes long, which is enough time for everyone to gobble up some pasta with ill-defined meat bits, and type a few messages on their not-so-smart phones. After work I am tired enough to fall asleep, while my coworkers go to party in the smoker’s den. Since that place is loud and smelly it does not appeal to me as a place for an honest discussion of work ethics.

And before you inquire about free time – we don’t have much of that. Nine to ten work hours a day (plus two hours preparation and clean-up) leave little time to spare. On port days I go outside to conjure up motivation for the job; on sea days I launder clothes and try to catch up on sleep. That is literally the life of a cruise photographer – work, and eat, and sleep. No wonder everyone is so stressed out all the time! Maybe by the end of my contract I will also become a verbally aggressive workaholic. I think I’d rather quit the job, though.

It is difficult to understand what makes their positions so stress-inducing. After all, I have to fulfill nearly the same tasks that my coworkers do; and despite having fewer years of experience I approach my work with the same professional attitude as they do. My coworkers just take this whole situation way more serious. On embarkation days in particular they are very vigorous, and utilize a wide variety of gestures and multilingual phrases to pose unwilling passengers in front of the photo canvas. They spend a great deal of energy on maximising their performance, and at least half of them require energy drinks AND a pint of coffee to push through the embarkation shooting. In turn, they expect me to also jump about like a crazed frog, and are massively disappointed when I refuse to do so. My coworkers are constantly on the edge; they think I am underperforming, and therefore try to push me towards being more Rodeo Clown, and less professional photographer. Since none of us really has time to think while at work, they can’t develop a comprehensive concept of how to teach me their way of “cruise photography”. And so they just build up anger, and release it in episodic bursts.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Maybe people with more facial hair are just more relaxed. Most of my male coworkers are pretty rancid, though.

One of my best friends aboard is Mateja, a young Lithuanian photographer who started her first photo contract just three days before me. The same hostility that makes my job so difficult is also extended towards her, and every other day we have a brief talk between breaks regarding these issues. Mateja is a wonderfully energetic photographer, and you can just see the passengers brightening up in her presence. But barely a day passes on which she doesn’t complain to me about being bullied. Every other day I have to reassure her that this job is worth keeping, that her coworkers are not being particularly mean, and that they are not targeting her directly. The stress level of our “team members” is just so high that they cannot be argued or reasoned with as long as they remain on the cruise ship.

In my experience it won’t be possible to maintain that kind of mental exertion over weeks or months. So Mateja and I intend to sit it out, ignore the unintended harassment, and stay strong for ourselves. We both had to spend valuable resources to gain this position, and we won’t let those ignorant egomaniacs destroy our efforts. Neither of us is willing to become a photo bully, so instead of socialising with our coworkers in a dusty smoker’s bar, we sleep one hour longer, and channel positive energies for the next day.

I cannot see a way to calm down our coworkers, so instead of submerging myself in pointless argumentation I will continue to ignore them. Short-term it may anger them more, realizing that I am not actually listening when they try to “teach” me. But in the long run they should be able to see beyond my mistakes, and focus on a more organised approach to their own jobs, and the world around it.

CRUISE – Rules are enforced, or obsolete

17 May The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

It is “$$ALE$$ DAY”! (Don’t blame me – that title is actually written on our daily schedule.) Today ends another cruise. Technically it ends tomorrow, but this is the last day we see most of our current passengers, before they all disembark tomorrow morning, and immediately get replaced by a new load of Italians, Germans, Spanish, and other cruise veterans. So, today we try to sell whatever is not glued to the walls of the Photo Gallery, in the vain hope that it will please the masters, and grant us a pay bonus. I am awfully content with my position as makeshift counter clerk, considering that the whole consumer mentality of this cruise business goes against everything I believe in. It’s just part of the job, and I always try to excel at my duties. That’s just German, I guess. My actual troubles are of a more human nature.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

The job and attire give me the look of a car salesman.

My ignorant cabin mate, (my “buddy”, as he is referred to by ABC regulations) has purchased a new torture instrument – the vaporizer. For the past few days he has been entertaining me not only with his rancid cigarette smell in the bathroom, but also with the stench from his small electronic pipe. Last night he went farther than usual, happily vaporizing away in his bed. Since I sleep on the upper bench, and the elemental laws of physics cannot be ignored even on cruise ships, I was nicely enveloped in his grand puff, kept awake by a sour-bitter smell of burning herbs. Knowing that an immediate complaint would not eliminate the cloud of nicotine vapour, I took a long walk around the crew corridors, taking deep breaths, and looking for a decent bathroom.

The contract of my cabin mate Pancho terminates in two weeks, at the end of this very cruise to Norway. In the recent past I have kept telling myself “only two more weeks”, just to prevent myself from strangling Pancho in his smallclothes. However, this time he has gone too far, and I can no longer avoid talking to him. Although my store duties don’t require much intellect, it is genuinely advantageous to sleep for more than four hours every night. It doesn’t help that my hours of slumber are kept short by a “buddy” who snores more often than not, smokes in my bathroom, and now also stinks up my bed.

When I confront him with the effects of his deeds he seems genuinely surprised. I don’t even doubt that reaction. He appears to be the kind of person who is startled by simple occurrences, such as smoke rising, or apples falling. Pancho is not an idiot, but he often is wrapped up in his own world of misconceptions and dreams. In many ways he represents the perfect crew member of ABC Cruises – he does not complain publicly, performs his task with invisible reluctance, and spends a good part of his salary on snacks and liquor aboard the cruise ship, guaranteeing that at least part of his pay remains in the family.

My shared non-smoking toilet aboard the cruise ship

The toilet in our shared smoking parlour (bathroom) usually smelled the way it looked.

On the other hand regular rules are meaningless to Pancho. Crew members have always been smoking in the bathrooms, and the Security personnel has always been complicit in this. The issue is not likely to be resolved by me, because it is far greater than I am. Before taking new crew aboard ABC Cruises sends out a 20-page rule book, which provides a guidance for what life aboard should look like. It provides a virtual safety net for new crew members, as it lays out all the rules that the crew must abide by. However, what the book does not tell you is that “some rules can be bent; others can be broken”. For example, security personnel smoke in their cabin, even though smoking aboard is prohibited anywhere but in the disco or the casino. This disconnection between rule and reality destroys any guiding effect of this document; rendering it just another deception of the company that now runs my life.

I am not a confrontational person; I try to avoid conflict whenever possible. That also means, if I do complain, I want to be taken serious. I don’t see that happening on a cruise ship where the captain personally scrutinises my facial hair, while security does not care about elementary health concerns like smoking indoors.

Pancho and I have come to an agreement – I will try to be quieter when I get dressed for breakfast, and he will not vaporize herbs when I try to sleep. Resolving this incident took another forty minutes of sleep time that I barely have. Luckily tomorrow is embarkation day. One reason why I love embarkation shootings, despite the stress it induces: I’m constantly moving around, so there’s no chance of me falling asleep on the job.

CRUISE – The Dublin Drill

13 May Old and new industry at Dublin, Ireland

In the morning the whole “team” attends to costumers in the photo gallery, because we won’t arrive in the port of Dublin before noon. Most of the passengers sleep in, preparing for a long night in Ireland, leaving the photographers to silently stare at each other for three hours. (Recall that management forbids us to talk to each other when even a hint of costumer is around.) But that is not to say ABC Cruises would do anything to increase our moods. Au contraire – our masters found a sure way to escalate the situation.

Every cruise that we embark on has to feature one drill, a day on which we all wait patiently for a crew alert to be announced, so that we can walk to our safety positions and pretend that we are in control of ourselves, and of the evacuation procedures. Drills can only be held in port, and no crew member is allowed to leave the ship before the drill has ended. And considering that we will only be in Dublin once during these five months of North Sea cruises our masters agreed that today should be the day of drilling. And that said drill should not occur until two hours after arriving in port, thus maximising frustration, because most crew will have to go back to work by the time the drill is done.

Breakwater of the port of Dublin, Ireland

The big port of Dublin is a beautiful sight, even if you don’t get to see the city.

So we arrived in Ireland’s iconic capital, and get to see its port through the windows of the ship. And once happiness about the view has spread across all decks we are allowed to resume our work of begging and shooting. Obviously we mostly photograph an empty canvas, because who in their right mind would stay aboard, if they have the opportunity to visit Dublin?!

As usual our work day ends around half past midnight, culminating in yet another tirade from the photo manager; another scenic depiction of his rotting leadership skills and lacking talents in communication. Starting today he will collect formal notes of complaint, and file them away for us. The reasons for starting his collection of terrible handwriting remain unknown, but apparently they have something to do with the other departments complaining to him about the members of the photo department. Bolek was awarded the very first of those notes, and got to sign it in front of everyone. Apparently he has failed to punch his time card according to schedule, a crime for which prosecution is immanent. I almost feel left out, but the photo manager quickly produced another complaint notification, and it is mine!

Old and new industry at Dublin, Ireland

Dublin is filled with indutry, and the mixture of generations is part of its charm.

My first personal complaint letter charges me with two crimes against humanity. Both are quite personal, yet none names an accusing party. The first charge concerns my “groom”, an issue raised most recently by the captain himself. Manager Mihai sends me to the manager of human resources (HR), first thing tomorrow morning, to discuss my general attitude towards the company’s groom policy. Maybe HR will “make [me] understand” what Mihai has been preaching and complaining about for the past two weeks.

The second complaint against my person regards my “unwillingness to help other members of the team”. While it is no big secret that I am a loner, and unwilling to socialise with a bunch of smoking, drinking knitwits, it should also be known that I am generally eager to help and assist. However, that eagerness is cut short by the inability of my “team members” to act in a way that represents coordination, or at least communicate their demands in an internationally comprehensible form.

In other words – my coworkers are incapable of telling me what to do, and yet they complain about me not doing what they want. Now there is a formal record of these baseless accusations against my person. If I can manage to accumulate enough of them I might manage to get fired, and leave this lousy excuse of a work place behind.

So there we have it – two weeks on the job, and I am ready to leave. Shitty food, crappy management, lousy work schedule, uncommunicative team. Welcome to ABC Cruises!

 

PS.: Regardless of the pressure I managed to shoot some nice pictures of Dublin’s port. Click here to view the photos.

Greenock (2) – The mental challenges of the Photo Booth Set-Up

12 May The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Back aboard the ABC RypMeOff I prepare for my night of labour. The first task is an attendance of a photo training session. Yes, after he has been defecating on our photographic efforts for two weeks our manager has finally scheduled a practical lesson in the work of cruise photography. In a 90-minute session he shows all ten photographers of our team how to pose the passengers, and how to frame the pictures. I intend to incorporate this lesson into my plans when I shoot portraits in the plaza tonight. However, before we get to shoot anyone there is the issue of setting up the six studios around the ship. And that is where the energy drains from me like money from Britain’s economy.

Cruise Photography with portable lights

This is the set up of our photo studios. A background and two light sources.

Set-up is not actually a difficult task. All we need to do is: go to the locker room, extract all the necessary equipment, distribute it to the studio locations, and assemble it. That plan may sound simple in the ears of an educated child, but it poses a mighty obstacle to the hive mind of a photography team with mixed continental origin.

Firstly, we never arrive at the locker as a team, because everyone has to solve personal tasks of varying importance before manoeuvring one’s body to the locker. Those tasks range from cigarette breaks, to chat-ups of the bar servers, to elaborate discussions of last night’s food mess. However, I enjoy being early, if only to witness the dilemma unfolding in its entirety.

Locating the necessary equipment is not a great obstacle either, because everything has its place in our dusty locker room. That’s not to say you are likely to find said item in that place, but at least an initial effort has been made. The uninitiated might be tempted to just grab the equipment from the locker room, and transport it to its destination, but my “team” has developed a far more extraneous method for acquiring chaos. First of all someone assumes command, in the best case multiple people simultaneously. Said person or persons then takes all the tripods and lights he can grab with both arms, and hands them to someone else, preferably someone who has not been ontroduced to whatever plan has been made. The locker room is subsequently drained of its content, and the necessary equipment for about nine studios is laid out on the floor, for all the passengers to marvel about.

piano in the cruise ship atrium

For legal and technical reasons I cannot show you photos of my “team mates”. It wouldn’t help either – they look like normal people; they just aren’t.

Once enough late-comers have arrived to witness the chaos, the real show can begin. This is usually the time when I ask the self-proclaimed leader where I might carry which lights, so as to start on the actual task of building studios. Unfortunately it is also the time when people start remembering that half of the items are broken, and so they haggle over what tripod and which background can possibly be dragged to their own work station. After approximately five minutes the first photographers have conquered their preferred items from the heap of scrap metal, and attempt to knit me into their work stream. I then load my arms with as many lights and tripods as I can safely carry, and walk off.

My labour of carrying is often guided by frustrated calls from the other pack mules, who are all convinced that I “can take more stuff”. I usually ignore them, much to their dismay. Once during my early days I tried to argue that safety is more important than testing one’s carrying capacity. But arguing with a stressed-out cruise photographer is much like discussing poetry with a watch dog – no matter how your phrase it, your message will be lost in blood. And so I let them scorn me, and amuse myself with the sight of an overladen human mule who can barely hobble fifty metres a minute through our passenger-laden hallways, and who still manages to bounce one thousand dollars worth of equipment into every corner along his way.

But the troubles don’t end there. Not only am I utterly unwilling to risk the structural integrity of my bones for a bunch of lunatics who think everyone should carry sixty pounds of metal and electronics around. My colleagues also formulate a multitude of verbal requests that I cannot even process, because they are muttered in a language that is barely recognizable as English. I don’t even care that Lolek & Bolek speak predominantly Macedonian, or that our South-African quota boy tries to smooth his slurring accent by reducing most words to a single syllable. (Hearing the word “autopole” pronounced without consonants is a real treat.) I am only offended by their attempts to make me feel guilty about their inability to pronounce the Queen’s English. The sound sequence “look in o’ice and see i’ the’y car, and ‘eel a’pao” does not gain meaning by increasing the master volume, nor does repetition of the phrase inject any clarity into it. I have taught Anatomy at a Canadian university; I know what English sounds like, and this is not it.

The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

The Plaza is just thirty metres away from the locker room. It still takes half an hour to build a photo location there.

Every day at least one of my male “team members” is left disappointed and frustrated by my lack of cooperation, either because I don’t understand what he wants from me, or because relaying the details of his plan to me would take longer than if he’d do it himself. Similar to the problems that we encountered during the embarkation shootings I am left with two unfavourable options. Either 1) I gobble up the frustration that is spread by my colleagues, leaving them to believe that somehow some of their words make some sort of difference. Or 2) I sit them down and try to discuss our inability to understand each other’s words, hoping that during the next set-up session everyone will attempt to follow a common plan. Since the problem seems to be an unwillingness to cooperate and communicate, I don’ see much purpose in option #2, so I save myself the time, and just focus on my own jobs. That’s life, I guess.

At least I get paid. Oh, please tell me I get paid.