The highlight of many cruises is dinner time. It is not necessarily the food you look forward to, but who your table partners, mostly retired couples, may be. There seems to be an uneasy and suspicious aura as two guys from Minnesota and Peace Corps, traveling together on a cruise, are seated at the table.
To break the silence, the first question is indubitably, "Where are you from?". The answer to which is usually enough to get you to the appetizer and engender the sympathy for Minnesotans by those who have retired to warmer climes. Wives are permitted to speak during this part of the meal and reinforce their decision to be living in state governed by air-conditioning and no income taxes. If the couple is from Canada, which half seem to be, they remain mute.
The next totally male question is "What do you do or did?" which usually establishes the male pecking order. But when faced with recently serving in the Peace Corps, anarchy takes hold of the conversation as the established table protocol breaks down. It is the time for the main entree and opens up a deeper level of dialog, wives included.
Two southern couples traveling together show a particular interest in our Peace Corps experience. They stop me a few days later in the dining room and console me for being a hero serving our country in such a dangerous place as "Somolia". I reassure them that I am a hero, but the place is Samoa.
Then there are the four retired school teachers from McAllen, Texas who seem to be in a perpetual state of travel. Cruises too numerous to remember, all 50 states covered, and detailed descriptions of Minnesota unknown even to Minnesotans are part of their journeys with still three of the twelve presidential libraries to see. They usually travel by car, some sleeping while others drive, retelling the same jokes and singing the same songs, not even stopping stopping on Sunday, since church is held in the car. They sing the hymns, but skip the sermon.
Other table conversations cover politics, football, shopping, and comparison of meals on other cruise lines. The talk is gentile and civil at dessert, with everyone aware they are never to meet again ashore.