The website of the Maldives Tourist Board entices honeymoon couples with sweet words:
“There are endless ways to let the magic of the islands dazzle you on your holiday as a couple. A dinner under the stars with the occasional flicker of candle light…, a daring getaway to a nearby uninhabited island…or just lazing around in your private bungalow watching the endless turquoise waters…It is an experience you will relive for days after you get back home”.
Unfortunately one couple, treated to vile insults at the Vilu Reef Beach and Spa resort in 2010, will certainly relive their experience now they have understood it. A video posted on YouTube quickly went viral in October 2010 as the ceremony they underwent was translated from Dhivehi into English. Trustingly undergoing a ceremony to renew their wedding vows, the white western couple (named at time of writing as a Mr and Mrs Alexander) now know the ceremony was a cynical fake. Even worse, the local “celebrant”, Hussein Didi, appointed by the resort to preside over the event, delivered insult after insult. He called the pair swine and infidels, saying their children would be bastards and swine, and along with around ten other staff present he crudely insulted the woman’s breasts and talked about her genitals. Finally Didi called for the couple’s marriage to be subject to islamic law.
A vacation at the Vilu Reef resort costs over $1335 per person. The resort promises couples can “celebrate and capture the special moments of your life” there. In fact, the hate-filled staff captured the grotesque ‘ceremony’ by filming it and posting the video to YouTube, mocking and reviling the couple around the world.
The video illustrates in an extreme way the cultural and language problems people can run into when travelling, whether on business or vacation. Those problems are made more acute when you travel in a country where you have zero command of the language.
With religious, political and economic tensions high around the world it can be easy to fall victim to hatred, particularly when you are perceived as wealthy. For every hotel and restaurant owner who welcomes you, there’ll be someone on the staff who resents the low pay they receive for serving you. While that may be understandable, there’s no excuse for the treatment the Alexanders were subjected to.
Business travellers often have little choice about the countries they visit but holidaymakers can pick and choose where they vacation. It makes sense to get online and check the cultural and political climate of a country before you book your holiday. Too many tourists continue to hope for the best when travelling to unknown countries and cultures, or imagine that the price they pay for a vacation somehows guarantees they wont run into problems. It also undoubtedly helps either to go to countries where you speak the language or to learn a little before you go. Hussein Didi may have thought twice about hurling all those insults had the Alexanders greeted him with four or five phrases in Dhivehi. He wouldn’t have been sure how much they understood.
What the Vilu Reef events demonstrate is that, no matter how much tourists pay for their vacation, they can’t be sure they’ll be welcome in a particular resort or country. The best you can do is try to avoid trouble spots and areas where religious tensions, for example, are high. If you decide to go to a country where you don’t understand the culture and don’t understand the language you’re always going to risk running into the kind of people employed by the Vilu Reef resort. It will be interesting to see how Maldives tourism is affected by the Alexanders’ experience and whether holiday makers will for a time be booking their vacations and honeymoons elsewhere.