Negotiate up, not down.

Twenty years ago we took the Hurtigruten, Norway’s storied sea-ferry service, up the Norwegian coast, docking at tiny towns where it delivered mail, passengers and freight. At most of these often isolated ports, we were greeted by a brass band playing Norway’s national anthem, sometimes a boys and girls choir, and even the mayor wearing their ribbon of office. It was a big deal for these small places.

Last week on a Lindblad Expedition, the National Geographic Orion docked in Samoa, on our way from Fiji to Tahiti. We were greeted by a band playing traditional Samoan music and a troupe of male and female dancers wearing leis and grass skirts. They performed for 20 minutes just for us.

But this time our reaction to the local citizenry greeting a visiting ship was ….mixed. Should the 59 of us onboard feel guilty for enabling an old trope between oppressor and oppressed? Or should we feel good that we’re helping Samoans promote their Indigenous culture via traditional regalia and age-old dances?

I say good.

One problem with tourism is that it encourages people to put forth exaggerated images of themselves, whether you’re visiting Calgary during the Stampede, or Newfoundland pretty much any time.

As for ‘Indigenous Music’, Torontonians pay top dollar to see Indigenous groups and artists from all over the world perform at Koerner Hall and Meridian Hall. In fact, we seek these singers and dancers out because of their authenticity. Does performing on a dock in Samoa make them less so?

This  introduces a side-issue in the fast-changing relationship between tourists and Indigenous people: getting paid. I’m certain the Norwegian brass bands weren’t paid and the Samoan dancers last week were. But what constitutes fair payment?

Jennifer Kingsley, a National Geographic Explorer from Ottawa, gave a talk onboard about the new etiquette of visiting different cultures.

Aside from making the effort to always learn the local words for “hello”, “goodbye”, “please” and “thank you,” she encouraged us not to bargain with the people of Wallis & Futuna when we wanted to buy a handicraft or piece of art.

With some cultures, as in Turkey and Morocco, negotiating the price is endemic and part of the fun. But in many Pacific cultures, it’s not. So to be told that a hand-designed fabric you’ve worked many hours to create isn’t worth the 600 CFP Francs you’ve asked for it, but half that, which the tourist purchaser has countered with, isn’t part of a time honoured process, but an insult – and one that their culture would find hard to accept and deal with.

Indeed, Jennifer Kingsley suggests that rather than paying the asking price, we pay more than that because we can afford it, and a local artist will tend to undervalue their work in any case just to make a sale.

So if we’re looking for authenticity in travel, why not start by taking our own small stand for fair pricing?


1.“I’m going to get totally and utterly X-ed.” It seems, especially if you’re posh, most any English word can be turned into a synonym for “drunk.”

2. Toronto General is one of the Top 3 hospitals in the world. The latest Newsweek Report puts TGH at the peak of hospital care worldwide, bested only by the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. It’s also the best publicly-funded hospital anywhere. Also, Sick Kids is the second best pediatric hospital in the world, next only to Boston Children’s.

3. Skis that don’t need snow. Here’s a cure for climate change, the way an e-bike is for old age. A French startup is creating a new sport, “high-end electric skiing.” You don’t need snow; you don’t even need mountains, let alone hills. You can pre-order your “SKWHEEL” (pronounced “squeal”) that can go up to 80 km/h on a 30 km charge.

4. What makes you fat? Fat makes you fat. A new study in The Lancet reveals that more than one billion people worldwide are obese. Between 1990 and 2022, obesity rates for women have more than doubled, from 8.8% to 18.5%, and nearly tripled in men, from 4.8% to 14%. World’s fattest people? Citizens of American Samoa.

5. How planes stay in the air. If you’re like me and still don’t get the physics of flight, read on. As Marshall McLuhan said: “I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it.”

That said, planes have nothing on Royal Albatrosses, the world’s largest seabirds which spend 85% of their lives at sea, or rather flying above it. The Northern Royal Albatross, with its massive three metre wingspan, flies an estimated 190,000 kilometres a year. At about 8 months, the young Royal Albatross will spend the next three to five years at sea, never touching land during that time. I’m tired, dad!

6. Class Act. Ruth Gottesman donated $1 billion to the Albert Einstein School of Medicine which can now offer its students a tuition-free medical degree in perpetuity. She insisted the School not be named after her. Said her great friend Warren Buffett of one of the largest gifts ever to an American university: “She could change all these people’s lives by giving up something that wasn’t actually important to her and would be hugely important to thousands of people over time.” On the morning of the announcement, students were invited to attend a compulsory meeting in the Albert Einstein auditorium. Here’s why.

Speaking of class acts, here’s Molson’s commercial celebrating International Women’s Day, directed by Toronto’s Jason Van Brugen.

7. Elon Musk’s never been in therapy. He’s far too …..happy for that. Then again, he does smoke dope, which is bad for your heart. Then again again, noses get erections and old entrepreneurs do much better than young ones, which could be because self confidence peaks in your 60s.

8. A new view of Navalny. He was also a journalist though that may have only hastened his end. Just after the pandemic, he produced an accusatory documentary on the Russian conductor and Putin ally, Valery Gergiev. Indeed, there seems to be an epidemic of prominent Russians accidentally falling out of windows.

9. Which is better? To be kind, or to be nice? And to say no thanks, or no?

10. Why we’ll always have concerts. No matter how virtual or surround-soundrecorded music can be, live music is better. Why? It’s drawn to people, just like we are to it. As The Economist notes: “…the ability of artists to change the way they play in response to the audience may be one aspect of what makes live music special.”

Also, see Dr. Mike Daley’s One Hit Wonders, live and on Zoom, from Friday April 5th at 10 a.m. ET, Church of the Redeemer, 162 Bloor West, Toronto.

11. What I’m liking. Someone who knows what they’re talking about who says we can change AI’s future and save our own. That person is Verity Harding, and quelle coincidence: she’s speaking at the RamsayTalk on April 10th. Her much-lauded book, AI Needs You is an Economist Biggest Book of the Year, and it signals who’s in charge of our relationship with technology, or who should be. Details and tickets here.



If you’d like to be part of our growing band of gentle adventurers on two Lindblad expeditions, please join us for an information reception. You’ll hear from Jean and me over wine and nibblies, and the Great Bear Rainforest expedition’s leader, Oren Frey, and Lindblad executive Karen Kuttner-Dimitry will beam in via Zoom to detail the itinerary and answer your questions.

***Please RSVP to join us on Monday, March 25 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. ET at a friend’s gorgeous downtown Toronto home. We’ll send you the address when you RSVP, which you can do right now to


Join us on the Sea Cloud II sailing from Nice to Naples from May 29 to June 5.


There’s no more gorgeous place in Canada than BC’s West Coast, and no more immersive way to explore it aboard the National Geographic Venture on a Lindblad Expedition.

Thirty of our friends have already signed up to join us. They share a curiosity about the world, a desire to see parts of our home and native land few others get to, and a taste for immersive Indigenous travel.

This isn’t an end-of-the-earth trip; it’s a week in the Great Bear Rainforest from September 2 to 9 — the perfect way to bookend your summer.

So exercise your right to great adventure by guaranteeing you’ll be having one this year.


Bob Ramsay

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