Jamaica Bans Smoking Tobacco, Marijuana Is Another Matter

Smoking
Project Zaldivar26/Flickr

Banning smoking in public places is not all that uncommon as popular destinations worldwide look to promote a healthy environment for visitors to enjoy. But to some in the Bob Marley-induced culture of Jamaica, tobacco smoke is not the issue.

The new law of the land goes into effect on July 15, when visitors will no longer “have to involuntarily inhale tobacco smoke, with its over 40 carcinogens,” said Jamaica’s minister of health Fenton Ferguson in a Jamaica Observer article. Jamaicans get that, responding with support for the move to ban cigarette smoking.

On another smoke-related front, Jamaica’s Ganja Law Reform Coalition (GLRC) argues that marijuana is a plant with various uses, including environmental and recreational. They propose for marijuana to be taxed and regulated, something not on the agenda of minister Ferguson.Choosing instead to address other health concerns including excessive alcohol consumption and identifying the contents of fast food, Ferguson insists that “tobacco is the one that a little bit of smoke, a little puff every now and again is dangerous for you.”

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam…

Amsterdam Restaurant Offers Tables Only For One

Jamaica’s Air Traffic Controllers Call In Sick

An Air Jamaica 737 landing
Aero Icarus, Flickr

Jamaica‘s airports only experienced a small hiccup this weekend as the country’s air traffic controllers staged a sick-out in protest over low wages and mismanagement of the civil aviation authority. The posts were quickly filled by supervisors and managers and there were no reports of flight safety being compromised.

A Jamaican court has since granted an injunction to the Ministry of Labour, ordering the ATCs back to work, though there has been no response from the union representing the protesting workers.

Flights appeared to be operating more or less on schedule, though there were reports from the capital, Kingston, of delays on inbound and outbound flights. There were no delays at Sangster International in Montego Bay, Jamaica’s busiest airport.

The union had said that the sick-out will affect traffic in Jamaica’s airspace over the coming days. However, with the abandoned posts having been taken over fairly quickly by management, the impact of the protest appears to be less than hoped for.

Know Your Spring Break Legal Rights

Spring Breakers, did you know that anyone boarding a plane is covered by a “passenger bill of rights?” Or that in Mexico you’re guilty until you can prove yourself innocent?

Lawyers.com’s editor in chief, Larry Bodine, has some legal insights that Spring Breakers should digest well before their first Jello shot – particularly the 120,000 students heading to Mexico this year.

What can I do right this instant to be safer on Spring Break?
Sign up for the U.S. government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It’s free, and in the feds’ own words, “It allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements.”

What’s another thing?
Look up the U.S. consulate or consular agency closest to where you’re staying. At travel.state.gov, check under Country Specific Information for a list of agencies in your destination. Print copies for you and your travel mates and enter the information in your cellphone.

Is there an app for that?
Yes! There’s a Smart Traveler Program app for iPhone and Android.

American laws apply to me everywhere, right?
Wrong. Bodine says many college students think American citizenship grants them immunity from laws in other countries. This isn’t true. If you’re in Mexico or Jamaica or the Dominican Republic or anywhere, you are subject to that country’s laws and punishments. “There are a lot of semi-innocent things we do the U.S. that are crimes in Mexico,” Bodine says. “Walking on the street with an open alcohol container is a crime. Getting off the bus without paying. Taking off your clothes on the beach.”

In another country you can’t count on something like Panama City’s Spring Break Court to minimize the repercussions. “The laws in Mexico are very different,” Bodine says. “If you’re charged with a crime, you are presumed to be guilty, and you have to prove you are innocent. If you are arrested, you’ll be held for 48 hours before you get to make a statement. If they want to charge you, you can be held for a year without bail.”

Check the most recent edition of a reputable guidebook for laws.

How can I find out about open-container laws?
In Mexico, it’s illegal to walk on the street with an open container of alcohol. Costa Rica made it illegal last year. The law varies by country, so ask a bartender, a hotel manager or concierge or a security officer about your destination’s law once you arrive. Ask about public intoxication laws, too. And research them before you go.

Why do the police seem cool with the “anything goes” thing?
Police might let the good times roll – but they often crack down when there’s a car accident, a fight breaks out, someone gets belligerent with the cops or danger otherwise looms, Bodine says. You don’t want to be anywhere near these incidents. Find someone fun and rational to hang out with if you want to make sure to stay out of jail.

I’ve been arrested. Whom should I call?
Bodine says your first call – and only call, if just one is allowed – should be to the U.S. embassy or consulate in the area where you’re staying. Consular officials can provide information on the local legal system and help you find a local attorney, but they can’t get you out of jail.

What will happen if I get caught smoking pot in Mexico?
The U.S. State Department’s website says: “The importation, purchase, possession or use of drugs can incur severe penalties, including imprisonment without bail for up to a year before a case is tried, and imprisonment of several years following a conviction.” Don’t even risk having some in your pocket.

I’m 18 and can drink legally in Mexico. Can I also bring home alcohol?
No. Once you land in the U.S., it’s illegal for you to have it. Chances are it will be confiscated when you go through Customs after you land.

What should I do if I am the victim of a crime?
“Notify the authorities,” Bodine says, “but don’t let the hotel or tour company or restaurant make the report. You should also call the U.S. embassy.”

What rights do I have at the airport?
If you’re bumped from a flight because it is oversold or canceled, the airline is required to give you a paper detailing your rights. The airline employees rarely offer it, but you can ask for one. Bodine says the law requires the airline to rebook you on a different flight, and if that flight isn’t scheduled to arrive within two hours of your original flight, the airline is supposed to pay you 400 percent of the one-way fare for that leg of the trip. But again, don’t expect the airline to be upfront about this. “Ordinarily, they’ll offer you as little as possible,” Bodine says. “They’ll put you up in a hotel and offer you a $300 travel voucher. If you don’t ask for [your full entitlement], they won’t give it to you.”

If your flight is canceled or delayed by weather, the airlines don’t owe passengers any compensation.

Going to Mexico? Read the U.S. State Department’s “Know Before You Go” page for Spring Breakers, and brush up one more time with this video:

[Editor's note: Got legal questions? This isn't legal advice. Try reaching out to the folks at Lawyers.com!]

[Photo credits: top, Mnadi via Flickr; bottom, Spengu via Flickr]

Mental Math: Easy Rules Of Thumb For Converting Currency

Being in a new country is full of enough culture shock – trying to remember how many dollars to the krona doesn’t need to be part of it.

After all, constantly whipping out a calculator (well, a cellphone) and spending five minutes trying to figure out if that sandwich is really a good price is a waste of your valuable vacation time.

To make things easier on you, here are some basic rules of thumb to help you guesstimate the exchange rates in a sampling of different countries.

It’s important to note that currencies fluctuate all the time, so these rules of thumb should not be used as actual foundations for financial transactions. They were based off the most recent exchange rates as of midweek on the week of November 5, 2012. If you actually want to know what the exchange rate is for a given country, look it up. And if you want to know again a week later, look it up again.

These rules of thumb are intended to help you quickly do the mental math required to figure out if, yes, that sandwich is a good deal. Or, when you withdraw 400 pesos from the ATM, roughly how much you’re taking out in US dollars.

Disclaimer: this post is admittedly America-centric, but the reality is that’s my perspective as a traveler. I hope this will help others as it’s helped me.

Asia
China: Divide all prices quoted in yuan by about 6 for a dollar estimate.

Japan: Divide all prices quoted in yen by 100 and then tack on about 25% for a dollar estimate.

India: It’s slightly more than 50 rupees to the dollar.

Thailand
: Roughly, divide the prices you see in bahts by about 30 and you’ll get the dollar value.

South Korea: Divide Korean prices by about 1,000 for the USD estimate.

Europe
Eurozone: Add a 25% premium to all the prices you see.

UK: Multiply pound prices by 1.5 and then round up to guesstimate the dollar amount.

Switzerland: Roughly 1-to-1 with the US dollar.

Russia: Divide prices by about 30.

South and Central America
Mexico: Divide the prices you see by 13 for a sense of the USD price.

Guatemala: Divide prices by 8.

Belize: Cut the prices you see in half.

Colombia: This one’s a little tricky. First, divide the Colombian price you see by half. Then divide by 1,000. If you’re lazy and on the go, that’s very rough. For a slightly cleaner conversion, do that and then add back 20%.

Argentina: Divide Argentine prices by about 5.

Ecuador: Trick question. Ecuador uses the USD as its currency, so no conversion needed.

Dominican Republic: Divide prices in the D.R. by 40 for a sense of US equivalents.

Jamaica: Divide prices by 100 and then add back about 10%.

Africa & Mideast
South Africa: Divide prices by a little less than 9 for the US equivalent.

Kenya: Divide by 100, and then add back about 15%.

Morocco: Like for South Africa, divide by a little less than 9.

Israel: Divide by about 4 to estimate the US price.

Turkey: Divide by 2 and then add back 25%.

Egypt: Divide by about 6.

Oceania
Australia: For estimating purposes, roughly 1-to-1.

New Zealand: Take a 20% discount on the prices you see.

[Image credit: Flickr user Images_of_Money]

Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly said to “divide by half” rather than the correct “divide in half” or “cut in half,” and has been amended.

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: The Best Foreign Service Blogs

smoking huge joint womanThe World Wide Web is saturated with amateurish blogs created by people who’d be lucky to command the devoted readership of their immediate family members, let alone the wider public. There are scores of blogs managed by Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and while many of them are worth reading, some are downright bizarre. This post will steer you toward some Foreign Service related blogs that are well worth your time.

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I started this series nine months ago to help people get a better understanding of what life in the U.S. Foreign Service is like. Many of the posts have been about my experiences but I’ve also introduced readers to an intrepid, single female diplomat fresh off of tours in Syria and Pakistan, a diplomatic courier, a USAID Foreign Service Officer currently serving in Afghanistan and others. But spend some time at the sites listed below to get a flavor of what it’s like to represent the U.S. Government in The Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, Pakistan and dozens of other exotic locales.toothless woman with stretched earlobes peasantOne major caveat here is that FSOs have to be careful what they write because free speech only takes you so far in the precarious, uber-cautious world of government service. Most FSOs have disclaimers on their sites warning that the views expressed are their own, but many still tend to steer clear of tackling political issues or anything controversial.

Peter Van Buren, a now retired diplomat who wrote “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,” was effectively driven out of the Foreign Service partially because he posted a link to a cable on WikiLeaks and made some disparaging remarks, which he later apologized for, about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on his website.

There’s no doubt that his experience has had a chilling effect across the board, so visit the sites below to get the low-down on the Foreign Service lifestyle and the travel opportunities, not the dirty underbelly of how diplomacy plays out overseas.

Some of the blogs below contain little, if any biographical info, and I wasn’t able to read each one in its entirety, so my apologies in advance if my impressions of these blogs below miss the mark. That said, I would invite the authors of these fine sites to tell us more about themselves, if they dare, in the comments section.

Diplopundit

Domani Spero has no U.S. government connection and thus has the freedom to write about the world of diplomacy without having to worry about his career. Diplopundit is as close as you’ll find to one-stop shopping for a candid look at what’s going on in the Foreign Service community.

Adventures in Good Countries- Getting Along In The Foreign Service

I love this blog. The author, apparently a single female public diplomacy officer who, “doesn’t date outside the visa waiver program,” blogs with style and passion about life in Japan, Pakistan, Jordan and elsewhere, coping with Multiple Sclerosis and whatever else pops into her head. How can you not like a writer who offers advice to protesters on how to construct a good effigy? (“Don’t just throw something together with the rationale that you’re only going to burn it anyway – take some pride in your work.”)

We Meant Well

You might not agree with Peter Van Buren but you will want to read his blog, which is sometimes offensive but never boring.

Third Culture Children

This blog, which details the lives of a family of five living in Recife, Brazil, La Paz, Bolivia and elsewhere, is one of the very best Foreign Service related sites out there. It’s a particularly good resource for parents who are wondering what the overseas experience will be like for their children.

amy gottlieb usaidAmy Gottlieb’s Photography & Blog

Gottlieb is a doctor and a USAID FSO currently serving in South Africa. Her portraits from Jamaica, Nepal, Vietnam, South America, Africa and beyond are as good as any you’ll find anywhere.

Adventures Around the World- A Foreign Service Officer’s Tales of Life Abroad

The author of this refreshingly candid and well-written blog is currently in Kabul and has previously served in Iraq and Nepal. Here’s how she described the “honeymoon” period at a new post: “The honeymoon period is the time frame after moving to a foreign country where the excitement of being somewhere new overshadows certain harsh realities of living in a foreign country. People burning piles of trash in the street give the place ‘character’ and bargaining with a taxi driver is part of the ‘adventure.’”

Worldwide Availability

This is a stunning photo blog from an American diplomat who was born on a farm in China and is currently serving in South Korea. Visiting this site is the next best thing to booking a ticket to Seoul. Also, for those who are curious to know how long it takes to join the Foreign Service, take a look at his instructive personal timeline for some clues.

Wanderings of a Cheerful Stoic

Anyone who features a photo of themselves (I presume) with a Gambian poached rat on their homepage is all right by me. This is a blog from a FSO posted in Conakry, Guinea, a place where “you tend to find yourself without a really specific reason.”

The Slow Move East- Thoughts on Being an Expatriate

Hannah Draper, a FSO currently serving in Libya, might be a “Type-A bureaucrat who professionally pushes papers in the Middle East,” but her writing is compulsively readable.

Where in the World am I? Notes from the Streets of Hyderabad, India

A FSO in Hyderabad who previously served in Burundi blogs about food and life overseas with gusto.

Cross Words- A Blog About Writing and Anything Else That Comes to Mind

Ted Cross, a FSO currently living in Budapest who apparently just signed up for Facebook last week (Friend him!), tells us on his homepage that his “dream is to be a published author.” I like someone who isn’t afraid to tell the world what he wants. He’s into fantasy and science fiction, neither of which interests me, but his blog is unique and his writing is lucid.

Four Globetrotters- The (Most Likely) Incoherent Ramblings of a Sleep-Deprived Single Mother Living Overseas with her Trio of Kiddos

Anyone who can pull off being a single mom in the Foreign Service is someone I want to meet. This blog, written by a former Foreign Service brat, isn’t nearly as incoherent as advertised.

Beau Geste, Mon Ami- The Chronicle of my Journey to and through The Foreign Service

Even a quick breeze through this visually appealing blog will give you an idea of how varied and interesting life in the Foreign Service can be. If nothing else, do not miss the photos of the tribal warriors in Papua New Guinea.

Zvirdins at Large- Jamie and Andrew’s Excellent Adventures

If you want a slice of life from the Marshall Islands, this is the place to go. I love this blog but I couldn’t bring myself to click into the video entitled “Pig Shooting” in a post on “Pig Butchering.” Yikes.

Talesmag

This isn’t a FSO blog per se, but the site’s stories and “real post reports” on hundreds of cities around the globe are an invaluable resource for those seeking insights into the Foreign Service lifestyle.

Let me know in the comments section if you think I’ve missed any great FSO-related blogs and if you’re the author of ones of the sites mentioned above, tell us a bit about yourself.

Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

(Photos courtesy of Amy Gottlieb)