6 Do’s and Don’ts When Visiting the Caribbean

Aaaaah… the pre-high season weeks are upon us. It’s that time of year when islanders shake out of their slow season chill zone and start practicing their smiles and hellos in front of the mirror. Get ready y’all, the tourists are coming!

Every winter, the Caribbean sees a mass influx of visitors arriving from Europe, North and South America, and all the other continents of the world. Winter season is high season, and we call it high season for a reason: higher tips = higher pays (for some of us in the hospitality industry, at least). When most think of the Caribbean, they think of beaches, sun, sand, sea, and friendly people. We islanders have perfected the art of warm weather charm and do our best to protect our rep.

As we prepare to welcome our dear tourist friends from all over the world, I thought I’d take a moment and share a couple of tips to help visitors understand a bit of what makes us tick, so to speak. We want you to feel at home on our rocks, and the better you understand some basics about our culture, the more positive experiences you will have here.

Here are 6 Helpful Do’s and Don’ts to follow when vacationing in the Caribbean:

DON’T try to speak like us

You can’t imagine how many times I’ve heard tourists trying to speak like locals, pulling a highly accented “Yeah, mon” out with a grin. Uhmmm, NO. Just don’t, please don’t. First of all, “Yeah, mon” is commonly used in Jamaica and, last time I checked, Jamaica does not represent the whole Caribbean. Secondly, you sound like a silly willy. It’s not impressing anyone. If anything, it’s making us feel mocked. Save yourself the embarrassment and just talk like you.

DO cover yourself when walking on our streets

I get it. I totally do. It’s hot and most islands have their downtown areas conveniently located near beaches. But you wouldn’t go to New York City and parade around in an itsy bitsy bikini on a hot day just because there’s water in sight, so why do it here? It’s not only considered a form of disrespect but honestly, some people can do with a little covering up, if you know what I mean. There are various little stores and markets everywhere that sell really cute beachwear and pareos/sarongs. Not to mention that there are many fun and fashionable ways of wearing pareos nowadays. For all of our sakes, just say yes to the beach dress.

DO say Good morningGood afternoon, and Good evening

I remember one time I came home after school, walked into the kitchen, and asked my mom, “What’s for lunch?”. I got a slap so hard, I swear I saw stars. Why? Because I did not wish her Good afternoon first. No, this was not child abuse but rather a common practice in the Caribbean called, “educating your child”.

Before asking an islander a question or when entering a store or restaurant, start with one of the above greetings depending on the time of day. It is considered extremely rude not to do so. I realize that it is not a part of some cultures (I can count on one hand how many responses I have received whenever I’ve said Good whatever time of day it is in a crowded elevator in the US), but we in the Caribbean give random hellos to people we pass on the street whether we know them or not. If we pass you on the beach during a morning stroll, it is common to say Good morning.

Islanders are incredibly helpful people but also very proud. You will see that starting off a conversation or question with a greeting makes a world of difference. You may even get a completely different reaction than if you had gone the other way.

DON’T complain about our way of life

We complain enough about it ourselves. Our produce, meats, and other random things are surely more expensive compared to where you’re from. But remember that we live on a rock where everything aside from fish and coconuts are imported. Our internet may be very very slow compared to the luxurious 50+ mbps you regularly enjoy at home (seriously, I’m jealous) but here you can drink an ice cold Heineken while sitting in the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean sea. It’s all a matter of perception. Enjoy our positives while you’re here and do your best to let the negatives pass by without comment.

DO avoid asking silly questions

Yes, we do have cows here.

No, we don’t have a bridge connecting us to Puerto Rico.

Yes, there are such a thing as white islanders (my husband is one of them and calls himself a “Coconut Honky”).

Yes, we also get hot sometimes, and at no time did we ever become “used to” the heat. We’re all in this sweat storm together.

And finally, YES, we do have schools here. How could we not?!

Before visiting, read up a little on your destination island. We have very interesting and fascinating (hi)stories. In this day and age of Google and other search engines, it is a shame not to do some minor research before you travel anywhere in the world.

DON’T ask us to predict the weather

We have a meteorological department for that. Granted, the Caribbean has generally the same forecast most of the year – sunny with a chance of rain – but there are some great weather sites and phone apps that can give you quite accurate readings. As an event planner, I used to get asked a lot if it was going to rain later or if the next day would be sunny or not. I came up with the only logical answer I could think of: “Let me send God a WhatsApp, and I’ll get back to you.” Really, what else could I have said? If I can give you one piece of advice, it’s this: Don’t stress about the weather. You do that at home already. Rain or shine, you’re in paradise. Enjoy it while you’re here. Chances are if it does rain, it will only last a few minutes anyway and within 10 more minutes, the sun will be back out in all its glory for your enjoyment.

 –   –   –

Looking forward to welcoming back friends new and old – cheers to a great season everybody!

Much ♥

st marten welcome sign

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Riselle Celestina

About Riselle Celestina

Riselle is a happy-go-lucky island girl from Curaçao living the island life on the beautiful yet tiny island of St. Maarten/St. Martin. She has a passion for travel and adventure and not long ago decided to follow her heart wherever it may lead her.

Her days are now spent being a pet-mom to her 6 dogs and 3 cats and a wife to her husband of 4 years, James. Until recently, she was a full time planner and designer at her own event planning company but a sudden revelation in February of 2015 made her put her business on hold and change career paths. New career: unknown. In an attempt to find herself, she decided to take up blogging, which to her is one of the few occupations where you don’t need to wear much, flip flops are always in season, and tattoos are not frowned upon.

Impulsive, a true people person, happy, friendly, always willing to help, and determined are just some of the words that describe her best. Of course she can also be headstrong, bossy, spoiled, slow to forgive, short-tempered, irrational, and at times grumpy, but this can easily be fixed with coffee or wine. Preferably wine.

Travel is her one true passion besides her love of animals. Any time she is not able to travel far, she is content with exploring her little piece of paradise.

You can read more about her travels, island life, and adventures on www.thetravelingislandgirl.com.

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20 thoughts on “6 Do’s and Don’ts When Visiting the Caribbean

  1. Very true and really good to pass on to friends who visit.

    I didn’t know until I had lived here for Many years that in the BVI local people do not say “good evening”, they say good night –starting at around 5:00. But it sounds like this is not true of other islands. However, I think that as you said, the main idea is to be polite and to try to discover what you should know about the rock to if nothing else, not get in trouble!

    • Mary, here on St. Maarten is the same. And in 14 years of calling this island my home I am only now starting to use Good Night in the evenings. To me it sounds so definite and so alien. I don’t think I will ever get used to saying Good night unless it’s after 11pm as I’m walking out the door rather than coming in.

  2. You should add that them locals should warn you about getting chickengunya virus no signs no warnings and has left me in awful pain for months

  3. Loved the article Riselle! Wonder if I’m allowed to copy it and put it in my guest apartment for visitors to read! This should be on the back of the plane tickets!!!!

  4. Omg Riselle! I was reading ur blog and kept telling myself this chick really has got the island girl thing down!! I loved the Coconut Honkey comment – I guess your husband must be a funny man..
    Another don’t …DON’T walk down the middle of our Main Street with your mouths open staring at the sky in wonder… Some of us islanders live real lives and would like to get on with the next item on our agenda – have some respect for our time and get a move on….

  5. I love the “Say Good Morning (or afternoon). I am from the southern portion of the U.S. but travel to the Northeast on business quite often.. I too get strange looks on elevators when I dare to say good morning… but I do anyway..

    And I have found the folks in the Carribean do respond to just plain politeness as we do back home… GREAT BLOG

  6. Pingback: A little touch of Holland in the Caribbean! | AmarulaSail

  7. White women should not believe anything a local man says to them … they will tell you they love you before they even know your name. If you’re vulnerable to that kind of thing, you will be terribly disappointed in the outcome. Just take it with a grain of salt.

  8. Add that just because they are on vacation, we aren’t. So don’t walk down the middle of the street looking oblivious to the police directing traffic or the stop light that is green for me. And don’t get wasted drunk and come into the shops and try to negotiate a better price.

  9. I managed dive resorts for. 19yrs and used to always get asked ‘what do I pack’ by our first time visitors…. #1 on the list? A sense of humor and a degree of flexibility!

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