WRITTEN BY: RISELLE CELESTINA
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 morning, Good 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.
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Looking forward to welcoming back friends new and old – cheers to a great season everybody!