The Coconut Incident

As I prepare to move to Grand Cayman, I look back with fondness on my time on my previous home rock, St. John of the US Virgin Islands. I already know that life on the new rock will differ greatly, and imagine it’s going to be a bit like moving from a farm to a big city (at least on island terms). On Grand Cayman, though I will enjoy newfound luxuries such as a dishwasher and air-conditioning, I know that what I will miss most are the quirky people of St. John. I’m hoping that on Grand Cayman, I’ll meet a crowd with eccentricities of their own so that memories like the one I’m about to share, affectionately known as “The Coconut Incident”, don’t remain just a thing of the past.

On one of many island happy hours, I was having a drink with a friend (let’s call her “Amy” – wouldn’t want to cause a fellow island girl any shame), over at the infamous Beach Bar. As I gazed at the Beach Bar logo and thought about how much it reminded me of the cover of that Sublime album from the 90s (you know, the only one anyone bought…), Amy and I casually discussed the same old little nothings that drunk people discuss. I suppose I should also mention that while I was a seasoned resident at the time (haha, just kidding! I had only lived there for about 6 months), Amy had just recently relocated to the island. Although she had visited annually for many consecutive years, she was still, for all intents and purposes, a tourist at this point (by now I’m sure she is a veteran rockstar).

So, we’re sipping our drinks, and a West Indian guy shows up selling coconuts. The linguistic traits and cultural subtleties of St. John differ greatly from that of the states, and I had already learned that in order to gain a true understanding and communicate effectively, one must read into the deeper, unspoken context of any given conversation. This is something that often proves difficult for those who are not adjusted to this lifestyle, specifically drunk tourists. So, though I say he showed up “selling” coconuts, I only knew this having learned from experience that nothing on this island is free. Someone would sell you sand if they could. They’d even try to sell you donkey shit if they thought they could get away with it. That being said, his actual words were, “Do you want a coconut for your drink?”

*click for image credit

Amy, blown away by the man’s generosity, blurts an emphatic “yes!”, and flitters away to the bartender to get him to fill it with rum.

While she is away, I ask, “How much?”

“Five dollars,” he says.

That seems reasonable to me, so I hand him a five to pay for a coconut of my own, and also have it filled by the bartender with delicious, soul-quenching rum.

Amy returns, still on a high over the unexpected surprise coconut, and hugs the man, not yet realizing that her coconut wasn’t actually a gift. I sit back and watch the show, amused, wondering how it’s all going to play out. She gushes to him about how nice everyone is on St. John, acting as though she’s just met her new best friend for life.

The poor man, looking uncomfortable and increasingly impatient, waits for payment. When none is offered, he attempts to explain to her that he is waiting on his five dollars for the coconut. Amy is thoroughly confused by the sudden charge being demanded of her and it takes a few minutes and some additional clarification for it all to sink in. She’s then forced to explain that she doesn’t have any cash on her (which is why we were drinking at one of the few bars that actually takes credit cards).

The coconut man, thoroughly exasperated at this point, tries to get me to pay on her behalf. Unfortunately, I had already given him the only cash I had left. That was it. He’d had just about enough of this.

Tensions rose, and he turned his frustration onto the bartender, yelling and trying to get him to take responsibility for this customer refusing to pay him for his coconut. The bartender, clearly accustomed to this type of misunderstanding, simply shrugged and said it wasn’t his problem.

At this point, I was starting to feel pretty bad about the mix-up. I bought the guy a beer on our tab, and chatted with him for a bit to diffuse the situation, apologizing for everything (even though, in my mind, I didn’t do anything wrong). Though Amy remained indignant, disappointed that this guy wasn’t actually her best buddy, I think the lesson learned that night was worth the trouble.

Helpful island tips that are good to remember:

  • Always carry cash, because nothing is free – not even coconuts.
  • If you misunderstand someone, just accept responsibility – it is totally your own fault.
  • Become a peace ambassador of sorts by buying someone a beer when the situation calls for it. When you’re on a small island, you are likely to cross paths again someday. No one can afford enemies, but most of us can always afford a beer.

*click for image credit

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Stephanie Tavera

About Stephanie Tavera

Stephanie fell in love with the Caribbean when her boyfriend moved to the US Virgin Islands in 2012. She married him pretty quickly after that and joined him in a cozy little shack, erm… “cottage” in 2013. Life on St. John was fun, fast, and drunk. Stephanie briefly moved back to the US to birth a delightful child. Though she temporarily left the islands, the islands never left her. Haunted by dreams of sapphire blue water, awkward situations, and enchanting critters of all sorts (read: stray cats who pee in your Jeep), she and her husband resolved to return.

They are both starting online businesses and are returning to the Caribbean to reside in Grand Cayman. Stephanie is currently learning how to survive without Painkillers (the drinks, not the pills), while transitioning into motherhood. You can find her stripping her teeth at whatever calamity she is facing, while retaining her Southern roots: “Bless her heart.”

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7 thoughts on “The Coconut Incident

  1. When I was a newbie on my rock, a friend came to visit and we were walking through the market area . A local man came up dressed in a Junkanoo costume (A Bahamian Ting). He comes up to her and pretty much just stands next to her and commands me to take a picture. She tells me “Go ahead, take a picture”. Right after I take the picture with her camera phone, he says “Five Dollars” with his hand out. We both stood there with our jaws on the ground. I said, “We didn’t ASK for the picture, you TOLD us to take a picture!” His response with a smile was, “Right! You got a picture, I get Five dollars!”

  2. Ha ha.. I feel so bad for Amy..It must have been a bummer to find out that she has to pay after giving him a hug. But again, like you said, there is nothing that alcohol cannot fix on an island.

  3. Great post, we’ve all been there. I once was hauled out to a “dance club” in Jamaica – you know where ladies dance on poles – and I struck up a conversation with an “employee” there asking her about her work hours, etc. Next thing I knew she jumped up on stage and spend an entire song giving me the stinkiest eye EVER!! My boss had to pay her and to this day has never let me live it down that he “bought me a woman at a strip club”

  4. Susie, that reminds me of a very pushy porter who “helps” people get their luggage onto the ferry from St. Thomas to St. John! He practically steals your suitcase from you when you step out of a taxi, and then demands that you “tip” him at least a dollar.

  5. This is so funny!
    I’ll never forget how pushy people were in Jamaica – they’re super friendly, but once you tell them your name they grab a small wood carving, carve your name onto it, and then INSIST that you buy it.
    I have a souvenir with John and Amy crossed out, and Carrie on the bottom.

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