The Great Con of Island Time

I am always late. In middle school, I only made the school bus twice in three years. In high school, I was so consistently late that I was the only Honors student to receive Central Detention – ever. Lateness is endemic in my family. I spent a significant portion of my childhood waiting to be picked up by a parent or grandparent who was always running late. When a family function called for 6 o’clock, we thought ourselves early if we managed to arrive by 6:30. Lateness is so ingrained in my make-up, I never realized how inconsiderate it was until my best friend in college stopped talking to me after she’d waited over an hour for me to show up to dinner. And even then, once we were back on speaking terms, she had to sit me down and actually explain why it was so rude.

I wish I could say this cultural awakening changed me. Unfortunately, I’m still always late, but now I feel guilty about it too. So imagine my relief when I moved to a region renowned for lateness. Island Time! Ah, to finally live in a place where time is set to my specifications. Where I might be – darest I dream – on time!

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My first experience with Island Time came a few weeks after moving down. There was an art show and auction put on by the Historical Society one Sunday that started at 5:30pm. After the first uncertain weeks of acclimation to island life, I was looking forward to an event where I could dress up and mingle with my new neighbors. So, of course, we were running an hour late. My heart swelled when I saw the line to get into the event spilling out onto the sidewalk. Here were my people! An hour late was right on time! My dream had come true.

Except that two days later, we realized that Sunday was Spring Forward. Unbeknownst to us, we had arrived ON TIME. That should have given me pause. But I chalked it up to a weird aberration related to the particularities of the Historical Society. Little did I know, for the next three and a half months, my fantasy of Island Time would continue to dissolve like the last half-hearted ice cube in a forgotten cocktail.

The next big shock came when I actually rushed to see a play at the National Park campground. It was scheduled to start at 7pm, and I kept a careful eye on the time as we bounced along the roadway. At 6:57 we parked, and I was about to congratulate myself for being on time when I clearly overheard theatrical voices coming from the stage. When I rushed up to get a seat, I frantically asked the park ranger/usher if I had the wrong start time for the play. She shook her head no, glanced at her watch, and then shrugged.

“I guess we just started a little early,” she whispered.

A little early! Who ever heard of a play starting a little early? On a Caribbean Island, no less? What happened to Island Time?!

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Since then, I’ve noticed I’m consistently the last person to arrive at parties; friends and business appointments invariably show up 10-15 minutes earlier than arranged; and even yoga classes are well underway when I turn up on time. To top it all off, just last week as I rushed to make the 9am ferry to ensure I’d be on time to a job interview at 10, I was greeted with the sight of the ferry pulling away from the dock at 8:56am. Watching the ferry drift away, I began to suspect the concept of Island Time was an elaborate karmic prank, here to finally make me pay up for all of my lateness sins.

To be fair, the ferry actually came back to the dock to let us on. And my disappointment with Island Time not being late enough for me is well outweighed by how the slow pace of island life inconveniences everyone else. As I grow more accustomed to the particular rhythms of my island, I’ve come to realize, as my girlfriend sagely pointed out, Island Time might not be about being late after all, but more about timing being unpredictable in general. Things may happen later than expected, but it is just as possible that they may happen earlier. And that’s a great lesson for a girl to learn who has grown used to the world waiting for her.

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Jennifer Walker

About Jennifer Walker

Jennifer, her girlfriend, and their two French bulldogs decided to move to St. John after significant soul searching, careful financial consideration, and impeccable planning. As if! Instead, they made a crazy offer on a house while on vacation, were shocked when the mortgage came through, and left everything behind to come to a 7-mile long rock in the middle of the Caribbean with no plan. They still have no plan, but all the intoxicated people Jennifer keeps meeting assure her she’ll figure something out. In the meantime, she’ll be transcribing her adventures in island life where previously mundane activities – like going to get the mail – can have the dramatic arc of a great Russian novel. To follow more of her adventures, check out her blog www.detachedandamused.com

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11 thoughts on “The Great Con of Island Time

  1. Hey Jennifer,

    I’m a Delawarean also…..friends bought a 50′ cat last year and keep it in STT….went down twice last year and made a lot of friends…plan on going back frequently…great to hear from a fellow Delawarean…you’re not going to miss these crappy winters…

  2. Three years ago- in June- As we left our cottage in STJ early to catch the ferry to Red Hook I purposely looked at the clocks there in Cruz Bay to confirm the time… because you never know. Got the taxi to the STT terminal. Arrived by our watches meticulously confirmed with the Cruz Bay ferry clock an hour EARLY for the plane departure only to be greeted at the first airline check-in by the “nice” lady informing us we missed our plane. It was just taking off.
    There is a time warp/Vortex/Traingel between Cruz Bay and Red Hook.
    You have been warned.
    We never leave before 2 pm now. never.

  3. Wish island time was like that here. It’s more common to arrive at an event exactly on time, and see the audio technicians just starting to set up equipment, and sit and wait for another hour or two.

  4. Being the opposite, always early, I tried and tried to be late. Otherwise, I’d wait around for sometimes hours for things to get going. Then, just when I thought I’d learned how to ride this time pony, something would be on time. I don’t think ever early, but on time was and still is early. I think your friend is exactly right, it’s about the rhythm rather than the hour. Now I just get there when I get there. Or not.

  5. It has always been of great amusement to me that on an island that sells so many of the most beautiful and expensive watches in our multitude of jewelry stores there are very few people who actually care about being on time to events of any kind.

  6. I think St. John’s events might be on time because it is a U.S. island. Come to Virgin Gorda if you want to be in the kind of time state you imagined you would experience on St. John.( not that I want to tempt your newfound on-time sobriety back to its old ways!)
    The ferries are on time here, but all other given times (except for most Americans and Europeans who live here being quite on time for dates with each other) are quite elastic…

  7. What an A-Ha! moment at the end there, and I totally agree. There may be a nominal schedule, but it’s really only a guideline and if they happen to be ready earlier, away they go! There’s a ferry that goes around the islands in Tonga and you’re never quite sure when it’s coming in or leaving, so if you want to hitch a ride to the main islands, you’ve kinda just gotta wait at the main dock until they board. Luckily, there’s a lovely market right nearby, so at least you won’t start on your hot and potentially hours-long wait.

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