The Tribunal of Island Judgmentery

Written by: Chrissann

 

One of my best girlfriends lives in the USVI, which can feel like quite the “big city” adventure for me when I visit from my comparatively quieter rock in the BVI. I go over to play every couple of months and look forward to the somewhat metropolitan activities that await me: things like sitting down at a restaurant and opening a menu whose contents I do not already have memorized, shopping at the big Kmart, seeing a movie in an actual movie theater, and having a fancy martini in an air-conditioned bar (aka The Lap of Island Girl Luxury).

We also use the opportunity to dress-up a bit and have a girl’s night on the town. My island doesn’t really have any nightlife, so busting out my neglected heels and setting aside my flip flops to go dancing and stay out late feels like such a treat. Trust me – I love the fact that my everyday island life doesn’t require anything but a ponytail, but from time to time, it feels good for the soul to glam it up a bit.

On my last visit, four of us island women got gussied up and took the ferry to neighboring St. John for happy hour and a nice dinner first. We were meeting our St. John friend at The Beach Bar and upon walking in, I heard a woman sitting at the bar snort, then make a condescending remark to her male companion, intentionally loud enough for us to hear: “Ha. Now that’s a kick. There’s some tourists, for ya alright. Makeup, smooth hair, and heels… We’re on an island, sweeties.

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A part of me wanted to whip around and inform her that I was no tourist, but rather an island girl for nearly 10 years now – so there. But I decided it wasn’t worth it, and let it go to enjoy my rare dress-up night with my lovely friends.

But when I reflect on that particular incident, I realize that the reason it irks me so is because it is reminiscent of so many similar moments I’ve encountered over the years. I must say, of all the quirks of island life, this aspect is one that never ceases to disappoint me. I’ve lived on a couple of different rocks and without fail, you will always find a group of island residents who treat island life like it’s some sort of private club – one that, unless you adhere to a specific list of their pre-determined requirements, you’re not welcome in, meaning, you’re not really a “true islander”. From the way you dress, the manner in which you moved here, how long you’ve lived here, the people you date, the way you speak, the boat/car you drive, the house you live in, who you’re friends with, the hobbies you have, to the cocktails you drink – all are under scrutiny from The Tribunal of Island Judgmentery.

The Tribunal of Island Judgmentery has one goal: to draw a line in the sand between them, “the real islanders”, and everyone else, apparently all of us “island fakers” out there. If you’re living your life on your rock in ways that are inconsistent with how they live theirs – watch out. Prepare to be rebuffed, be told you have no idea what you’re talking about, be gossiped about, receive snotty comments publicly (see above), and generally not be accepted into their “exclusive” circles (whether it matters to you or not).

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This website and the content we share has not been free of their arbitration either. If a writer shares an experience that a fellow islander cannot relate to or would have handled differently, rather than simply sharing their own perspective in a conversational way, members of The Tribunal of Island Judgmentery immediately note with disdain that a “real” island woman would have done it in some specific, contrasting way (ie. their way).

It should be noted that there is no winning with The Tribunal of Island Judgmentery either. For example, I recently posted a picture of me with a machete on our Facebook page. And though its purpose was simple, light-hearted fun, those in The Tribunal found it necessary to admonish me, noting that a “real” island woman keeps her machete sharp and not so rusty. And yet, had I posted the pic with a newer-looking, shinier machete, you better believe The Tribunal would have come in with guns blazing about how “real” island women actually use their machetes and don’t have pretty, polished ones just for show. Yes, this is trivial, and it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but I mention it only because it speaks to my larger point.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we have likely all been guilty of acting in the judgmental ways of The Tribunal at some point in our island lives. I confess – I have had times over the years when I’ve deigned not to befriend a newcomer simply because their fantastical ideas of “life in paradise” had yet to be tempered and their starry-eyed gaze was making me gag. But the great thing for me that came with creating this site is that it has instilled a sense of island unity in me and helped me to become more accepting of the broad sphere of island lifestyles. And really, that’s exactly why I created this site in the first place.

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I’ve always wanted Women Who Live on Rocks to be a community of island women (men welcomed too) who can connect, laugh, and share the unique eccentricities of the island lifestyle that we all know so well. I work hard to cultivate content that covers the full arc of the island woman’s experience. We have a wide range of women writing for this site: Some have lived on their rock since birth, some for 15 years, some for 5 months. Some are originally from the States, some are originally from another island or another country altogether. Some are partying 20-somethings, some are retired 60-somethings. Some live a very stateside-esque version of island life with more creature comforts, and some live more on the wild side, roughing it even by island standards. But the one thing all of us have in common is that we live on tropical islands – we are, quite literally, Women Who Live on Rocks. That is what binds us. This is an all inclusive space – every island woman (and man), past, present, and future, is welcome here.

Snap judgments and harsh criticisms are isolating. Island life is isolating enough without deciding that half of the small population surrounding you is “the enemy”. No one likes to feel excluded or misunderstood. For the most part, we’re all doing our best. No matter how long we’ve lived here, this is currently home and it would feel a helluva lot homier if we could all be more accepting of one another.

I think it’s important to understand that there’s no such thing as an authentic island experience. Why do there have to be stipulations and fine print? Living on an island is the one, super cool thing that unites us. Though we are all very different people, there is something inside us that we all share – it’s what brought us here, it’s what keeps us here. The adventure of living on an island often requires some degree of sacrifice and it’s fun to be able to relate to others who understand exactly what that sacrifice is and why it’s such a worthy tradeoff. But this doesn’t mean we’re always going to have the exact same island experience. We’re unique individuals who simply share one common denominator.

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For this site, I’d like to ask you to please remember that by writing and sharing their experiences, the writers are putting themselves out there. Just because to one woman, island life means barefoot days and dread-locked hair, doesn’t mean she’s saying everyone has to have that exact same experience to be a “real” island woman – it’s simply how things have transpired for her. No one here is masquerading as some expert on island life – we’re all just trying to find a bit of humor in it all (and note: the tricky thing about humor is that it is highly subjective by nature). In fact, you’ll notice that even when we do our Island Girl list posts, we always use the qualifiers “might” and “if” (You Might Be an Island Girl If). No experience is exactly the same – that’s what’s entertaining about having such a variety of women writing in one space. You may not relate to all of them, but perhaps you’ll find one or a few in which you can. And even if you can’t, the hope is that you’ll at least be able to share in the comedy being offered up. And if you feel like your island perspective isn’t being represented here, why not join in and write with us too?

Please understand that I’m not saying we don’t want you to share opposing opinions on this site, or in your island life in general. Conversation and connection over varying viewpoints are awesome and are what this community is for. What I am sharing is simply a wish that we island women (and men) would try to be a bit more accepting of the individuality in one another. There is a difference between offering your opinion in a fun, let’s-all-share-things-about-our-experiences-to-connect sort of way, versus a harsh, unnecessarily critical way. The words you choose matter. And it’s always useful to remember how easily things can be misinterpreted in InternetLand. Sharp words, disparaging comments, and general meanness have quite a way of taking away from the fun. And this is meant to be a space for fun. And laughing. That’s it, plain and simple.

How about instead of pointing out the flaws and condemning our fellow islander’s experience, we just enjoy the camaraderie that comes from knowing that no matter how different we all might be, we all share this rock life that – let’s be honest – is WAY more awesome than living elsewhere.

So here’s to kindness, respect for the uniqueness of others, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, and releasing the need to alienate our fellow islanders.

Who’s with me?

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About Chrissann Nickel

Chrissann’s home rock in the British Virgin Islands, against all logic, feels bigger to her than it actually is. Though after spending five years on a teensy one acre island, the current 13-mile long rock she’s residing on now IS ginormous, at least by comparison. As with everything in the Caribbean, it’s all about perspective.

Once upon a time she used to care about things like matching her purse to her pumps, but these days, she’s a card-carrying member of the Barefoot Nation. She is utterly enchanted with vinyasa yoga, especially when practiced on somewhat precarious, deliciously Instagram-able surfaces (she's @WomanOnARock) such as paddleboards, boats, cliffs, or even the occasional willing friend’s body. She vehemently believes that toucans are the best animals ever (period.) and there is no convincing her otherwise (though imperious roadside goats come in as a close second).

As the Editor in Chief of this site, she spends a lot of her time working from home all by her lonesome writing, editing, and cultivating content designed to make her fellow islanders laugh. Besides her writerly pursuits, she moonlights as a yoga instructor, and attributes at least a smidge of her insanity to the amount of time she spends talking to drunk people. If you’re somehow still reading this and feel inclined to find out more about this “Chrissann” of which we speak, you can also take a gander at her eponymous personal website, www.chrissannnickel.com

CURRENT ROCK OF RESIDENCE: Virgin Gorda, BVI

ISLAND GIRL SINCE: 2006

ORIGINALLY HAILS FROM: California

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51 thoughts on “The Tribunal of Island Judgmentery

  1. Interesting perspectives. I have been worried about not making “real” friends ( like friends from home) when we finish building our home & move to Trinidad. I have been thinking of seeking out ex-pats in the hope of friendship/common ground, reminders of home. Perhaps I need to rethink this. Of the locals I have met, there have been some real genuine Nice people, people that I consider friends, but there are also those that wouldn’t think twice about stabbing you in the back. My husband ( was born there ) has warned me to be careful of locals ( and certain family members ). Damned if you do, damned if you don’t! It will certainly be a big adventure.
    I am so happy that I found this blog, finally people that understand!
    Many of my friend’s and family ( although excited for us ) think that our life will be like a Caribbean resort. Luckily we can just laugh it off, as we work in Film/TV (have for years ) & none of them understand that crazy world that we live/work either, they think that it’s Glamorous! ( insert big belly laugh ).
    I can’t Fantasize on our move to an Island too much, because we still have some time ahead of our move, but we CANNOT Wait till we never ever have to worry about a snowstorm, wearing multiple layers of long johns, starting a care at 3:30am for work and waiting for it to warm up.
    We are Done with Winter ( this all coming from a farm girl that used to skate on every possible inch of ice and spent her teen years downhill skiing ).

      • Thankyou Chrissann! I hope that it won’t be too hard :p
        ……… and now ( after reading this blog for the past few days off and on ), I have made it to this blog post: http://womenwholiveonrocks.com/so-you-want-to-move-to-an-island/
        ………… and hope that I don’t ask any dumb questions 😐
        I can really see both sides of the coin, yours ( since I have spent a few weeks or more since 2001 in Trinidad living like a local ) and also those that ask the billion questions. I agree that numerous questions could be annoying, but perhaps it is complementary , has to do with how well all you Ladies write. You make the reader feel like they are there with you from the stories you share. It may be a bit “fresh”, but those question askers feel comfortable enough with “you” (general you) to ask, kind of like how people think that then know movie stars ( they mean well but have no clue ). Also, people love real life reviews & what better way then to get it from the horses mouth!
        I know that google searching can be daunting if you “don’t know what you don’t know”. It has taken me since 2001 to gain the knowledge that I have of what life would be like living in Trinidad & I know that I haven’t even scratched the surface :p

        Okay, back to reading 😉 ( I really am quite giddy about this blog! )

        • oops!…… I meant to type …I have spent a few weeks or more EVERY YEAR, since 2001 in Trinidad living like a local ( or at least learning from my inlaws and Husband and BFF ).

        • No worries, Erin – you’re absolutely right, it can be complementary, if done in the right way. I so appreciate people like you who read our content and interact and am happy to assist you when I can. Best wishes on your island journey! 🙂

          • Thankyou 🙂
            I look forward to enjoying the posts on here for years to come. Here’s hoping that it will not take 1.5 years to get wi-fi ( like our friends in T&T) once we move.

  2. What you’ve written is so true. I often find myself snapping back then hating myself afterwards. I don’t like being mean.
    Even though we are incredibly lucky living on an Island some days we wake up miserable. Some people keep it in others walk round that day projecting their negativity onto others. Due to the Rock being small there is always someone upsetting someone else. Someone not invited to an official function or a friend’s party. Petty things get out of hand.

    People looking down on tourists. Tourists looking down on people that have only just moved to the Rock because they’ve holidayed there for the last 26 years.
    Jealousy, the feeling of not fitting in or actually not wanting to be part of a crowd causes a lot of tension and negativity.
    I’m sure many like myself many let it go over their head somedays and on other days we want blood.
    The other day I was telling someone I had a scorpion in my bedroom. Their reply was really derogative and said in a way to point out how pathetic I was. That they’d had loads in their house, millions in fact.
    Who the hell competes about scorpions?
    It’s the negative side of living in a small place. Luckily the positives out way them.

  3. A friend who recently bought and refurbished a house on Grand Cayman shared this post on Facebook. I have been lucky enough to have vacationed on Virgin Gorda and at his house. Both were lovely in very different ways. We also got to spend an afternoon at The Soggy Dollar which is owned by a a co-worker’s sister and husband. Great experiences, all. While reading your post, it occurred to me that though the scene changes, human nature never does. I live on a small mountain in Western Maryland. We moved here 23 years ago and joined the local church of our denomination. It wasn’t long before we realized that if your family hadn’t lived in “The Valley” for at least 200 years, you were not really welcome to join the choir, play in their (secret) bowling league, etc. Living in a small town in a valley is very like living on a rock. You just have different scenery. 🙂 Thanks for making me realize, once again, that one has to make one’s own paradise.

  4. We had owned our piece of the rock for 6 years before selling everything and making the Leap to full time island life 10 years ago. The best piece of advice I received was “please don’t try to change us and in return we won’t try to change you”.

    Your articles always ring so true and are something I look forward to reading. I mean that about all of your contributors. Sometimes super hilarious and today, profound and thoughtful.

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