What Makes “The Real World” Real?

When I first arrived on the island, it didn’t take long to pick up on a common theme amongst many of the expats here: this is not “the real world”.

I remember chatting with the bakery girl, who had been here about 3 years at the time. She told me all sorts of stories in the genre of “when she goes back to the real world” or “back when she lived in the real world”. I giggled to myself, as I thought it was endearing.

Flash forward to today, going on a year and half living on island, and I now find myself in plenty of situations where I actually have to remind myself that this IS the real world.

Which leads me to wonder: why is it that establishing life on a rock instead of in a city makes it feel like we’re all playing the classic childhood game of make believe?

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I’ve thought long and hard about why we fall into this mindset and here are some of my theories…

  • Living on a Caribbean island can sometimes feel like a fairytale. It’s beautiful – breathtaking at times, even. Most people can only imagine vacationing in a place so tranquil and serene, let alone actually living here.
  • Responsibility is a relative term. Each and every day, we all wake up and contemplate what we will accomplish (or not accomplish), under decidedly less pressure than we felt in “the real world”. Being surrounded by people who are on vacation and working odd days/hours makes “the daily grind” feel less demanding.
  • If you decide that it’s just not one of those “responsible” sort of days, you may choose to just go back to bed and try again later. If you must show up at work, you can often just log your hours and leave. There’s always tomorrow to be more accomplished…

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  • If you say you’re going to do something but you don’t fully deliver in the given timeframe, it generally doesn’t matter. Rarely will you be scolded, judged or punished for simply being late. Seeing as how island life can be a bit on the antiquated side of things, you just never know what challenges are going to stand in your way or slow down progress in getting tasks accomplished – something every island dweller knows all too well. I’m pretty sure this is an island commandment and isle-versal agreement; you just have to believe it really happened. Tree down in the road, and no one around for miles? It happens. Long line at the bank and lunch hour creeps in, so they make you wait until they return? It happens. Stop by the gas station to fill up and they’re out of gas until “later”? It happens. Hop on a water taxi and soon find yourself bailing water with half a milk jug, just to stay afloat? It happens. Climb in a taxi shared with others and soon find yourself on an hour long mini-tour of the island, while each person diverts the typically straight route from town to town? It happens. And we all believe it.
  • The “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” rule applies 7 days a week. You are living in “somewhere”.
  • There are already enough questionable rules when it comes to inexplicable things – like an extra fee for using a taxi’s trunk, the ability to only send wire transfers before noon, and the alcohol ban during elections, to name a few – that it inspires you to make up your own strange rules in your day to day life.

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  • There’s a pretty good chance you will not work in the field that you consider your “profession” back in “the real world”. That is, unless you consider spending countless hours 60 feet beneath the sea, breathing air from a tank and hose, watching people overindulge on ridiculously high caloric chocolate milkshakes filled with booze, or strumming your guitar on Thursday nights and getting paid for it your “profession”.
  • For 5 months straight, when it came time to pay my rent, the ATM was out of money, which forced me to wait 3-4 days before paying late. My landlord didn’t even bat an eye.
  • The longer I am here on this rock, the less and less I can imagine behaving like a mature, responsible 30-something does in “the real world”.

No official conclusions drawn. What do you think? In the meantime, I guess I’ll just stay here in my feels-unreal paradise and ponder on it some more, beach side with a real margarita… but of course!

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Sarah Henke

About Sarah Henke

Sarah has spent the last year settling into island life after falling in love with Roatan’s vibrant landscape and beautiful people while on a SCUBA vacation just 4 months prior to her move. She never dreamed she would find herself an expat before retiring, but so far, it fits her quite nicely. She thinks her little old scooter is the greatest thing since she made the discovery that the tree in front of her house is in fact a mango tree. Sarah has grown to find much joy in the unpredictable happenings on the island from the guy who tries to sell her tamales on the beach during her morning run to the baby chicks marching across her yoga mat mid-session. Most Sundays, you’ll find her at “church” just beyond her front yard, 70 feet below sea level, flirting with curious fish, searching for the occasional seahorse, and “praying” for a chance to admire a whale shark or hammerhead… from afar. You can read more about her journey on her blog, www.bellagypsysol.blogspot.com.

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12 thoughts on “What Makes “The Real World” Real?

  1. I say that anywhere you live, work, pay bills and have to at least pretend to be a responsible person IS the real world! Okay, so having said that I realize that my work ethic is not as stringent as it was stateside, and having a drink at 11a.m. isn’t considered anything but normal here, and stopping traffic to have a chat or wait for an iguana/goat/sheep/cow/pig to cross the street has become routine. It’s more like an alternate reality real world.

  2. Although Panama is not officially an island, we found many of the same quirks and eccentricities while living there. I remember being very late for something once because a sloth was s-l-o-w-l-y making its way across the road, followed by a baby sloth about 8 feet behind mama and moving even more s-l-o-w-l-y. Fascinating critters; I wans’t the least bit sorry (or stressed) that this little parade took over half an hour.

  3. I think society has made us think that the ‘real world’ needs to be a certain way. This all changed for me when I moved down here. I’m much more open minded. However, letting go of the ‘real world’ has been a painful process at times. It’s deeply ingrained in most of us that the ‘real world’ is making lots of money at a job that you dedicate 60 hrs/wk to…living to work, rather than working to live.

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