Every waking day I am surrounded by reminders that my rock, Barbados, is not – and will never be – New York City. Sure, there are the obvious distinguishing factors like climate, square miles, white sand beaches, and, did I mention – climate. Even still, prior to moving, I did not completely grasp how different it actually would be. Most people that I have interacted with while living here thus far would probably complain of my obsessive comparative disorder. But no matter how annoying this trait may be, I can’t help but contrast my two most recent homes. And to me, the most notable difference by far is the lack of anonymity, or what I think of as “being seen”.
New York City is a place where you can easily get lost in the never-ending hustle and bustle. During my 7-year stint on the majestic island of Nuevo York, I probably only ran into people I knew unintentionally no more than 50 times – max. Hence, there were many occasions where I left my house in unforgivable frocks that had the potential of being featured on any of those What is She Wearing?! shaming shows/blogs, though I didn’t give much worry to it. Quite often, I did not allot the time to primp and put on my favorite pair of Jimmy Choos just to grab an egg and cheese roll from the nearest deli, and I was totally fine with that. Barbados, on the other hand, isn’t really the place for such sloppy errand-running.
When I first moved here, I only knew about a handful of people, both personally and indirectly. I did not recognize too many faces, and everything was just so new. A month in though, and all that has changed.
Outside the occasional rides, I rely solely on public transit to get around. This has increased the number of people I know significantly. People on the zetars (small vans that cram about 20 persons in for $2 Barbadian dollars a ride) and buses become like family; I feel like I know them and they probably feel like they know me. Working in one of the only nightclubs on the island has also increased the number of people I “know”.
At first, the grocery store was one of my favorite places to go on the island – cool and full of food. But the grocery store, as it turns out, is one of the main places to be seen. I found that it was always on a really “off” day that I would inevitably bump into someone I did not want to see.
Recently, I ran into an officer that I knew from my job. I was standing in the produce section, focused and determined to choose the right tomato, when the gentleman came up to me and started talking. I was completely thrown off because I had always considered grocery time as MY time – I did not come here to socialize. I also looked like I had just come from doing a bid at Rikers Correctional Facility: hair disheveled, clothes with no type of coordination, and not one lick of makeup. However, I carried on with the brief conversation about something totally irrelevant, then continued on with “me” time.
Hoping that I wouldn’t see anyone else, I hurried to pay for my groceries. Then the young man bagging my purchases leaned over, and in a very soft voice as if he had been instructed by his superiors not to speak to customers, asked, “You could get me passes to de club?” You have got to be kidding me! I have never seen this person a day in my life, how does he know where I work! I proceeded to ask him if my groceries would subsequently be on the house. He was clearly caught off-guard, and I left hoping that he would be the last person I had to converse with while looking so unkempt.
The next day at work, one of my coworkers mentioned that he saw me out the day before and I looked “popped down”. This is one of the words Barbadians use to describe something/someone that looks like a mess. I have become accustomed to the brashness of the locals, so when he said that to me, I’m happy to report that I was not totally offended. I let him know that his comment was duly noted, assured him I would keep that in mind any time I left the house in the future, and thanked him for his concern.
Most people assume that island living means a more laid back approach to life in general, which is true in many cases. Though in the case of physical appearance in Barbados, I have found this assumption to be false. Unlike New York, to go to the grocery store, government buildings, hair salon, grab a bite, go to the bank… basically anything having to do with outside – you better be on your A game because you never know who you may run into. Barbadians young and old step out in their Sunday best to run errands. House clothes are just that – clothes that are to be worn in your home only, and there is no such thing here as the grunge look.
So there you have it, another valuable lesson I have learned while living on this magnificent rock: When leaving the house, dress like you are going to meet the Prime Minister…always. This is not New York, people.