When I first stepped foot onto the tarmac of the Henry Rohlsen Airport and walked out to catch my ride (a 1990-something, $800 Honda Civic with no AC and a broken passenger window), I shied away from the locals, didn’t give them a warm greeting in return, and simply rushed my way through the airport (and through my first few weeks on island, for that matter). I wanted so badly to fit in and not to be discovered as the “island newbie” that I was.
As I passed the time beach-combing, learning to drive on the lefthand side of the road, and making it out to the store every once in awhile, I picked up some tidbits in my observations of the locals and began to try to put them to use. My efforts to become one of them were hit or miss at first. It really wasn’t until 2.5 years later that it started to fall into place for me naturally.
In those early days, I’d often wished for a list to help me fast track my local status. And so, contrary to my last post, Channeling My Inner Tourist, I have put together some tips for those of you who may be new to rock life as to how you can better fit in with us locals (if that is, in fact, your goal – though it should be noted that being a newbie is nothing to be ashamed of!).
Island Newbies – take note:
– 1 –
When you meet someone new, try not to start off the conversation with, “Sooooo, what do you do?” Do yourself a favor and leave that question on the tarmac of the airport you just left. When you ask this question, islanders may politely smile and nod, but what they’re really thinking is, “Oh sweetheart, you obviously came from a place that gives a damn about your job, status, and ‘what you do’ like it defines your soul.” That’s one of the best parts about living on an island – your job doesn’t define you here and no one actually cares what you do. People here just want to get to know you as the beautiful soul that is sitting right in front of them.
– 2 –
Feel free to go bare – in the face, that is. It’s a hot, more active lifestyle here and you’ll soon find that many opt to go sans-makeup. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Same goes with your hair – the salt water can be a fabulous stylist. Let the sunshine and salty air give you that fresh outta the sea, au naturel local look.
– 3 –
Travel with a “traveler” aka a tumbler filled with vodka, rum, or whatever twisted cocktail you enjoy. Roadies are legal here and carrying your own cup to later be refilled by your local bartender is an excellent way to skip the one-use plastic cups and go eco.
– 4 –
Local Tipping Protocol: It’s never a bad idea to tip 20% on your tab, or even higher if you feel compelled by stellar service. As a local on a small island, everyone knows everyone and you don’t want to be dubbed as the “bad tipper.” It’s not like you’ll never be returning to the restaurant/bar. There are limited places to patronize on a rock; you’re no longer living in a place where you’re “just a number.” Your island bartenders tend to hook you up, especially if they know from the last time that you added a little extra to the tip line.
– 5 –
Don’t let the water run while you’re brushing your teeth or doing dishes – or ever. We islanders get our water supply straight from Mother Earth herself… rainwater! And we monitor our water levels very closely; so much so that I know that one flush = 10 gallons of water and that if I flushed my toilet 1,000 times, I could run out of water. (If you do the math, you will find out I have an extremely small cistern.) Don’t freak the other islanders out with your newbie ways when it comes to water – conserve every opportunity you get.
– 6 –
Cool Out! We are in a no hurry zone. The locals here on St. Croix say “cool out,” meaning chill out (we even have a “Cool Out” bar). If you rush around like you did elsewhere, stressed and overwhelmed, you’re missing out on what island life is all about.
– 7 –
Greet EVERYONE with a “Good morning, good afternoon, or good night.” This is the easiest way to fit in – and it is what makes our community so nice – the people!
– 8 –
Convert to island driving ways: Stay on the left side of the road; only honk to let people through or to thank them for letting you cut through; feel free to dirty up your ride with a bit of off-roading; and be prepared for endless potholes (swerve as you must!).
– 9 –
Wear a Crucian hook bracelet paired with a few other authentic bangles. The Crucian hook bracelet has been a staple of the Virgin Islands. If you’re on another rock, find out if there’s another fun thing you could don that’s made on the rock and beloved by locals.
– 10 –
Adopt a bush puppy or kitty! One of the best ways to make island friends is to open your home to those in need.
– 11 –
Put your phone down and soak up the sunrise (or sunset) that is emerging right in front of you! There are so many times that I’ve headed out to Point Udall to watch the sunrise only to see all of the tourists watching it from the face of their phones while they record it. Sure, the tourists may only get this one island sunrise before they head home, but you live here now. Learn to savor without always feeling the need to snap.
– 12 –
Dance like no one is watching! Let your salty hair down, whip it around, and allow your hips to sway to the music. Forget your worries and start to enjoy the freedom of island living. We local ladies will likely join you on the dance floor and give you a twirl, welcoming you into our mermaid life.
– – –
Welcome to the rock, island girl. We’re glad you’re here.
What advice would you offer an “island newbie” to help them fit into local life on your rock?