Disclaimer: My sincere apologies if this offends anyone but please, use some common sense.
Around 50% of the BVI’s economy is obtained from tourism. That’s right – half of this territory’s money comes from those newly-wed, over-fed, really-red, nearly-dead folks from overseas. Those four categories are typically used to describe cruise ship passengers, but we mustn’t forget the various corporate Vice-Presidents, CEOs, doctors, and other well-placed members of society who grace our shores and our offshores with their presence and put bread on the Government’s table. Those of us who have been here for a long time have taken to grouping all visitors of a certain genus into one subcategory of fauna that we call Tourons.
The word touron is a completely fictitious noun and serves to combine the words “tourist” and “moron” into a jovial juxtaposition of jargon. In terms of expression, it can be used with the same tone of disdain as when using “moron” when witnessing someone doing something idiotic from a distance. Hence, the definition of touron is: a tourist doing (or saying) something idiotic. Sadly, this is most often right under our noses, rather than from at a distance.
While we may still shake our heads, we have long ago forgiven them for their “Caribbean holiday outfits” that they have so carefully chosen for their trip. Hawaiian shirts, socks worn with sandals and pulled up to the knees, fanny packs, bee-keeper type hats, and a raging sunburn are no longer causes for surprise. They’ve given in to the various Caribbean stereotypes acquired subconsciously over time via television shows, advertisements, and movies, and show up looking like weatherman Joey Stevens. All that’s missing is the puppet parrot on their right arm. But it’s fine. They thought this was the Caribbean norm. They thought it was quirky and fun. They didn’t know any better.
Complete and utter ignorance as described above is laughable, and just about forgivable. It’s when some tourists arrive, decidedly devoid of common sense, that we tend to start muttering “touron” under our breath. It’s as though, when faced with the issue of overweight baggage, they decided that removing their brains and leaving them at home would allow more carry-on room for their jelly shoes and zinc. That’s about 8lbs right there, and besides, I won’t be needing this in the blissful waters of the BVI, right? Wrong. Showing up here without your noggin is far from forgivable…it’s downright inexcusable.
Upon experiencing the words and actions of a touron, stunned silence, widened eyes, raised eyebrows, uncontrollable bursts of laughter, a face-palm or pursed lips (and schtupsing) usually ensue. In hindsight, however annoying they may be at the time, all of them are downright hilarious. I’ve compiled a few of these incidences below, which I have either experienced myself or which have been shared with me by friends and family.
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO… HUH?
- Walking in the middle of the road.
Ok, not a huge deal, but…why? It’s clearly a road. There are two lanes, with cars going up and down it in either direction. Would you walk in the middle of the road at home? No. I rest my case.
- Walking around town in a bikini/with their shirt off.
Again…why?! Surely not something that’s encouraged upon the shores of home. I can only assume that this stems from the stereotypical view of “No Shirt. No Shoes. No Problem.” Well, guess what: no shirt? No shoes? Big problem. Walking around half naked for all the world to see is considered culturally offensive in the BVI. You can’t blame the heat either…if I can survive in a work blouse and trousers, you can handle it. Put your Hawaiian shirt back on!
- Referring to the locals as “indigenous.”
?!?! Really, I have no words for this one.
- When asked to provide picture ID with their online credit card purchase: taking a selfie with their computer webcam and emailing it through.
Hmm looks like sometimes their brain is stored away before they even board the plane.
- Asking how long it’s going to take them to get back to the ship from where they are…when they can see the ship, big and bright as day from where they are.
You’d be surprised how often this happens.
Yes, people really said or asked these things.
- “How do you keep the islands from floating away?”
Magic. We’re not quite sure but it has something to do with mermaids and giant anchors.
- “What do you do with the islands in hurricane season? Do you have to tie them down?”
See above. They work overtime.
- “How long do you think it would take me to swim under the island?” [Blank stare.] “I’m not stupid; I know I couldn’t do it all in one breath, but hypothetically, how long do you think it would take?”
Why don’t you give it a try and find out? We’ll give the mermaids a heads up on your arrival.
- A lady’s response when she was asked why she was carrying multiple small vials with her: “I want to collect the different shades of blue in the ocean.”
Good luck with that.
- When sitting on board a sailboat in BVI waters: “What’s the altitude here?”
Seriously? You’re sitting on a boat. On the ocean. You know, the sea?
- Having met a crew member on a cruise ship in the middle of a stairwell: “Excuse me, Miss, do these stairs go up or down?”
- How many sunsets do you have?
Just the one. Everyday. About the same time. You see, the Earth revolves around the…oh, never mind.
- What are those weird dark patches moving over the mountains?
It’s that same deadly fog that’s in Lost. Yeah, we’re going to be stuck out here for a while. Or at least until the clouds move…
- After using the head (toilet) on a sailboat: “The colour of the ocean is so blue you can even see it in the toilet bowl!”
It’s fucking Fabuloso.
And on and on it goes. It’s quite scary to think that these types of people are responsible for half of our economy.
Some of these questions are posed by more than one set of tourons (perhaps they go to conventions, or interbreed), but you can guarantee that by the end of the tourist season each year there are a slew of new touron-isms being relayed to us year-rounders for our audible pleasure.
Many of the stories make us laugh so much our bellies ache. All of them make us shake our heads and mutter: “tourons.”
Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments!
Well, okay, not really bahn here (island speak for “born here”), but she’s been here on St. John since she was 2 months old. Her mother – me – is a controlling Virgo and first-time mom. I must say that after watching so many pregnancy/new mother/chick-flick movies, my ideas of what it means to be a mom are a bit on the commercial side. I have idealized motherhood and child-rearing in the context of a city – not an island – and there have been some rude awakenings. I’ll discuss (bitch about) a few…
I see that there are other infants on St. John. There has actually been a bit of a baby boom of recent with little boys and girls popping out of island gyal’s canals all last year. Unfortunately, regardless of demand, there are no practicing pediatricians on island. BOOO! There are health care providers wandering under the domain of the all-encompassing Myrah Keaton Clinic, but I was frightened off at our last visit when the friendly nurse wanted to give my 3 month old daughter a vaccine made for 6 month olds.
So, being city-minded, I went to the internet and Googled “pediatrician in the US Virgin Islands”. After a few clicks and phone calls to the St. John health care providers listed, I was informed that while the doctors on staff do see children, they are not pediatricians and that I should instead contact the neighboring island of St. Thomas. This was not good news – St. Thomas is huge and it is either expensive to pay the $50 to barge your car over or a pain to take the “dollar safari taxi” over with an infant and mandatory stroller/diaper bag. Fortunately, I found a pretty feasible option (as if there were many) near the ferry terminal in Red Hook that would do, only to find out a few months later that the doctor we were seeing had started her own practice way in town and the distance necessitated further transportation than just a walk across the street from the ferry dock. I guess this means we should stop feeling so special and just go see the general doctor at the St. John clinic.
Childcare and Babysitters
Unfortunately, the nearest blood relative to my daughter and me is about 2,000 miles away, give or take a few hundred miles. So what’s a girl to do when she wants a little rendezvous with her he-for-me, you ask? Wait for the baby to fall asleep and speak sweet nothings very softly in the living room for the 30-60 minutes she’s out.
Fortunately, I am staying at home with my daughter and her father is supporting us which means we don’t need a regular childcare provider. But out of curiosity, I’ve asked around anyway. Back in Wisconsin, there is a childcare provider on every corner along with a church, liquor store, and bar. I am used to knowing there are many places to bring your kids when you’ve got to play or work. Here in the islands, it is a different story. After several inquiries to neighbors and women I’ve run across holding infants, I have only been told of TWO places on island that provide childcare, both of which close at 5pm sharp. There are a few other loose arrangements I’ve heard of where woman are watching folks’ infants while the mothers work their 9-5. The only babysitting service I’ve seen costs somewhere around $20 an hour and is geared more towards villa services for the tourists here on vacation. I guess three’s not a crowd when there are no other options. “Me time” and a solo shower are overrated indulgences anyway, right?
While motherhood on a rock comes with its adjustments, there have been some major positives. There is nothing more breathtaking or serene than playing in the ocean that surrounds us, watching my baby laugh and taste the salt of the earth. Living here is beautiful and while we may not have a lot of conveniences and the pleasures of material wealth, we are surrounded by beautiful spirits both in the flesh and not. And that is priceless to both mother and child – pediatrician or not.
When most people think of life on a Caribbean island, they usually conjure up images of beautiful beaches, warm weather, and crystal clear waters. They think of a calm and slower pace of life and that everyone is relaxed and set to “island time”. I’ve been living in the BVI for the last year and I can assure you that this is all true. It is amazingly beautiful and everywhere you look, the scenery is postcard perfect. It is perpetual summertime and I love it. But the thing is, I am exhausted…as in, perhaps I have a vitamin deficiency or actual illness, kind-of-exhausted. But I’m not sick or rundown, I’m just seriously sleep deprived all because I have this inherent resistance to sleeping in on a sunny day, which happens to be almost every day when you’re living in the Caribbean. Any time I try to sleep-in, I suffer a severe self-induced guilt-trip for not being outside soaking up the sunshine.
I moved to the BVI last year from Ireland, which isn’t exactly known for its amazing weather. Most days are quite grey and it rains all of the time. And the rain isn’t like a Caribbean shower where it will rain for a few minutes or an hour and then, voila!, it is beautiful and sunny again. In Ireland, it could easily rain all day and night for several days. I didn’t even see what the big deal was when I experienced my first tropical storm here in the islands last year. Far from threatening, it reminded me of a normal rainy and windy day in Ireland. In my eyes, it wasn’t what I would consider a legit storm or borderline hurricane. I actually quite enjoy a tropical storm. I sleep really well and like being tucked up in bed listening to the howling wind and rain drops falling on the roof. I find it quite comforting, as it reminds me of home.
My sleeping patterns have always been linked to the weather. Prior to moving to the BVI, a sunny day was rare for me and was considered a reasonable excuse to leave work early or not to go work at all. It felt like the end of the world if it was nice out and I had to stay in the office and miss out on the sunshine. Warm and sunny days in Ireland are like gold dust and there is a mass exodus to the nearest beach or park to soak up the limited-time only rays. Everyone is red raw with sunburn and yet they still stay out in the sun and sizzle some more because it may be the only glimpse of summer most people will get. Sunburn, an eruption of freckles, dehydration…these are the things that make up some of Ireland’s best days of the year.
I vividly recall my last sunny day in Ireland. It was almost two years ago and my mom ran into my bedroom to wake up me and ordered me to run outside straight away because it was so nice out. While this may come as a shock to people who have grown up in the Caribbean, I’m sure that a lot of people who have spent time further North will know my pain. I stayed outside that day until the sun went down. My legs were scalded and emitted heat like a radiator for days. I was a human tomato and I couldn’t care less. A sunburn didn’t matter because it’s not like I saw enough of the sun to worry about skin damage – I was more concerned about developing a vitamin-D deficiency due to a serious lack of sunlight.
So, due to being pretty much sunshine-deprived my entire life, I am left with an urgency to jump out of bed in the morning, no matter how tired I am, and make the most of any signs of a clear blue sky. But while I love the sunshine, I am now in serious mourning for the days of staying in bed on a Saturday or having a lazy day catching up on a box set or watching a movie. Now that I’m in the perpetually sunny Caribbean, it doesn’t matter whether I go to bed at 9pm or 2am, I will still wake up at sunrise the next day and begrudgingly get out of bed.
I find myself reminiscing about the times in my life when I had an ability to sleep-in and even bypass the AM hours altogether. My life now consists of a pretty geriatric sleeping pattern – a case of early to bed, early to rise. When lack of sleep catches up with me, I don’t make plans to sleep in late, but instead, try to catch up by falling asleep at an embarrassingly early hour like 7pm. There are some days that I will even hop into bed at 6pm and watch a movie, unable to stay awake long enough to see the end. Sadly, though I’m decades too soon, I would fit in really well in a nursing home at this point in my life. And heaven forbid my phone rings past 8pm on a weeknight. I’m actually shocked as to who would ring so late and wake me up – don’t they know the unrelenting Caribbean sun is waking me up at 5am against my will?
I now find myself fantasizing about what my life would be like if I was well rested. I would probably be happier and better looking. My skin would be radiant, my hair would be super shiny, and I would have boundless energy. People would stop and ask where I get all of my pep, rather than asking if I am anemic and recommending that I get my iron levels checked. To me, sleep is a one-size fits all solution to all of life’s problems. Who knew that a move to the islands would deprive me of this?
So until I overcome this psychological barrier to sleeping in while it’s sunny out, all I can do is pray to the weather gods for some rain or, even better, a tropical storm for the weekend. Saturday is only a few days away and, fingers crossed, let’s hope it’s a wet one!
Every once in awhile I get the notion to create a Virgin Islands nature photo series that includes the litter. Curiously, you don’t see this particular point of view among the postcards, calendars, watercolors, and fine prints already for sale. I suppose this project wouldn’t fall under the category of commercial art. It would be more like my own little PSA campaign.
Visit our pristine tropical paradise!
Because as much as the water—with its multiple hues of turquoise—dominates the island landscape, the garbage is undeniably part of it too. We’re surrounded daily by stunning natural scenes of the sort that most people use as desktop backgrounds, a little in-cubicle motivation toward that one annual week at the beach. And yet, plenty of island residents soil the beauty of their home by littering with absolute abandon.
Thus, the vistas are a mosaic of verdant hills speckled with brightly-painted houses, vibrant flora, and the green and brown shades of beer bottles. The beaches, with their white sand and crystalline water, are bordered with a mix of coconut palms, sea grapes, and washed-up trash. Detritus that resembles the innards of a junkyard piñata, cracked open to release a confetti of partly-broken-down plastics, mixed with more substantial prizes: work boots, for instance, and empty dish soap bottles.
Our dishes are cleaner than some of our beaches.
Waste Management consists of a series of dumpsters scattered throughout the rock. Extremely limited truck service is offered only in “urban” areas like Cruz Bay and Charlotte Amalie. So one must take their trash to the neighborhood dumpster. Yet this proves too taxing for some, who find it simpler to fling their trash bags into a roadside ditch or an abandoned lot.
This despite several signs encouraging people not to litter, a few that even threaten fines. Which of course makes no difference to those for whom it’s essential that the inside of a moving vehicle be completely free of debris at every moment. Immediately after a water bottle has finished serving its purpose, out the window it must go. Reflecting upon the live-grenade-like haste with which it’s abandoned, one might wonder if, perhaps, an island legend claims that the Snickers wrapper will self-destruct ten seconds after the candy is consumed.
I’ve started using walks with my dog, Hershey, as an occasion to pick up trash in my neighborhood. I don’t do it every day, I’m no saint. But, if the mood is right, and if he voids his bowels in a considerate location, I use the (evil) plastic, doubled grocery bags I carry with us for litter.
It’s mostly Heineken and Vitamalt bottles that I come across, mixed with a smattering of Fanta cans and plastic cups. Sometimes the beer bottles have been hillside long enough to now be considered erosion control. Those are left untouched; I’ll be damned if I’m going to dig them out and cause a landslide.
Oh, the things we could build with beer bottles if only we put our minds to it!
I see my share of picnic forks and Vienna Sausage tins left from the lunches of laborers. When the utility company has been in the neighborhood, in addition to the decimated landscaping left behind, are remnants of job site meals: chicken bones (biodegradable, yes, but gross and my dog remains obsessed until they’ve composted into oblivion), scraps of tin foil, to-go boxes, beverage containers, and more plastic cutlery.
At one house, I finally picked up a large plastic child’s ball bat and a pair of toddler shoes I’d often passed with no motivation to grab. How many times have these people walked from house to car, stepping over their own garbage, without feeling moved to collect it? I mean, if the three minute drive to the dumpster proves too laborious, you’d think they’d at least deposit their rubbish in the abandoned lot down the road.
A few days later, I picked up several old car parts outside the same house that I didn’t have room for when grabbing the kid things. Last weekend when passing, I saw that they had started another auto repair. The parts boxes strewn on both sides of the street were what tipped me off, that combined with the collection of freshly-extracted auto guts lying adjacent to the vehicle.
Do they notice that someone has come along and picked up trash that’s languished outside their home for who knows how long? And if so, what do they think? Are they pleased that someone has finally removed it on their behalf? Are they pissed at the phantom trash collector for not minding their own business? Embarrassed that their own lack of pride and effort has finally moved a stranger to clean up after them? Although I’m curious, I must admit, I really don’t care.
This particular house also has one of the grossest items I’ve encountered. Namely, an overturned plunger head that’s been re-purposed into a water collection vessel with the apparent function of aiding in the reproduction of mosquitoes and, therefore, the dissemination of dengue fever. Other nasty items found in various locales (and all left behind, like I said, I’m no saint) include dirty diapers, one tampon applicator, and of course, the occasional used condom….At least they used protection?
“Just tuck the Pamper behind the rock where no one will see it.”
Recently, I came upon a man washing a decades-old truck that had long ago lost its color to the sun. A truck I might not bother washing at all. I noticed a small pile of beer cans in the grass next to the truck. And then watched the guy travel from truck to pile, depositing another can. I had enough room in my plastic bag to fit the cans, and had every intention of going home with them. But how to go about it? I mean, the perpetrator being right there and all. I considered the possibility that he was, indeed, planning to throw these cans in a proper trash receptacle when done with the truck. I decided, however, not to take my chances.
I wondered if I should say something when entering the man’s personal bubble to pick up his trash. Something non-threatening yet pointed like, “I’m sure you were going to get these, but while I’m at it, why don’t you just let me,” stated with a smile, of course. Or something more confrontational like, “So do you expect someone to pick up after you or is it that you just don’t give a shit?”
In the end, I said nothing. Just nonchalantly crossed to his side of the street, bent over, retrieved the cans, and put them in my half-filled sack. Not breaking pace, removing my headphones, or even so much as glancing in his direction.
Here’s a fun find.
I haven’t stated what is perhaps the obvious yet, but certainly attitudes toward litter are, in part, a cultural thing.
One day Magnum and I were outside a St. Thomas shopping center when a Cheetos bag swept across our path like a millennial tumbleweed. I followed my instinct, which was to race down the trash and deposit it in the closest outdoor garbage bin.
When I returned to his side, Magnum’s glare held a mixture of embarrassment and disgust.
“When we together in public, you never pick up trash. Understand me?”
“Bullshit,” I told him. “I’m not letting this stuff end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. You don’t like that ’bout me, then we shouldn’t hang out.”
“But you taking somebody job.”
“Nobody picks up litter, you kidding me?” I sucked my teeth. “Maybe downtown where the tourists go the government pay someone to do it but not out here by the mall.”
“The kids do it in summer.”
“You full a’ shit, man. I never seen anyone picking up litter on the side a’ the street down here.”
“Well, outside dis business, dey pay someone to pick up trash. You takin’ dey job. Plus, you ain’t no dog, Miss. Why you need to go messing wit dah trash?”
Because someone has to give a shit! And it might as well be me.
It’s sort of therapeutic, anyway. And I can’t completely squash the idealistic hope that if people see me picking up litter, they’ll be less likely to create it in the first place. Although, I admit they’re more likely to throw it out with greater glee, knowing that some white girl has taken it upon herself to act like the dog she’s always walking and mess with other people’s trash.
Hey you. You with the aluminum spray can of sunscreen. Yes, you. Stop right there. Just stop. Please. Can we talk about this?
You’re killing me softly with your prolific use of The Mist. And by you, I definitely mean the collective “you”; I’m starting to worry that I’m edging towards the minority, as more and more people adopt The Can each year. Now is the time to act people – we must join forces to stop the madness. Can’t we all just agree that aerosol sunscreen is the WORST? I hate it more than I hate the sound of people eating bananas, which is to say, a lot.
Believe me, I realize the spray option is super convenient. I venture there’s not a soul in the world who actually enjoys slathering on the thick white shellac that is regular sunscreen. It doesn’t blend well, it leaves you with greasy palms, and it makes you crave diet-destroying piña coladas (No? Just me?) I get that. I hate sunscreen, specifically and in general. I prefer to never have to wear it, but I realize I am lucky, having dark skin and all. I sympathize with those of you with pale porcelain doll skin that burns to a crisp when you visit our islands, dangerously close to the Equator as they are. I know sunscreen is your cross to bear, but might I beseech you – use it if you must, but just say NO to the spray version.
I despise aerosol sunscreen with every fiber of my being and you should too. In my personal quest to send this concoction to the same place the noodle guard lies in rot, I’d like to share with you some compelling facts that may aide you in escaping its abominable seduction.
AEROSOL SUNSCREEN IS SOCIALLY OBNOXIOUS
Every time I see someone pressing down the nozzle and releasing a blast of sunscreen, I feel as though I’m transported into one of those cold medicine commercials depicting a germ-filled sneeze polluting the air in freeze frame. Except in this case, it’s not just snot bacteria mucking up the atmosphere, but suspicious, unpronounceable chemicals that I’d rather not have on my person, let alone ingest. While the goal is to mist your individual body (or that of your child’s – God help him), the actuality is a fogging of a roughly 20ft circumference around you, depending on wind conditions. Your sunscreen particles have now managed to create a film on my sunglasses, find their way into my drink, and yes, they have now entered my breathing orifices. The artificial plastic aroma now perfuming the air is an added olfactory offense. Sunscreen in lotion form is an unobtrusive individual affair. By taking things to the spray level, you have now managed to turn your sunscreen application into a group activity, involving a beach of strangers who had no intention of playing as a team in the first place.
AEROSOL SUNSCREEN IS AN ENVIRONMENTAL BULLY
I’m no Al Gore, but this flagrant mist can’t be doing the environment any favors. Regular old sunscreen does enough damage underwater, bleaching our coral reefs, but the haze of the spray one ups it by spreading its toxic minions above the sea as well. Human, plant, animal – we’re all inhaling Octylacrylamide Copolymer. I have no actual facts here (isn’t my intuitive hypothesis enough?) but I’m sure we’ll all find out in a few years when palm trees start dying of sunscreen-related “treephoma” cancer. Mark my words.
AEROSOL SUNSCREEN IS WILDLY INEFFECTIVE
It’s commonly ignored knowledge that spray sunscreen offers comically less protection than its creamy peer. I hate to be the one to break it to you (ok, I don’t actually hate it that much), but you’ve been duped. Remember those clear bra straps that were all the rage 6 summers ago? The ones that looked like women were walking around with Scotch tape holding up their B-cups? Well, in the same way that those did not act as a magical Harry Potter invisibility cloak bra, spray sunscreen is just another sham masquerading as a convenient solution to your greasy palm problem. No matter how much you spray, it’s never going to compare to the thorough application of lotion. Even a gentle breeze steals away 1/3 of your mist before it even hits your skin. I see more than my share of sunburnt tourists and the ones who use aerosol sunscreen are unmistakable. Jagged pink stripes covering their body and airbrush-esque puffs in uneven patterns are the no-fail tell. If you want full coverage protection, don’t get all spray-fancy – just go with the lotion.
AEROSOL SUNSCREEN WILL MAKE YOU EXPLODE INTO FLAMES
If none of the above makes any difference to you, know this – spray sunscreen will potentially cause you to explode into flames. Do you catch me? It is important that you do, so I will repeat myself – YOU COULD EXPLODE. INTO FLAMES. That’s pretty high up there on my list of things I’d like to avoid, how about you?
Speaking from direct experience, Brett Sigworth describes the horror: “I went into complete panic mode and screamed,” Sigworth told ABC news. I’ve never experienced pain like that in my life.”
He was having your standard issue BBQ, decided to “protect” himself from the sun with his handy little aerosol sunscreen, and… BOOM. The “vapor trails” that were attached to his body, errant remains from the spray, set the man on fire. Don’t believe me? Read this.
Look at those burns. From spray sunscreen. I rest my case.
If you insist on continuing your reckless use of the loathsome Devil’s Mist and either a) burst into flames or b) get punched in the face by someone because you lubed up his/her beer, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Aerosol sunscreen user/abuser, I will still love you, the world will still love you, but like a dad in tight, neon short shorts, don’t be surprised if people/me refuse to be seen in public with you. Please – join the fight against aerosol sunscreen. This stuff kills*.
*sometimes/probably hasn’t. Yet.
P.S. I’m having rally buttons made, just FYI, if anyone’s interested.