As I prepare to move to Grand Cayman, I look back with fondness on my time on my previous home rock, St. John of the US Virgin Islands. I already know that life on the new rock will differ greatly, and imagine it’s going to be a bit like moving from a farm to a big city (at least on island terms). On Grand Cayman, though I will enjoy newfound luxuries such as a dishwasher and air-conditioning, I know that what I will miss most are the quirky people of St. John. I’m hoping that on Grand Cayman, I’ll meet a crowd with eccentricities of their own so that memories like the one I’m about to share, affectionately known as “The Coconut Incident”, don’t remain just a thing of the past.
On one of many island happy hours, I was having a drink with a friend (let’s call her “Amy” – wouldn’t want to cause a fellow island girl any shame), over at the infamous Beach Bar. As I gazed at the Beach Bar logo and thought about how much it reminded me of the cover of that Sublime album from the 90s (you know, the only one anyone bought…), Amy and I casually discussed the same old little nothings that drunk people discuss. I suppose I should also mention that while I was a seasoned resident at the time (haha, just kidding! I had only lived there for about 6 months), Amy had just recently relocated to the island. Although she had visited annually for many consecutive years, she was still, for all intents and purposes, a tourist at this point (by now I’m sure she is a veteran rockstar).
So, we’re sipping our drinks, and a West Indian guy shows up selling coconuts. The linguistic traits and cultural subtleties of St. John differ greatly from that of the states, and I had already learned that in order to gain a true understanding and communicate effectively, one must read into the deeper, unspoken context of any given conversation. This is something that often proves difficult for those who are not adjusted to this lifestyle, specifically drunk tourists. So, though I say he showed up “selling” coconuts, I only knew this having learned from experience that nothing on this island is free. Someone would sell you sand if they could. They’d even try to sell you donkey shit if they thought they could get away with it. That being said, his actual words were, “Do you want a coconut for your drink?”
Amy, blown away by the man’s generosity, blurts an emphatic “yes!”, and flitters away to the bartender to get him to fill it with rum.
While she is away, I ask, “How much?”
“Five dollars,” he says.
That seems reasonable to me, so I hand him a five to pay for a coconut of my own, and also have it filled by the bartender with delicious, soul-quenching rum.
Amy returns, still on a high over the unexpected surprise coconut, and hugs the man, not yet realizing that her coconut wasn’t actually a gift. I sit back and watch the show, amused, wondering how it’s all going to play out. She gushes to him about how nice everyone is on St. John, acting as though she’s just met her new best friend for life.
The poor man, looking uncomfortable and increasingly impatient, waits for payment. When none is offered, he attempts to explain to her that he is waiting on his five dollars for the coconut. Amy is thoroughly confused by the sudden charge being demanded of her and it takes a few minutes and some additional clarification for it all to sink in. She’s then forced to explain that she doesn’t have any cash on her (which is why we were drinking at one of the few bars that actually takes credit cards).
The coconut man, thoroughly exasperated at this point, tries to get me to pay on her behalf. Unfortunately, I had already given him the only cash I had left. That was it. He’d had just about enough of this.
Tensions rose, and he turned his frustration onto the bartender, yelling and trying to get him to take responsibility for this customer refusing to pay him for his coconut. The bartender, clearly accustomed to this type of misunderstanding, simply shrugged and said it wasn’t his problem.
At this point, I was starting to feel pretty bad about the mix-up. I bought the guy a beer on our tab, and chatted with him for a bit to diffuse the situation, apologizing for everything (even though, in my mind, I didn’t do anything wrong). Though Amy remained indignant, disappointed that this guy wasn’t actually her best buddy, I think the lesson learned that night was worth the trouble.
Helpful island tips that are good to remember:
- Always carry cash, because nothing is free – not even coconuts.
- If you misunderstand someone, just accept responsibility – it is totally your own fault.
- Become a peace ambassador of sorts by buying someone a beer when the situation calls for it. When you’re on a small island, you are likely to cross paths again someday. No one can afford enemies, but most of us can always afford a beer.