On this rock, people here tend to consider the nation among the trendiest in the world. It is like a religion – an opioid, even. We boast about our First World status because we supposedly qualify by having the latest, the best, the newest of everything imaginable.
Well, modern we may be, but our understanding of the concept of modernity? In typical island style, we are deliciously contradictory – a parody of ourselves.
One delightful example of our many island oddities is how we never think to call first to see if this or that family or friend is home before we show up on their doorstep. Naturally, even though we ourselves leave our homes daily or occasionally, we assume everyone else lives sedentary lives – cocooned, ensconced in their homes just waiting for our arrival. Spontaneous or planned, at anytime, a visit is a sure possibility because like shut-ins, the target of our intended drop-in-on simply must be home. Absolutely, positively, no way he, she, or they would be anywhere else.
So we show up and start pounding on the door or gate of a tightly locked up house, oblivious to all the red flags of the lack of presence of any movable life form around. Of course, to reinforce how incredulous it is that said so and so is not home, we proceed to bellow out said name. Perhaps sleep is what keeps them from hearing… It is only a after a good ten minutes that – eureka! – out comes the mobile and after a few words, the “rejected” turns and walks away. Aesopian lesson learned? Not likely.
These islanders are dead set in their ways. I can’t help but be amused everytime I have had an occasion to witness this shortsightedness. My immediate thought: Hello, you have a mobile – call first! The mobile phone (and I’m deliberately using the term “mobile” – dinosaurian in its embryonic phase to the stylish, sleek, state of the art “smartphone”) is arguably one of the most phenomenally functional inventions since all others. And yet it has not made an imprint on the mentality of these islanders.
Consider! You have contact with virtually anyone, anywhere on the globe, in your hands. Not to mention all the applications to satisfy the diverse interests in music, radio, television, movies, videos, games, etc. But before the highfalutin, ostentatious smartphone, there was the poor relation – the humble mobile. Simple, but a valiant competitor in its own right because it conquered distance; degrees of separation were no longer an issue. No matter where you were – in the room upstairs, or possibly climbing Mount Everest, if the signal was there, talk was possible. Think about it: light years ago there was the archaic landline and as revolutionary as that was, it had its limitations – one had to be grounded to enjoy its use. Absent were the limitless possibilities to connect which the mobile offers. The mobile phone has gone way past its granddad/mom – the revolutionary landline – in accessibility and ease. Yet its convenience in complete terms is the definitional point that is lost on the sistrens and bredrens on this rock.
Subjectively, they understand the choices open to them. If one is out shopping, for instance, and the specific brand of ice cream that so and so loves is not available, the mobile is consciously and automatically reached for to relay the disappointment to whomever and perhaps to inquire if a substitute will do or to abort the intent to purchase. The islanders afford themselves of all the attractions of the mobile phone, except this one little significant usage: no matter where they are or you are, they cannot seem to call to announce an impending visit and find out if it is possible, if the person is home, or even more importantly, if they can receive visitors.
I mean, there are a considerable amount of variables that could make a visit not convenient. But the embedded cultural practice of not seeing the necessity to call before you visit negates that social etiquette and makes the service of the mobile obsolete. When confronted with this shortsightedness, in typical island style – man, woman, girl, or boy, old or young – all will gaily laugh and say, “A island living dis… dem deh tings affi forein people mon.” Translation: “This is island living… things like that are for people who live with foreign people.”
The comparative shortfalls in social behaviour between foreign countries and these rock dwellers seem to be a ghost that needs no exorcising. A whole different set of oddities for another article. So my bredrens continue merrily with their odd behaviour. And Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, they have quite a few cultural, idiosyncratic quirks. Another is a certain predisposition to some words, so firmly planted in the subconscious, in that nether region that when it is not the word, the eyes or ears refuse to connect with upstairs to recognize that it is not what they presume it to be. That inherent presumption is always there for names like PRESCOTT. So watch out! If your name is PRESCOD, you had better head straight to deed poll because invariably, you are going to be called PRESCOTT. Be prepared for the possibility that important written documents could end up with the incorrect name and then you are faced with the attendant consequences. Without this variant in the subconscious, WESTMINSTER would always be that and not WESTMINISTER. JOSEPHS as a surname would not be JOSEPH without the “S.” JUNOR for many a rock dweller and some news reporters would not be JUNIOR, distinguishing a younger son from an older father. It’s just another of the rather quaint workings of the eyes and ears here.
Among these rock dwellers too, whenever you go visiting – whether vehicular or pedestrian – chains away from the premises, like a bugle or a bullhorn, you begin announcing your arrival. So, if you are going to see John or Angela, you begin hollowing John or Angela a ways away (possibly to let the neighbours of poor John or Angela know that he or she has someone calling). There is no acknowledgement of any social grace that dictates otherwise. It is just how it is done here. Additionally, on landing on their doorstep or gate, the bellowing fails to cease and will invariably now be accompanied by a loud banging on the gate with whatever stray rock or implement that can be retrieved – even when a doorbell is clearly visible. A perfectly functional addition, installed to lend some formality and ease, but is lost on my fellow rock dwellers.
So on this little rock, modern ways continue to resist and conflict with tradition because islanders here, whether young or old, have one foot in modernity, but something inside keeps the other firmly planted in behavioral practices that are quaint, and in some cases, are in need of long overdue extinction. But it is these very idiosyncrasies which separate island living and make it so markedly different from other places on the globe: the many textures which contribute both to feelings of arrival, a sense of belonging, and equality with places of great wealth expressed through the acquisition of the latest and the best.
Yet, the natural instincts, the great ironies and contradictions, where we can be putting on airs on the one hand and on the other countering with childish simplicity and innocence that defy our efforts to be not who we truly are but who our boast whispers we should be. Somehow, no matter what, that inner who we are will forever emerge.