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Xenophobia and the art of travelling

Note: This article was written by a scottish player and published in the 1995 Sevens' program published by the Trinidad Enthusiasts R.F.C. It is not intended to offend the Trinidadian culture. On the contrary, it is to describe how nice and friendly the Trinis are and the cultural surprises the visitors might encounter in this beatiful country.


As a newly arrived guest in your country I have been asked to write a semi-humorous article on my fir-it impressions of Trinidad.

Why semi-humorous? Does this mean I am a half wit? Actually it was a shame I was asked to write this brief insight into life in Trinidad, as most of the subtle cultural variations that exist between our two countries have been submerged under a sea of alcoholic oblivion. So don't expect any incisive observations on the Caribbean Ethos, I'm just glad I know which country I'm in. Not that I have been totally obtuse, I have one or two minor idiosyncrasies worth mentioning.

Yeah, I know what you are thinking "Wow! What searing intellect, three months in Trinidad and he's noticed we speak differently." Well okay that was going to be one of my observations. I was going to make witty comments all about the peculiar way Trinidadians say the word "ask" or how "up de road" can mean any where from your neighbors house to Glasgow but as you've been so rude I won't bother.

Fortunately the language barrier is very easy to overcome. This is achieved by always answering "YES" to any question not understood as nine times out often you are being offered a drink. (the other one time can of course get you into some pretty dodgy situations but I always feel it's worth it.)

Whenever anything more is required in an answer I have found that a liberal smattering of phrases such as "fix up" "one time", "just now" and "oh ho" usually do the trick. . It is important to become fluent in "Trini speak" as I have done as this enables you to enjoy fully Trinidad's number one national pastime, Liming, I will admit that the whole liming thing was a bit confusing to me at first. Last night, for instance, I went out for what the locals emphatically call a lime. What they should have said was "'We are going out to drink Carilb until you forget your it , and the pavement rears up and- smacks you in the mouth." It's just that a lime is easier to say, I guess. Not that I have anything against liming of course, it's the hangovers that go with it that I can't stand. Still, you have to get used to hangovers down here, it's almost a way of life. It must be the heat or possibly the Carib but since arriving in Trinidad three months ago I have had trouble telling what is and what is not a lime. As far as I can tell if you can remember it, it wasn't a lime.

At this stage perhaps I should say that my whole time in Trinidad thus far has not been spent learning the language and then forgetting how to speak. I have managed to come up with one or two warming insights into Trini life, like their love of unnecessary paperwork.

You don't have to wait long - fore experiencing Trinis' love of, restrictive bureaucracy. Four days in customs and you know you've hit it. The forests of impenetrable red tape found there can reduce even the most stoic traveller to a gibbering wreck in as 'little time as twenty four hours. It's not the customs guards' fault of course, they're all lovely pink fluffy bunny rabbits who love to be tickled, it's just all part of the belief that if a form is worth filling out it is worth filling out a hundred times

Travellers can however take solace in the knowledge that leaving the country requires three times the paperwork.

Unnecessary paperwork is not restricted to customs it has infiltrated every walk of life. Every time a car gets sold another equatorial rain forest bites the dust. It's all part of the work ethic that states "If a job is worth doing it will be worth doing tomorrow. Getting someone to fill in endless forms is just another way of saying 'Manana, Manana'."

I would however hate to give the impression that Trinidad is a nation of alcoholic filing clerks. Since my arrival I have found Trinis to be perhaps the friendliest people in the world. A new face is immediately welcomed, rendered insensible with alcohol, stuffed with roti and cleaned up the following morning as a matter of courtesy. This innate friendliness extends into all but two areas of Trini life - Rugby and Driving.

I won't say too much about rugby in Trinidad as the topic will be flogged to death in this magazine. Suffice to say that it varies from excellent to enthusiastic, from entertaining to aggravated assault. The rough and tumble of the rugby fields pales into insignificance once you get onto the road. Road being a term loosely used to describe a narrow strip of tarmac that connects all the potholes in the country. It is also a place to store dead dogs. No one can honestly say they have experienced life in Trinidad until they have driven through Port of Spain. It doesn't matter at what time s the traffic never varies, it's a 50 m.p.h. accident waiting to -happen. The standard of driving is hardly surprising when the rigorous d riving test asks such questions as:

When checking your fuel level would you?

  1. Turn on the ignition and check the gauge
  2. Peer into the tank with a lit match
The only requirements for a vehicle to be fit for road are that dents and rust cover no more than 99% of the body and that it once had some lights somewhere. The lack of car lights has resulted in an intricate system of hand signals evolving. They are very easy to understand of course because they all mean one of two things:

  • Hand any position but hanging by door - "Keep Clear" my car is criminally unsafe and I have no idea how to drive but I am going to make a highly dangerous and erratic manoeuvre anyway.
  • Hand resting on car door same as above but driver too drunk to lift arm
Hand signals used to be used a lot by taxi drivers but they now rely purely on telepathy.

Very few cars have mirrors but this is irrelevant as nearly all Trinidadians have a Draculine fear of using them anyway. The only other time the hands are used during driving is to hit the horn. The horn is only used when necessary i.e.:

  1. When other cars are present
  2. When no other cars are present
  3. Every so often to check it is working.
Speed limits are not merely ignored but taken as a personal insult. I have never seen a brake light work, this could be because none of them do work, more or more likely, because braking is taken as an admission of some deep rooted sexual inadequacy in men and as just a general inadequacy in women.

Accidents on the road aren't caused by drivers falling asleep drunk at the wheel so much as by the odd one waking up and panicking at what he sees. As far as I can tell as long as no one wakes up there is no problem. This may seem a rather controversial approach to road safety but I feel sure that compulsory sale of Valium at gas stations would help matters immeasurably.

Despite all these peculiar anomalies driving should not be taken too seriously. it is rare for anyone to get really angry even in a crash. Everyone drives fast but no one is really in any hurry. Given the opportunity any driver would pull off the road for a quick lime.

Life is too relaxed here to worry about deadlines so why hurry. Punctuality is a social failing anyway. Time really is meaningless...



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