Monkey see, Monkey do: What T&T can learn from other Countries
Ask any Trinidadian what our country could learn from other countries, and the bucket list fills quickly. Whether through the Internet, cable TV, or from annoying relatives who insist on renewing their driving permits with steupses and rants every time they visit, we know what could change.
Respect for law and order, punctuality, integrity in public life, elections based on real issues, non-violent conflict resolution, efficiency in public service, customer service, opportunities for disabled people, a real judicial system, a real traffic system, a real fill in the blank system. It really isn’t hard to develop such a list. Instead, I offer you a handful of less obvious lessons we could learn from other countries. (And I am sure you could think of many more.)
Lesson: It is okay to show public displays of affection (P.D.A.).
“Hola”, “dónde está el baño”, and however you say “get a room” in Spanish – the key phrases for any visiting prude. But walk Spain’s avenidas and plazas and you will encounter intense public displays of affection. Grown couples are seen on park benches ‘making out’ like Form Twos. You’ll see couples parting ways at a train station locked in Hollywood-like embraces. It is ironic that in Trinidad we rarely see couples, even married couples, being romantic in public, except during Carnival, when it seems our leashed P.D.A. transmogrifies into what I’d term P.D.S. – public displays of sexuality.
Country: Egypt (or Tunisia, Libya, Syria or anywhere the Arab Spring has sprung)
Lesson: It is okay to be impatient with poor service and governance.
Trinis are an incredibly patient people, and seem willing to take a whole heap of tootoo from their politicians. We rocked back and coasted for years of squander under the previous government, and when corruption’s poster child fled to Miami, not a pot was banged in a street, not a tent pitched in Woodford Square, not even a march. A new government yes; we protested with our red fingers. But I maintain that Trinidadians are a patient people, helping ourselves to hours of traffic, the threat of criminality, abysmal customer service, and lack of accountability in the public service. Our complacency and nonchalant nature are the nutrients that keep the beast alive.
Lesson: It is okay for men to show other men that they appreciate them.
In line with our juvenile paradigm of Caribbean machismo, Trinidadians harbour homophobia, and male-on-male contact of any form in public is widely frowned upon. As tolerant as I’d like to consider myself, I was still caught off guard when, after spending one week in Lebanon, I was being kissed on the cheek by innumerable men in the village during our farewell goodbyes.
While this fraternal manifestation made me uncomfortable, throughout my trip I couldn’t help but notice the closeness of friends, brothers, fathers and sons. I’d see fathers grab their sons, and squeeze them with pride and friends, walking with hands over each other’s shoulders sharing stories, boasting about how many birds they shot that morning, and being comfortable in themselves all along.
Lesson: It is okay to walk; walking is not a poor people thing.
A friend of mine recently confessed to liming in TGI Fridays in Port of Spain, and when the lime decided to move two blocks away to Aura, some of the group drove there and spent 20 minutes trying to find a parking spot. Walking just doesn’t seem to be a Trinidadian thing.
Maybe it’s too hot, it’s raining, or unsafe. The one exception to this unwritten rule seems to be (again!) Carnival, when all of a sudden walking a mile and a half to tay lay lay becomes totally acceptable. In London, on the other hand, during my daily commute, I spend at least 30 minutes walking, and to be honest, it eh really no scene.
Lesson: It is okay to value your local language.
Jamaicans speak a language called patois. They know it, and are proud of it. I’m tired of hearing Trinis talk about Trinidadian Creole English as “slang”, “vernacular” or “bad English”. It is ours, it took years to develop and its colourfulness is continuously being brought out by our rich, cultural palette. Colonialism is dead on our shores, as should be the associated linguistic subjugation.
Lesson: It’s okay to maco, but keep your opinions to yourself every once in a while.
Trinis, and it seems Trinidadians of more senior generations, seem always ready to ask their question or offer their opinion. As I write this on a train, on my commute to work, I image this carriage being full of Trinis, and a lady looking over my shoulder, reading as I type and asking me, “What is dat yuh writing… wha yuh writing dat for?”
Trinis manage to offer guidance to complete strangers, and sometimes on the most intimate of issues. How many times have you been asked, “Why yuh not marry yet”?
Facetiousness aside, we are who we culturally are. Some aspects of our culture are nation building, some are slowly undermining the fabric of our collective self, and many, probably most, are just simply comedic. By contrast, if there is something other countries can learn from Trinidadians is our ability to self-examine, identify our idiosyncrasies, steups, laugh it off, and move on.
For me, Trinidadian culture is more easily articulated when studied relative to others. So ignore your mommy’s advice and speak to strangers. Travel if you can afford it, meet foreigners, and learn from them. Then teach them how to lime and palance; you’ll be making the world a better place.
Check out the rest of this week’s issue (31/10/11; Issue 79):
- Life after Anya: What will We do Now? By Karel Mc Intosh.
- Undercover Jealousy: Admitting is the First Step. By Katyan Roach.
- Anointed Fusion: SOS is More than Music. By Jolisa Brewster.
- Why Don’t People Dress for their Body Type? By Sean Taylor.
Look out for a new issue of Outlish.com every Monday!
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