Misconceptions About Caribbean People And Island Life.

caribbean

Kids Being Kids At Recess

We’ve all seen the rum commercials on TV.. bus built in the 50’s, brightly painted and overflowing with people, farm produce and livestock, as it makes in way (late) to town. Or movies (like the series on Netflix set in Belize) where corruption, drugs and a general overly laid-back lifestyle is the norm. As a son of the Caribbean it’s very frustrating to say the least, as I know this sort of stereotype is inaccurate and very hurtful.

YES! We know how to have a good time (luv to fete), we know how to relax and our general take on life is.. come what may and we’ll deal with it. But this sort of ‘attitude’ is mistaken for something totally different when the media decides to portray us and our region.

Let’s clarify some things so if you’re not familiar with the Caribbean you won’t be forced to ask ignorant questions based on what you see in the media.

  • We are VERY hardworking and industrious.
  • Many of us do regular jobs (Teachers, Doctors, Lawyers, Public Servants, sales Associates, Managers, IT Specialists etc) and not everyone wants to braid your hair or sell you beaded necklaces. Please treat those who cater to you when you travel here, with some respect.
  • Education though High School is mandatory and free. We also have our own Universities and Colleges, along with the ability to travel abroad to pursue such education should we choose. Basically we have a very educated population.
  • While we do cater to tourism for the most part, it’s not the only source of income for some islands.
  • NO we don’t all smoke weed and drink rum. It should not seem strange when I say I’ve never participated in the smoking of the herb! Many of us who do enjoy the odd adult beverage will certainly reach for the top shelf Scotch, Brandy, Sherry and Wine… which are readily available.
  • Ganja (and other drugs) will land you in JAIL!
  • Yes, for the most part ‘cussing’ in public is an offence and can land you in jail also.
  • We don’t all speak with a “Jamaican” accent. While the Jamaican accent is ‘attractive” to mimic, you WILL find different ‘sexy’ accents on every island. In Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, St Vincent and St Lucia we also speak ‘broken‘ French, known as Patois! Though not as common as it once was, especially in Trinidad and Tobago.
  • We were once colonized by the English, French, Dutch, Spanish and at the turn of the 17th century Portuguese merchants traded in the Caribbean, so you’ll find that not all the Caribbean is English-Speaking and remnants of such colonialism is very evident in our everyday life (legal system, architecture, food, culture, government, education system etc).
  • Spicy food is NOT the norm, though we do produce some of the hottest peppers in the world and spices are VERY evident in our cuisine.
  • Voodoo is not the “official” religion of the Caribbean. Christianity remains the most practiced religion, but you will find many Hindus, Muslims and various other religious beliefs. Curacao is home to the oldest synagogue – Mikve Israel – in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere; it was founded in 1651.
  • Transport. YES! you will find older model cars lovingly cared-for and in use, but the majority of automobiles you’ll see in use are new/modern. The same sort of vehicles you’ll find in North America, Japan and Europe. We have our own inter-island airline (LIAT)  and some countries do have their own national airlines (Air Jamaica, Caribbean Airlines).  In many countries just about every family owns at least 1 car and in doing so we’re now seeing traffic jams and other problems associated with having too many vehicles on the road.
  • We enjoy the same sort of lifestyle a person living in North America would experience (freedoms, technology, communications, media, shopping, education, health care and general lifestyle). Any modern convenience you’re accustomed too, so do we!
  • We know our history and we’re very proud of our heritage, culture, food and contributions to the global village.
  • We play to WIN and have ‘fun’ in the process! Don’t confuse our confidence with being cocky.
  • Terms like “Farm To Table”, “Locally Grown/Raised” and “Organic” are NOT new to us.
  • You will find different races living, working and playing together (even sharing each other’s religious celebrations) throughout the Caribbean.
  • There’s Dominica and Dominican Republic.. two different countries in the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago, while two islands… is ONE country.
  • We don’t live in shacks on the beach!
  • We do have cities (though small), towns and rural villages. NO we don’t live in coconut trees in the tropical rain-forest.
  • Reggae is but one of the various genres of music we’re known for. Some of the styles to gain wide popularity outside of the Caribbean include bouyon, cadence-lypso, calypso, chutney, compas, jing ping, punta, reggae, reggaeton, soca, and zouk.
  • While there are a few bad apples, for the most part our protective services can be trusted and will gladly assist you.

Hopefully the points above helps you better understand my Caribbean and her people and you’ll look past the idiotic ways we’re portrayed in mainstream media.

I’d love to get your take on ways you’ve noticed that the media inaccurately illustrates island life and her people.. please leave comments below.

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40 Comments

  1. Marina Harper
    July 27, 2016 / 1:44 am

    I visit Trinidad & Tobago every year as my mom was born and raised there. I love to spend time with my family and have good times. I was born and raised in Ontario, Canada but I am very proud of my heritage through my mom.

  2. Maureen Singh
    July 27, 2016 / 2:12 am

    Though I did not live on an Island, I lived in Guyana I love the Caribbean and do not like how the Caribbean is portrayed in the media/movies. The people of the Caribbean are the friendliest people I have ever met. Everyone gets along with everyone and in my family we were taught that everyone is the same does not matter the color of your skin or your religion. If my dad ever heard one racial word out of mouth he would wash it out with lye soap after he boxed your ears. We had no phone and no TV and most of the time lived in the interior with only the radio and had the generator for power for 3 hours a day. I came to Canada in 1973 and I still miss Guyana everyday

    • Kenny Blau-Hosang
      July 30, 2016 / 10:03 am

      Were you living back in Guyana under the Burnham regime?

  3. Chris Heinzel
    July 27, 2016 / 8:49 am

    I hate when they ask if we wear grass skirts and lime the whole day. I am a Trini living in Austria for the last 36 years. When we have over 30 degrees everyone is always asking if I feel comfortable now? Comfortable with what I ask because I am acclimated to this country.

    • soma
      July 28, 2016 / 4:35 pm

      Anyone who ask such questions are idiots.Those stupid questions is to shame. Little do they know that many, many people of the Caribbean live better lives than those asking stupid questions. Better education, you move to another country for higher education to give your children the best life has to offer, embracing then with different cultures and experiences. So stupid reporters do your home work.

    • Kenny Blau-Hosang
      July 30, 2016 / 10:05 am

      the world is a global market. how can people asked you such ignorant questions?

  4. Anna Howells (Kuklinski-Coelho)
    July 27, 2016 / 1:33 pm

    Loved the article. I was born in Trinidad and am very proud of it. Trinidad and the people there are beautiful and amazing. Island people are the happiness people as they know how to relax and enjoy life but at the same time are very hard working and committed.

    • Dr. Thora Felecia williams
      July 29, 2016 / 7:57 pm

      Well said Trinis are for the most part very down to earth and loving folks. We are very serious about education and our work ethics cannot be minimized by anyone.I love my country although I have lived abroad longer than I would like to divulge home will always be home.

    • Kenny Blau-Hosang
      July 30, 2016 / 10:11 am

      Well said Anna, but I would like Trinis to support Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival and know the history of where and when Trinidad carnivale started.

  5. Eleanor Gittens
    July 27, 2016 / 3:31 pm

    Excellent article summarizing the frequent misconceptions. I was visiting a NE state, in the US recently, I overheard a friend ,say to another that “She doesn’t speak English well.” with reference to me. Shocking. My T&T culture was seen as exoctic, they were surprised by our similarities and kept asking whether we did this or that differently. Shared this piece hoping that they will see it.

  6. Catherine
    July 27, 2016 / 4:31 pm

    You forgot to mention that the Trini accent has repeatedly been voted the world’s sexiest accent 🙂

    But yes, we are regular people with ordinary lives, even if we live in paradise.

  7. Shane
    July 27, 2016 / 5:02 pm

    Very informative article. I am St Lucian and proud to be one. I think it all has to do with ignorance. Rather than getting g to knows ones culture. My grandmother was Trini and my dad Venezuelan. Hence we have the world wide web. Stay Informed.

    • Andre
      July 27, 2016 / 8:46 pm

      Forgot to mention that many Caribbean islands have a higher standard of living. Great Dr.’s and universal medical care,(even for immigrants and tourists). Shorter work hours, higher minimum wage, more vacation time, and still time for siesta and family.
      Also part of the EU. The “French West Indies” .

  8. Uwe
    July 28, 2016 / 2:18 am

    Great article Chris. I have visited T&T many times. Love the place (my ex is Trini).I used to love “Jumping Up” at Carnival (too old now).
    Keep up the good work and recipes.

  9. Susan
    July 28, 2016 / 10:52 am

    Well I’m a Trini leaving in the USA for many years. Unfortunately the crime rate in T&T is high and the police, well that’s 50/50, part the reason I suppose why the crime rate is so high. I agree it is not some backward little country/ region. There are Trini’s and other west indians who enjoy a lifestyle many here might envy. They are a proud and sophisticated people very talented and resourceful. Tobago separated from Trinidad a long time ago I think when it became a republic don’t quote me on that. I’m coming from a Trini perspective, I could candy coat things but you get there and turn on the news and drive around. There is affluence and abject poverty. But some of the prettiest trees I’ve ever seen are on the highway coming from the airport, green and lush, it is a beautiful place. As with most third world countries religion mixes with some of the stuff that came with the African immigrants, not always good things that spawn other demons, but praise God Christianity is alive there. You know as you long as you live away, the Caribbean will never come out of us it is always home to the heart.

    • chris
      July 28, 2016 / 1:31 pm

      Unfortunately I don’t agree with many of your points, as I sure your connection is via the daily Newspaper and gossip/inaccuracies on Facebook. The media makes money by sensationalism and reporting negativity. Yes, there is crime and perceived “poverty”, but right there in the US of A you will find the same. Only a month ago how many were shot down in that night club in FL? I’ve driven across the US and I’ve seen poverty in the ‘great country”. I see poverty in Canada.. supposedly one of the best countries in the world to live in.

    • July 28, 2016 / 7:35 pm

      Couple things …. Tobago didn’t separate. Also the crime situation in Trinidad is a multi layered issue brewed and refined over a generation.

      Btw Chris … Great post mate 🙂 you mind if I reshare on my fb page and blog

      • chris
        July 28, 2016 / 9:31 pm

        Fam! Still travelling all over the globe? Thx for the kind comment… yea man, please share.

    • Pat
      July 28, 2016 / 10:30 pm

      I have to agree with Chris. Neither my husband, born and bred in Guyana, nor I would ever “praise God Christianity is alive there” and we don’t think that having it necessarily makes any country, in the Caribbean or elsewhere, a better place. Still, the article addresses the misconceptions so prevalent in the mainstream press and those I think are driven not just by “lazy” reporters but also, and in my opinion by lazy business people, politicians, economist lackies and religious leaders who all just want to use these stereotypes to make it easy for them to drive their own agenda, whether it be regime change, “freeing” up trade for an invasion of products and policies from major countries, profiting from the bullying of small countries, exploitation of those with few other choices, profiting from the ignorance of tourists, etc, etc. As Maureen pointed out, there is “poverty” in the countryside of many Caribbean countries but, like her, I did not find a lack of TV or even a lack of electric power to be such bad things. There is a lack of medical care in many, many places in the US and even in Canada and the UK there are those without internet, power or water but it does not suit the political and economic agendas of the powers that be to expose that here as it does there. All any of us can do is try to dispel the stereotypical misconceptions wherever we encounter them and remember everyday to counter meanness, austerity, racism and xenophobia.

    • Kenny Blau-Hosang
      July 30, 2016 / 10:16 am

      T&T is not as backward as most of the American states. They are more technology savy than most people in the US.

    • Barbara
      July 30, 2016 / 11:07 am

      Tobago and Trini are still one country.

    • Kenneth
      July 31, 2016 / 12:58 pm

      Trinidad and Tobago have not been separated, we are still a unitary state. Where did you even get that idea?

  10. Lily
    July 28, 2016 / 12:24 pm

    I am from Dominica ‘The Nature Isle’. I was very happy that we were mentioned as we are usually confused with the Spanish speaking Dominican Republic. This was a great read and you pointed out most of the things that I would want someone to know about the Caribbean islands and how unique yet similar their customs are. I would also mention that most islands have their own national anthem, bird, dish etc. I am proud to be Dominican and proud to be from the Caribbean. We are ‘well-mixed’.

  11. Abraham Zúñiga
    July 28, 2016 / 2:39 pm

    Hello Christ; I have never visited your country and have also suffered firsthand the stupidity of stereotypes promoted mainly by the propaganda of the U.S.A. But I researched, read and seen a lot about all the Caribbean countries, and all are very beautiful full of cordiality and respect, poor people around the world there, and we in Mexico are no exception. A hug and live Trinidad and Tobago.

  12. July 28, 2016 / 4:53 pm

    A TV presenter did a documentary on Trinidad and although he was born in St Margaret he emphasised the sale of coconuts from a donkey cart with the cameraman showing the seller being shoeless, as we say “barefoot”.
    No part if this industrialised island was shown and the impression given by this programme insisted that this island was just another banana republic.
    On my arrival in the UK living in London people would have a bath once per week, very few had permanent teeth, toilet facilities was outside, bread was carried under arm, beers were never cold, the poor went to the Public Bar, and the middle class to the Saloon Bar.
    Today the rich and famous are not expressing anything different which the colonial masters practised, caste and class is still lingering among yesteryear slaves and indentured labourers.
    I had to leave this island because my parents could not bribe employers .

    • chris
      July 28, 2016 / 6:42 pm

      I can’t comment on your experience, but I’ll say this.. many of my family and friends are very successful and was never asked for nor never offered a bribe. hard work, education and being driven is key.

      • July 28, 2016 / 7:53 pm

        This is the hard work I did

        School up to 7 standard
        Technical School for 5 years San Fernando.

        Passed entrance for Naps and Pres unable to attend, could not pay the fees
        I do not hate anyone or blame anyone just to let you know my interpretation of life during my time in Trinidad and I often reflected why some of my colleagues were successful and although I tried desperately hard to gain employment all doors was closed.

        When the PNM won its first election East Indian descendants were challenged, I did not come second in the fight.
        I have no intention of hiding from the past and faced the future in another country with confidence until I returned to Trinidad to fins not much has changed for the poor.
        Many of my friends went to Canada some with no academic achievement and I often wondered how was it possible.
        Thanks Chris
        I hope your Mum is well and keep going!!

        • chris
          July 28, 2016 / 9:30 pm

          Re: Fees (Naps / Pres) Not sure what you mean here. Do you mean books? I assume you mean you wrote the common entrance exams and was selected to attend either Naps or Pres?

          MUCH have changed my friend… we even have free (somewhat) university education (changes now due to the poor economy), and because of this we’re seeing a brain drain. I won’t get into politics, but know that when Dr Williams asked a certain prominent “Indian” leader to join forces to gain independence he claimed that we didn’t need it. Yes, there’s remnants of colonialism, but for the most part we are truly evolving into our own.

      • July 29, 2016 / 6:04 pm

        I am trying to express factual experiences Chris and it not may intention to blame anyone or anything except what my realisation is about living in Trinidad as a born Trini from indentured labour heritage.
        Trinidad is not as sweet as I experienced on my last visit when a friend was held up at gunpoint and robbed of $5.000 dollars in daylight. And the last incident when a young man from the UK was shot dead when he tried to pick up a friend as I understand it.
        Any Tobago killings of Europeans?
        When is the ship from Kalkatta expected
        Any illegals from Africa, Syria, and China.
        Any race hate in Guyana?
        What is the recent stats on the killing.
        Ant hold up from the Airport?
        Any hostility by Customs officials?
        Any race hate among Africans and East Indians in Trinidad?
        Is the political racism mainly among Asians ans Africans?

        Which islands in the Caribbean are experiencing the highest murder rate?
        Please advise.

        • July 29, 2016 / 6:06 pm

          I am trying to express factual experiences Chris and it not may intention to blame anyone or anything except what my realisation is about living in Trinidad as a born Trini from indentured labour heritage.
          Trinidad is not as sweet as I experienced on my last visit when a friend was held up at gunpoint and robbed of $5.000 dollars in daylight. And the last incident when a young man from the UK was shot dead when he tried to pick up a friend as I understand it.
          Any Tobago killings of Europeans?
          When is the ship from Kalkatta expected
          Any illegals from Africa, Syria, and China.
          Any race hate in Guyana?
          What is the recent stats on the killing.
          Ant hold up from the Airport?
          Any hostility by Customs officials?
          Any race hate among Africans and East Indians in Trinidad?
          Is the political racism mainly among Asians ans Africans?

          Which islands in the Caribbean are experiencing the highest murder rate?
          Please advise.
          Chris Naps mean, Naparima College, Pres means Presentation College all in San Fernando.

          • July 30, 2016 / 6:46 pm

            Hi Chris
            What a lot of people fail to accept is the fact that the PNM gave educational opportunities to the nation, meanwhile the influential and rich East Indians felt they were the above the rest excluding the the Europeans. The rich landowners exploited the mass of especially with money lending exploitation and daylight robbery by the shopkeepers when the poorest asked to put their purchase on the slate. Also religious exploitation was rampant until the PNM influenced change indirectly by giving access to free education.
            The DLP was East Indian and PNM Arfican with the rest playing in the arena according to their self interest meanwhile boasting about patriotism. Influential East Indians played the PNM game when its suitable and preach racial superiority when its convenient.

            Here is a practical example. ” a politician with the initials ASS said, on the day of voting you all will ride on the back of this ASS and show the PNM how this donkey ride is comfortable. The politician was Ashford Sastri Sinanan now dead. He lived in complete luxury with private tennis courts and several American vehicles with vast property acquisition among their relatives. They showed no pity or compassion for the poor and exploited anyone especially with illegal money lending activities.
            Fact no hate the Breakfast Shed and liberal minded Africans will always be welcomed by myself its for they who always participated in charitable organisations and showed me personally great compassion. and for this I am very grateful.
            Who remembered getting a free toy because Santa passed the poor people house without stopping?

  13. July 29, 2016 / 5:17 pm

    I rep 767 life in Dominica was like living in paradise 1 river for every day of the year our boiling lakes cascading waterfalls crystal clear water and tranquil shores welcomes you
    . I only saw the beauty of Dominica when I moved to the US I refuse to bathe at Jones Beach or the Rockaways.
    Grew up on a farm got up at 4 am went to the river collected fresh water, garden collected foods and vegetables to cook for the day before school walked miles to school but was very contented and would do it all over again

  14. Fars
    July 29, 2016 / 6:23 pm

    Very impresses with your inclusion of Boyoun and Cadence and so fourth,most ple even caribbean ple to that, omit these genres.Interesting read.

  15. Fars
    July 29, 2016 / 6:24 pm

    Oh and I also watch some of your cooking videos on youtube.lolol

  16. Barbara
    July 30, 2016 / 11:12 am

    Great article. Dominica and St. Lucia speaks Creole or Kweyol which is broken French.

  17. July 30, 2016 / 6:54 pm

    My best wishes Chris and your efforts are appreciated since I eat what I know as Creole food, Indian food and during my childhood European influenced cuisine was not within my reach, however I got a piece of cake from the African neighbours with “twelve cents wrapped in silver paper. For Muslim festivals some will give never got anything free from the East Indian.
    Sometimes a glass of ginger beer or mauby on Christmas morning.
    Thanks again.
    PS Today I have to stop eating to prolong life, at one stage I could not get to eat to live.
    fact!!

  18. Tad Zebryk
    July 30, 2016 / 10:01 pm

    Chris,

    It’s a good thing I don’t keep up with pop culture as I was largely unaware of the Caribbean stereotypes/misconceptions you mention! My wife and I had a wonderful week in St. Lucia this past year in the company of a local guide who showed us HIS island, not the island that most tourists would see (or want to see). He took us to all the joints that had the best local food and we loved it! We even had a half-day class in traditional clay pot cooking by a local man in Castries. (I think that is why I like your website so much; it gives me the chance to recreate some of those fantastic Caribbean dishes we enjoyed so much!). Kurt explained the ways and culture of his home through his eyes (and through our stomachs!), based on a lifetime of living there. What a great experience for us, being new to the islands! I guess you could say we had a cultural immersion (fancy way to put it), but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

  19. cheryl
    August 31, 2016 / 3:50 pm

    Absolutely LOVED this article Chris. You said everything I’ve always wanted to say (and explain) to my English/British friends and colleagues. I was born and raised in Trinidad and is proud of my Caribbean heritage food, music, history…the who caboodle. Sadly, there would always be those who knowingly asks stupid questions…….the irony is that they are supposed to be in the know.

  20. Steve Green
    September 19, 2016 / 4:03 pm

    Great article. My wife and I own a travel agency and these reasons are why I actually enjoy NOT staying at an all inclusive resort. Although there is a convenience to them, and I do use them sometimes to check them out so I can serve my clients better, I like going into towns and villages and eating there. This also means that there’s a better chance that the communities that I visit benefit from tourism in their backyard. Belize is my personal favorite location. Btw, I enjoy reading your recipes.

  21. Vivian O. Patrick
    September 11, 2017 / 7:39 pm

    I was born in Aruba, also lived in Curaçao and visited Trinidad quite often as a child. My grandparents and lots of other family members lived and still there.
    So coming from Aruba, I grew up Dutch and had lots of Caribbean influences in my life. Especially the different versions of English from Trinidad, St Lucia, Aruba, Curaçao etc, and even Jamaican as an adult when I moved to the US.
    So yes I get offended when people hear an accent they automatically assume you’re from Jamaica.
    Thanks for all the great recipes Chris, I enjoyed going to the market in Trinidad as a little girl with my aunt & grandmother, totally different from Aruba.

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