Good Morning, Good Morning! We were enjoying dinner at Banana Deck the other night when we ran into a long-time visitor turned St. John homeowner who also happens to follow this lil blog. After a lengthy chat and lots of laughs he quietly mentioned to me that he had a story idea…Maybe we should go over the island etiquette again. I thought about it and realized that I HAVE started to see some posts recently about some not-so-positive interactions between residents and vacationers recently. So, I thought, with the midst of busy season all around us, I would take his advice and revisit the Love City 101 columns from a series posted last year around Thanksgiving.
First, I want to clarify. There is a difference, in my mind, between tourists and visitors. Tourists are defined in the Brittanica Dictionary as “a person who travels to a place for pleasure. Tourism is the business of providing amenities to tourists or the activity of traveling for pleasure.” So, we are all on the same page when we say, 1) This is quite vague, 2) We all come to St. John for pleasure in one way or another and 3) Our island economy and our livelihoods DO depend on tourism, so we are (mostly) in the business of providing goods and services that provide enjoyment to the folks who come here for pleasure. Got it? OK.
So, the definition of “tourist” doesn’t really pop off the page as being a negative thing perse. Until you look at the definition of visitor. A visitor is someone who visits a place or a person. A guest in your home perhaps? Probably someone who strips the bed and cleans up after themselves and minds their p’s and q’s while enjoying a meal at your dinner table. I like to think of a lot of the folks who have visited St. John many times over the years as more than just tourists. They are visitors in our home. And we treat them as just that and they behave respectfully with an understanding of how things work; just simply loving being here, being kind and happy and understanding (and patient!). Being back. Back in our home for a bit.
Call me naive, but I firmly (yes, still) believe that the majority of people are good at heart and want to do the right thing. In an age of misinformation, it becomes increasingly difficult to know WHAT the right thing is. Especially if those morals weren’t spelled out at a young age. So, when we see tourists arriving for the first time, believing whatever their rental car company or Facebook group of choice told them to be a truth followed by explosions of foot stopping and disappointment, can we really be surprised?
In reality, you really just have to be here to experience it to understand that no (or low) expectations is always the best bet on island time. I always say, “Never go to the grocery store with a strict plan on St. John. Because chances are you won’t find everything on that list in one store (or on island at all).” Plan your activities, plan your dining, book your rental car. But don’t, by any means, think that everything is going to be as it is in your mind’s eye upon arrival on a rock in the middle of the ocean that boasts a very different (and beautiful) culture than what you are seeing in your hometown (in the states, likely with consistent power and gigantic grocery stores).
With a little ACTUAL research about the islands, the culture and the way things work (Not on Facebook) and by picking up the phone to call the people here that you are working with for your activities, lodging, transportation and dining you’ll probably get a more accurate portrayal of how to be respectful, what to expect and how to have the BEST vacation of your life. Folks here are genuinely friendly and, given that they aren’t swamped busy at the time of your phone call, will likely be more than happy to answer any questions that you have about your upcoming visit to St. John!
All of this being said, the following information is a pretty good spot to start (not an end all be all of course!) with some easy reads on how to engage the community here in the Virgin Islands with a positive outcome, how to protect and preserve this beautiful place as a visitor and what to expect during your first experience here in Love City.
For those of you who are annual visitors, you might read these and learn something new. Or you could share it with friends who you are sending to your favorite place for the first time. For those of you who have only visited us once or twice, you might see something here that strikes a note of “Oh, I understand now!” And for those of you who are planning a trip for the first time, I encourage you to read on to learn more about this incredible island before you arrive…I promise, you’ll love it even more with a base layer of information ahead of your trip 🙂
This first one is the basics on island greetings and understanding the base layer of Virgin Islands cultural norms and niceties:
In the second edition, we touch on the best ways to enjoy the beaches while having a perfect day to yourself without impending on someone else’s good times. Because let’s face it, the beaches are what bring the first timers here. The lifers have figured out the real beauty of St. John lies beyond our sandy white shorelines and crystal-clear waters 😉
This third is one that I see as one of the most frequently asked questions out in Facebook land. Driving on island! Here you’ll find a ton of pointers on the rules of the roads here in the Virgin Islands.
If you enjoyed this series when it was first written or just now and reading it for the first time, please let me know! I’m considering adding three more parts to this: respect and kindness towards the creatures of the land and sea, cultural and educational programs to participate in while visiting and service industry FAQ’s (maximizing your dining experiences and adventures while visiting). So, let me know and have a FANTASTIC Fri-YAY!