Love City 101 Revisited

Love City 101 Revisited

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.

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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.

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When I moved here in 2012, I had NO CLUE. But was lucky enough to make friends who wanted to inform me about life on St. John. And I listened 🙂 But, trust me, the growing pains were REAL.

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.

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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?

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Photo: Lovemoney.com

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).

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The grocery store could look like this…Or maybe the container got stuck in shipping (in the middle of the ocean) and there is no produce until tomorrow or no dairy until Thursday. You’ve gotta expect delays on island time.

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.

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The culture and the people of St. John are incredible. But you have to take some time to learn and understand… (Ital Delroy Anthony pictured at Francis Bay June 2020)

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 🙂

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This first one is the basics on island greetings and understanding the base layer of Virgin Islands cultural norms and niceties:

Love City 101, Part 1- Greetings, Niceties and Cover Ups | News of St. John (newsofstjohn.com)

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 😉

Love City 101, Part 2- Beach Etiquette | News of St. John (newsofstjohn.com)

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.

Love City 101, Part 3: Rules of the Road | News of St. John (newsofstjohn.com)

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!

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19 thoughts on “Love City 101 Revisited”

  1. One of the best things we had happen to us on our first trip in 2018 was being greeted by the owner of the villa we stayed in. He was kind enough to give us some history on the island, the people, and some of the cultural norms of the island (good morning/night, appropriate dress when in town, etc.). Watching other tourists each time we visit who haven’t learned those things yet makes us realize the difference that one conversation has had on our times on the island.

  2. Hillary: Thanks for those helpful hints. I must say I have been coming to the island off and on for 25 years now and am aware of everything you mentioned except for the niceties. I always try to be polite to people in general but will keep start to be more mindful of the daily greetings. I think its great. Thanks!

  3. I believe you are missing a few definitions in this story.

    What about the people that move and hurt the islands by pushing their agenda/business in the VI and then leaving a few years later with out helping out the community at all. Yes they leave wealthier but harm the VI’s. Such people build without permits, do not follow the rules the rest of the people follow. Build great big ugly homes (like Little St James). Do not care about the VI culture. Pay almost zero taxes and complain on how bad the VI Government is.
    Too many people come here for personnel gain and then leave the islands in a mess. – I can of a marina that is trying to get permitted on St John as one such venture.
    Read the book: Rape of the American Virgins by O’Neil on the early 1970s…..its still going on today!

    • Thanks for posting this Dan. My husband & I have been going to the VI’s every year since 1991. We have seen the SCARS created by such means & it breaks are hearts. We have gained quite a few native islanders as our good friends & have learned a lot from them. I totally get why some of the originals still don’t like tourists/visitors. We live in PA but keep up w/ the news in the VI’s & participate in the petitions.

    • Dan. I am curious to hear more about that. I am a fierce defender of St. John and the USVI. I have visited many times since 1996 but maybe am not fully aware of how people are taking advantage of the islands and the natives.

  4. Thanks so much for this gentle reminder. I find when I travel I take the customary “good mornings” “good afternoons” and “good nights” (that I learned when I moved to the VI in 1984) with me. Learning about the culture of a destination before you visit should be as important as your packing list. Maintaining the respect for the people and the place should be a priority. You can’t really blame folks who have not been informed. I believe these practices of kindness can make the visit an enlightening one sending folks home with a new perspective of how they greet each other on a daily basis.

  5. my first experience in st John was amazing, I had the privilege of knowing a few people on the island before we got there, so we really didn’t have any plans, the idea plan was no plans at all.. and it was amazing, the island itself is 19 square miles, so in 10 days we hiked 35 miles, the trails are absolutely beautiful, we also had a chance to go out on a day cruise with family who are locals on the island, and it was breath taking, the people are amazing, more history than I could take in in one trip, I look forward to getting back to what I now call my favorite place on earth,
    I am excited to learn more about the culture and people on this heavy island, thank you for such a welcoming experience and the love that was shown from everyone on the island, from the host of the villa, to all the wonderful restaurants, too all of the shops throughout the island, cruise bay was amazing, along with maho resort and trunks Bay, coral Bay way amazing , can’t wait to come back and visit one more..

  6. St. John has been our favorite destination for years. We love the island time!! Unfortunately we are unable to visit every year. Over the years we have rented various villas. We are usually met by a host/agent, not the owner. Regardless of who meets you we can see the advantage of an individual taking the time to explain some of the cultural norms on the island (good morning/night, appropriate dress when in town, etc.). Even including some of the island history. So far the agent/host that have met us quickly tell us about the villa and leave. Years ago we found the car rental company we worked with very discourteous, rude. Now rent a vehicle at the airport finding them very accommodating and friendly. Most islanders treat you as you treat them, friendly and courteous.

  7. A Lot changed during Covid. A different type of tourist came to the Islands. They couldn’t go anywhere else due to restrictions. Partying has taken on a new meaning. The entitled generation has no respect for the locals, culture or appropriate behavior. Good manners go a long way.

  8. Our son learned at a very young age from going to St. John to say Miss Jenny or Mr. Rich & he still does this at age 23. People back home in the states can’t believe how polite he is. When someone asks us why he says first name instead of last name we say he learned it in St. John. I agree the majority of people who visited during pandemic had no clue. We saw way to many people inappropriately dressed in town or even getting off the ferry. The beaches were not the same as people did not clean up after themselves & I think they should have more signs on the beaches not to stand on the coral or touch any of the ocean life.

  9. What a timely post. We come down yearly and have done so for the past 10-12 years. Our 3rd trip down in 2022 was for New Years Eve last week (the Drink party was FIRE and we will be back next NYE). However, this trip I noticed a lot of people ‘misbehaving’ versus all of our other trips. New Years Day evening we were at the Upstairs to grab a bite to eat and a young lady had to be told by the staff to put clothes on. She was in a bikini with what she must have thought was a cover-up (a fishnet looking top that was basically invisible). We also were amazed at some of the misbehaving on the beaches as well. We were setup in a spot on Hawksnest and this big group of people setup literally 3 feet beside us and around behind us and on the other side. We were surrounded. Between their profanity and music, we just picked up our stuff and moved.

    This isn’t Daytona Beach or Cancun…let’s keep it that way, please. Thanks for listening to me rant!!

  10. I have lived on island since 1994. This is an excellent article about cultural differences and expectations. A lot of this boils down to “fellow human respect”.
    On 1-11 I was our riding my motorcycle on Northshore road. Went around a blind corner to meet head on with a tourist completely in my lane due to donkeys in road in their lane. I took evasive action and saw there was a little shoulder on outside lane and stopped the bike on 24” wide shoulder. Things like this happen sometimes but everyone should stay in their lane, regardless of obstacles. What is so annoying is they pulled away without checking/stopping to render any assistance, the back seat rider was hanging out the window with the proverbial one finger gesture. Once I finally brought the motorcycle back onto the payment (very difficult task due to asphalt edge and 600 lb motorcycle). I went to town found them at Starfish waited until they completed their shopping in parking lot. (Aqua Blue, Bronco #25, with 2 paddle boards on roof). When they came out I proceeded to express my unhappiness due to their lack of fellow human consideration. The passenger in back seat still not taking any responsibility in the accident, told me it was my fault due to my riding speed (agree was riding too fast). I ended up suggesting that they drive slower in lane until obstacles clear, have some human compassion and have a great remainder of their vacation, but directed none of it towards the back seat passenger.

  11. The manners and courtesies are like the US South and Italy. I really love the native people here and respect their ancestry and ways. It is always proper to give a native person a ride. Once you allow yourself to “belong”, you can settle into its gentle nature.

  12. Great posts and great reminders. I consider Kevin and I visitors. And the kind of visitors that don’t smell after three days. 😉 Hillary you were very kind to me way back in 2018 after the storms and I had questions and some folks weren’t being very nice to me. I love the island for all of its beauty and culture and feel grateful to come each year. Thank you for these articles that remind me to be aware and understanding of those who are a little skeptical of tourists/visitors. I will be there tomorrow 🙂

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