US culture is so far-reaching, so pervasive and so influential that it is not unusual to find aspects of it evident in nations throughout the globe. From US clothing and dress, food and eating habits, customs, sports and music, all the way down to the way Americans speak, is very often copied and assimilated into other cultures. And with the advent of modern forms of media such as the internet, television and even print, it is easy to see why so much is known about the United States even before setting foot in the country.
Now, if so much is known about American culture, you'd think that US citizens would similarly be very knowledgeable about some of the planet's other cultures. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case especially if the US' foreign policy is an indicator of anything. At college and even in my day to day life, the lack of knowledge of life beyond US borders by the average citizen is astounding, if not amusing.
Admittedly, it would be impossible for me to cover everything within the confines of a blog post; I could probably write a book for all the odd questions I've heard asked of caribbean people. I will attempt to cover a few of the more common ones though. I will start by first outlining several assumptions that people seem to have about us, then I'll wrap it up with a few odd questions that people often ask.
Tourism and agriculture are the sole economic forces in the Caribbean - apparently, it has always been assumed that Caribbean economies rely solely on tourism, bananas and/or sugar cane. I could see the tourism argument if we were talking about Barbados for instance, but this is simply not true. I mean really, have you ever seen promotions for an all expenses paid trip to Georgetown, Guyana? No, probably not. Guyana and Jamaica for instance, are renowned for their rich Bauxite deposits. If it weren't for Bauxite, we'd have a heck of a time finding aluminum foil. Trinbago has it's oil, petrochemicals and natural gas, as well as a strong as all hell financial sector.
Caribbean people do not possess any real world skills - Needless to say, if folks believe that everything we do is tourism related, the next logical step is to assume that we're incapable of doing anything else. I have met more than one person who quite literally thought that I'd spent my entire life selling trinkets on a beach somewhere. Imagine if you will, the quizzical expressions on peoples faces when I told them what I'd done for a living back home."What do you mean accounting analyst? IBM Corporate? In Trinidad?! I didn't know you guys had jobs like that" (or power, running water, clothing, etc for that matter).
Caribbean nations lack modern infrastructure/technology, etc - I will attempt to paint a clearer picture for you guys. Imagine if you will, life in the Caribbean without entities such as Liat, Air Jamaica, Bwee (or whatever the f*ck they're calling themselves these days)......and while you're thinking about that, go ahead and shut down T&TEC/Powergen (or whatever, don't judge me, I haven't been home in a while), WASA, TSTT.
When you've finished screwing with our utilities, go ahead and burn down Piarco International Airport then dig up the Eastern Main Road, Churchill Roosevelt Highway, Uriah Butler and the Solomon Hochoy. Next, take the family car and push it into the Gulf of Paria and go get yourself a donkey cart. Finally, I would like you to tear down your childhood homes and replace them with mudhuts. You're probably thinking, "wow Dwayne done finally lost his mind." Nope, I'm just trying to tell you that this is exactly how the f*ck some Americans think we live. No I'm not making this stuff up.
Caribbean nationals are all black - this is a big one. I have encountered quite a few people during my time here in the US, that honestly had no idea that there are more than just individuals of African decent living in the Caribbean.
"Oh wow, look at the Asian chick over there......cute."
"Yeah, she bottom serious"
"Oh damn, she sounds just like you.....WTF?!"
"Er......well yeah, she's (insert random island here)"
"Son of a bitch!!"
If you want to really blow people's minds, introduce one of your American friends to a White, Asian or East Indian Trini/Jamaican/Bajan/Guyanese, etc and watch them freak out.
The islands of the Caribbean consist of Jamaica, Cuba and Puerto Rico (and Barbados from time to time) - Okay, in their defence, Americans do not honestly believe that there are only 4 islands in the Caribbean. Why is it then that when meeting someone for the first time, they automatically assume that I'm Jamaican? And if I'm not Jamaican then I'm clearly from "somewhere in Africa" as it's so often eloquently put. This situation has become less frequent as of late and I can honestly say that I meet more and more US citizens who are able to discern the differences among the various Caribbean dialects.
Here are just a few of the odd questions that I've been asked over the course of my nearly 8 years in the US:
1) How long did the boat ride take from Trinidad?
(right, like we don't have planes and international airports)
2) Are you some sort of prince/royalty where you come from?
(thanks a lot Eddie Murphy............frickin "Coming to America")
3) How long did it take you to learn English when you first moved here? (sigh)
4) Oh you're from Trinidad eh? What part of Jamaica is that?
("just a few miles east of Montego Bay")
5) What part of Africa is Trinidad anyway?
6) Do you guys have "regular" cars there?
(as opposed to what? irregular cars?)
7) Well this is beef, that's pork and you have some chicken in that bowl over there. What do you guys eat for meat where you come from?
I had to tap into the collective experiences of a number of friends of mine so I thank all who have contributed their harrowing experiences to this post. Feel free to comment on any other assumptions or common misconceptions that we might have missed.