Island Customs: A Guide to Etiquette in the U.S. Virgin Islands
There is no question that the turquoise waters and alabaster shorelines of St. John are some of the most beautiful scenery one can enjoy. There are few things in this world more relaxing and more awe-inspiring than dipping one’s toes in the clear Caribbean Sea as the tropical sun shines down from above with lush green hillsides all around.
But step off that beach and walk into Cruz Bay in nothing but your bathing suit, and you’ve likely offended someone. It is customary here for ladies to don their coverups and men should put their t-shirts on after they leave the beach.
Traditionally, U.S. Virgin Islanders are a conservative people who aren’t particularly pleased to watch bikini-clad women walking down the street. Although the cooks at Skinny Legs never mind when one of those bikini-clad vacationers walks into the restaurant, you’ll get more smiles from people if you throw on a coverup when you leave the beach.
It’s also customary for people to greet each other when they walk down the street and definitely when they enter a shop or restaurant. A friendly “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” is all it takes. And don’t get confused when someone says “Good Night,” they mean “Hello” not “Goodbye.” That one confused me for a while when we first moved here.
Manners and friendliness are the name of the game here. Virgin Islanders are so friendly, in fact, our recently installed roundabout in Cruz Bay often comes to a standstill when one motorists stops mid-way around to let a friend or relative to enter the circle. The fact that circles are not supposed to function is beside the point entirely. The overly courteous maneuvering certainly makes for friendly, albeit confusing, motoring.
Since we’re on the topic of driving, you know of course that we drive on the left here. I’ve always been told this tradition dates back to when asses were the main form of transportation. Apparently, it was easier to traverse the island on donkey-back in the left lane. You’ll still those donkeys walking the hillsides (in both lanes) as you drive down the left lane roads of St. John.
Donkeys have been seen and used in the Virgin Islands for hundreds of years. Used to haul goods and as a form of transportation, today they serve as photo opportunities for tourists and also in a newly launched tradition of Donkey Softball.
Carlina Corral owner Dana Bartlett offers trail rides on horses and donkeys from her Coral Bay farm. As a way to bring in some extra cash to help keep the animals in hay, Bartlett conceived the idea of hosting a donkey softball game with local children helping the donkeys around the bases. Hilarity ensued and the upcoming softball game in 2015 will be the third annual fundraiser for the horse farm.
From donkeys to after-beach attire, I hope this field guide to the USVI comes in handy on your next trip to the tropics.
Written by: Jaime Elliott