There are many unexpected things you’ll encounter when you move to a rock.
Wildlife that possesses the power to rouse you from a deep slumber in the wee hours of the night. (Donkeys? Roosters? Creepy crawlies? Could be anything, really.)
Lines, lines and more lines. Virtually everywhere you need to be. (Immigration and tax are the two biggies here, followed closely by the bank.)
The inexplicable degradation of your favorite shirt, shorts, handbag or shoes. (Climate? Closet critters? Black magic? Any or all of these are viable culprits.)
But there is one thing that defies all others when it comes to causing shock and awe (not the good kind) when you encounter it. One thing that makes you cringe faster than encountering a cockroach when grabbing something from your cupboard. Or finding a scorpion in your shoe.
It is a singular experience that, while it should not surprise you, always makes you wish that beating people wasn’t frowned upon by the authorities.
What is this endlessly frustrating object of disdain, known and loathed throughout the islands?
The transplanted know-it-all.
Not to be confused with the newbie know-it-all, the transplanted know-it-all is a different species of pest. Having gotten the thrill of newbie islander status out of his or her way months (or years!) earlier, the transplanted know-it-all (let’s call them TKIA for brevity) has their eye on the prize of maintaining most annoying islander status for the duration of their time on a rock.
They may reside on your island six months or six years. It doesn’t matter. They still know everything better than anyone else (including you, but especially the local population), and they aren’t afraid to tell you (and everyone else) about it.
As you would expect, this does not endear them to anyone. Which is a real problem when a TKIA later needs a favor from someone – especially someone in power. Bummer for you, TKIA.
I recently encountered a TKIA and found the situation both horrifyingly annoying and perversely humorous.
In my ongoing quest to procure a local business permit, I found myself once again at the permit office checking up on the application I submitted 12 weeks earlier. Nevermind that the process is supposed to conclude in 6-8 weeks, my permit application is still lingering in the inexplicable void of island bureaucracy. At least according to the friendly lady behind the counter. (I know! I was as surprised as you about her smiling demeanor.)
“Check back next week,” she told me with a wink. At which point, all I could do was smile and thank her profusely. Because, really, what other option is there? At least on a rock.
In jokingly re-telling this story in a social setting later, a TKIA I vaguely recognized chimed in with her take on the situation. She began with the words guaranteed to have me ignoring anything that followed…”If this were the States…” In fact, I have no idea what she may have said after that, because I tuned her out (right after I cringed and rhetorically asked myself “why is it always my fellow Americans saying such stupid shit?”
I tuned her out for a couple reasons.
One, it doesn’t really matter what would happen in the US of A, because WE ARE NOT THERE! If you want things to be just like they were back home, then may I respectfully suggest you stay there (home, that is)?
Instead, you’ve moved to a foreign country (one that just happens to have an epic climate and endless summer, true), and guess what, buttercup…things don’t work here the way they did back “home.” Nor should you ever, in your wildest dreams, expect them to. That is the beauty of living abroad. It is different from back home. If you want endless summer with all the security and comfort of the States, why not pick an island actually in the States? I hear the Carolina coast is lovely.
Yet the TKIA insists – loudly to anyone and everyone – that if the island just changed its ways, life here would be oh-so-much better. Newsflash…the island is not going to bend to your will. Ever. Instead, the island will snap you in two like a cheap matchstick before it changes one iota of its own personality. And for that dogged tenacity, I love this rock.
The other reason I stopped listening is because, in general, these are not the type of people I like to surround myself with. In addition to believing they know it all, they are fairly negative souls, too. Nothing is too insignificant to bitch about. From long lines at the post office to the exorbitant price of imported goods to the sketchy reliability of the local internet service, these folks have a complaint about everything. And anything.
In fact, there’s a local Facebook group here that seems designed specifically to give these folks a platform for complaining – and complain they do. From accusations of the local grocer trying to pass off day-old bread for full retail (it isn’t) to the audacity of street dogs barking at night (seriously?). My time as a member of that group was quite short-lived. Once I found out where to procure my favorite coffee beans, I was out of there.
Which is sad, really (the complaining not my leaving the group), because when you’re surrounded by this much natural beauty and an ocean that is bursting with every color of blue imaginable, how can anyone actually be so damn negative? But they are. And they move to the islands, too. Just like happy people. Unfortunately, there is no passport control for the negative Nancies of the world. Which is most unfortunate.
But the bigger danger of being a TKIA (other than ostracization from the normal, happy, fun people) is that you are burning bridges without ever knowing it. When you rant and rave at the counter clerk because your permit is not ready when you expect it to be, how much customer service do you think you’ll get next time? Oh, and your application just moved to the bottom of the pile, too. What a pity.
Likewise, the lady you dressed down with your condescending tone? Her sister/cousin/mother probably works at the immigration office, so best of luck to you next year when you submit your paperwork over there. Everyone seems related to everyone else on an island. Need I go on?
The point is, nobody anywhere likes a know-it-all. And it is especially dangerous to act like one – newbie or otherwise – on a tiny rock in the Caribbean. While our internet might be slow as hell, the Coconut Telegraph – both the expat version and the local one – operates at speeds that put 4G to shame.
In fact, the island population will know what you’ve been up to before you do. And they’ll make their judgments and draw their conclusions about you long before they ever meet you.
Don’t believe me? Just ask the new guy at kite beach. The one whose name elicits grimaces and eye rolls from everyone, everywhere. His actual presence even more so (and since he does not appear to have any gainful employment, he is on the beach A LOT). You don’t want to be that guy. Trust me.
So resist the urge to know it best and share your “solutions” with the rest of the island’s population. Just go with the flow. Ease into island life. Bite your damn tongue.
And always remember…white t-shirts might have a short shelf life on an island, but mistakes here seem to last forever.
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Also published on Medium.