The Language of Horns in Barbados

The Language of Horns in Barbados

Barbados trafficWhat’s with Barbados drivers and their horns?

My first morning ever in Barbados, a car passed I while I was out walking with a friend and sounded a trill from the car horn.  Instinctively I glanced at the car sounding his horn.

My Bajan friend didn’t even look up.  He knew the beep was not for us.

The man walking ahead of us, though, waved and yelled a greeting at the honking car without even looking at it.

The beep was for him and he knew it the same way a bird knows another bird’s chirp is for him.  The honkee knew the style of this honker’s signature and responded as though the sound of the horn had been a statement, not a sound.

My Bajan friend explained that when Bajans are behind the wheel of a car, they don’t just drive, they talk. In honks.

Honking is a personal and varied form of communication in Barbados. Most horns don’t even have a “honk” sound; most horns here are musical.

“Yankee Doodle Dandy” is a favorite. I’ve also heard trumpets. The drivers of the white-with-burgundy-stripe shuttles drive like demons, most of them, and their impotent high-pitched lilting honks belie their devil-may-car driving style.

Most blows of the horn are done with Barbadian laid-backness; they’re friendly. Rarely does a driver lean on his or her horn, New York City cabbie-style. There’s a warmth in the blowing of a horn here.

A brief, musical sounding of a horn says, “Hello, I know you and I acknowledge you.” If you don’t respond to the first toot, they’ll sound the call of the friendly horn again.

If you ignore them again, the honker takes it as a snub and you may as well forget getting invited to that person’s Christmas party.

If you do respond, you’re reinforcing social relationships and all is well.

Guys flirt with women with the musical call from their car. (I always wonder if men who call out to women using their car horn would dare speak to a woman if there was no car to protect their male egos.) Women don’t flirt with men the same way, though. They’re more subtle. Unless, of course, a whole carload of women are out trolling for cute men. Then, the horns will sound their mating call.

Then there’s headlight-flashing

The flash of headlights means “be my guest, I will yield to you.”  A lovely, quiet gesture and much-appreciated on our crowded streets.

You have a name – and you have a license plate number

On the way to a business meeting, I got lost.  I called the person I was meeting and told her I was … somewhere … I wasn’t sure where … on Enterprise Road … Yes, I answered her, I could see the lighthouse.

“Stay there,” she told me, “I’ll come find you.  What’s your license plate number?”

What’s my license plate number? “I don’t know what my license plate number is,” I answered.  “Wouldn’t it be easier to find me,” I asked, “if I told you the color and make of my car?”

She ignored my American naivete and came and found me.

I’ve since learned that nearly everyone knows the license plate numbers of their friends’, co-workers’ and even aquaintances’ cars. My husand and I pull into the parking lot at Dwellings and he notes that so-and-so and so-and-so are in the store.

Hm. One of the best things about living in a small place is that everyone knows your name – and license plate number.  One of the worst things about living in a small place is that everyone knows your name – and license plate number.

5 Responses to “The Language of Horns in Barbados”

  1. Ashmita Maharaj says:

    LOL, the license plate thing is so true!

  2. Greg says:

    The license plate thing can also work against you if your car is spotted somewhere it shouldn’t be….!

  3. Ashmita Maharaj says:

    That reminds me, I also forgot to mention what my first thought was on seeing the headline: the verb “to horn”, which means to have extramarital/extra-spousal relations 🙂

  4. planetbarbados says:

    So funny! I will definitely remember that. Hm, I guess here in Barbados one best not “horn” … because everyone knows your license plate number!

    Many thanks. Such color in the language here. Love it.

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