In Barbados, YOU Speak English and I Speak English But, “Come Again??”

In Barbados, YOU Speak English and I Speak English But, “Come Again??”

Not the item in question, but there do exist sunglasses as tool/tools as sunglasses. So there!

Not the item in question, but there do exist sunglasses as tool/tools as sunglasses. So there!

Scene: St Lawrence Beach Condominiums, St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church, Barbados

When: Two weeks ago

Characters: Window installer and me

Background info: Barbados has a 99.7% literacy rate, one of the highest in the world.  English is the language of the people.  But Yank English is different from Bajan English … idioms, accents, different pronunciations of words, and rapid speech interfere with my understanding.

Act 1:

I’m having inch-thick glass installed in the street-facing windows of my rental apartment. Guests from England staying two weeks tell me there’s no problem with going in while they’re out. The window installers come over; I watch them work — efficiently and expertly, the job is completed in 30 minutes. Fantastic, great.

Later in the day, one of the workmen calls me. “I left a tool in the apartment,” he says.

“No problem,” I say. “I’ll go down and get it.” I knock on the rental apartment door. No answer. I enter the apartment but find no tool.

I call him back. “I didn’t find a tool. Perhaps the guests came in and placed it somewhere. Or maybe I’m just not seeing it; what does it look like?”

“It’s green with some yellow,” he says. “I can tell you exactly where I left it.”

“Fine,” I say, “I’ll go down to the apartment again while you’re on the phone with me so you can guide me.”

I enter the apartment and he directs me to the guest bathroom that has a small teak table. “It’s on that table,” he said.

I see nothing but a small stack of towels. “I’ll leave a note for the guests,” I say. “If they find a green tool with yellow, they’ll let me know.”

“Great,” he says.

I write a note to the guests staying in the rental apartment. It reads, “A window installer left a tool in the apartment this morning. It’s green and yellow. If you find it, would you please let me know?”

Act 2:

That evening, I get a knock on my door. It’s one of the guests staying in the rental. She says, “Sorry, I didn’t find a tool. Just these sunglasses.”

I call the window guy. “Sorry,” I say, “the guests didn’t find your tool. Just some sunglasses.”

“Sunglasses!” he exclaims.  “That’s what I’m looking for, sunglasses!”


I’m instantly irritated by the amount of time two people just spent speaking but not understanding, words passing like ships in the night.

I tell the window guy I’d leave the sunglasses with his name on them in the management office where he could pick them up anytime.

I hang up the phone and ponder the miscommunication.  How is it possible that the window guy and I understand every word the other said except for the word “tool” — which was mentioned at least ten times — and the word “sunglasses” — a word that sounds nothing like “tool”?

I ask numerous Bajan friends if there’s a nickname for the word “sunglasses.”  My husband volunteers “sunnies,” but that’s a term he picked up from his many years living in Sydney.  The Aussies also say “lippy” for “lipstick” and “brekkie” for “breakfast” … apparently Australia’s a nation speaking the language of two-year-olds.

But what am I asking Greg for? I need a  young man. That night I ask a waiter, “Do Bajans have a slang term for the word “sunglasses”?

“Sometimes we call them by the brand name, if that brand is really popular,” he suggests. “Oakleys,” for instance.

“What about ‘tool’ .. do you ever refer to a pair of sunglasses as a “tool?” I ask.


Words. Language. Understanding sometimes. Not understanding too often. Frustration. Feeling like the outsider I am.

9 Responses to “In Barbados, YOU Speak English and I Speak English But, “Come Again??””

  1. Juliana says:

    Jane that was tooo funny! Don’t feel like an outsider… as a young born and bred Bajan, I would have had no idea what he meant either! Except for “shades”, I can’t think of another term for sunglasses. I hope all is well with you and Greg 🙂

  2. Kyle says:

    I agree with Juliana, I’ve never heard of them being referred to as “tools” an I’ve lived here all my life. I don’t blame you for your frustration either as I too would be.

  3. Stephen says:

    Please don’t take offence, but you yanks have changed English quite a lot. Trunck for boot. Hood for bonnet. Gas for petrol. Pants for trousers. I could go on for hours. Have you heard an American pronouce ‘Barbados’ or even Rihanna? LOL Has you rolling…

  4. Stephen says:

    and don’t get me started on the biggest failure of all; calling the world’s greatest game ‘soccer’ when we all know, including here in Bimshire, that it’s ‘football.’ The prosecutions rests, your honour. With a ‘u’ as in colour, neighbour etc LOL.

  5. Greg says:

    You’re not an outsider, love, as these comments can attest. I’m a born-n-bred Bajan and I would not have understood. Difference is, you’re very polite and I would’ve let him have a piece of my mind…btw, Aussies call tradesmen (labourers) “tradies”, and the women like ’em becuase they’re generally fit young hunks….

  6. jdid says:

    tool = sunglasses? well thats a new one for me

  7. Gracie Hayes says:

    i love photo blogs, there is a saying that a picture speaks a thousand words and this saying is also true for blogs that mostly displays photos.

  8. My dear, please don’t feel bad. I was born on this island many moons ago, and I have NEVER EVER heard of sunglasses being referred to as a tool.
    The young folks create slang for everything.

  9. Hahahaha! So true! 🙂


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