Barbados: Six Things I Wish I’d Known Before Moving Here

Barbados: Six Things I Wish I’d Known Before Moving Here

Are you cold, wet, miserable? Do you feel as though winter will never, ever end? Please don't despair, my cold friends. I took this photo yesterday from the Barbados apartment Greg and I own and rent out to visitors to our island. It's just a flight away from wherever you are right now!

Are you cold, wet, miserable? Do you feel as though winter will never end? Please don't despair, my chilly friends. What you see here – my Barbados holiday rental apartment – is just a flight away! (I took this photo yesterday … January 5, one of the coldest winters our friends up north have ever seen.)

When Greg and I were in New York over Christmas and New Year’s I was reminded of what a Yank I am and how much I love efficient service, movie openings, sales, Starbucks, and great hamburgers.

This month marks my second anniversary of having moved from San Francisco to Barbados …. where I don’t get any of those things very often.  But you can’t move to a place and complain that the new place isn’t the old place, can you? I can’t think of a quicker route to misery than wanting Barbados to be San Francisco. Really now, life could be worse than waking to the view you see in the photo above.

Fortunately, the fantasy of Barbados as a tropical island is very much its reality as well. Perfect aqua Caribbean Sea. Sugar-white beaches. Gorgeous blue sky. Varied landscape. Ideal climate.

However.  I wish I’d known a few things about some aspects of life and people on the island of Barbados.  Things I wish someone had told me before I moved here. Such as:

1. “Service is usually slow – get over your Type A self and give into the pace island-time.” Relax already. Enjoy the fact that even though service is slow, no one is rushing you to finish your meal, either.

2. “Service is usually friendly except when it’s not. And when it’s not it’s not about you.” I used to think the rudeness was personal to me. It’s not.  Then again, maybe it is. I don’t know. I just know it took me a long time to know how to deal with it.

Two years ago, when a young male clerk at a fabric store ignored me and wouldn’t ring up my purchase, frustration and sense of powerlessness defeated me (i.e., I cried).  Today I don’t take it personally and I feel empowered to say, “Excuse me, young man, perhaps I can call Mr Abed (store owner) over here to ring me up since you are not interested in doing so.”

3. “This is how you learn to drive on the left-hand side of the street: As you drive, keep your body in the center of the road.” Once I was told, I never again turned off a street right or left into the wrong lane.

4. “When you pay for anything, remember that almost everything on the island is brought in from elsewhere.” Look at a map; Barbados is far, far away from everywhere (of course, in other respects this is a good thing). It’s expensive to ship cars, tomatoes, ink cartridges, and everything else here — and on top of shipment is duty, one of the few ways the government has to bring money into an economy that has nothing to export. So forgive how expensive life is in Barbados.

Dumb me. Took me 2 years to finally break down and buy a car.  My righteous indignation over the 100% to 300% duty held me back from the freedom that driving myself brings.

By the way, with respect to grocery store prices: Everyone pays the same price. Guests to the island ask me if residents receive a discount. No, they do not … the housekeepers who keep our holiday rental accommodations immaculate pay the same price for a loaf of bread as our far more affluent guests who come to stay in them.

5. “Bringing goods to Barbados in your suitcase doesn’t save you a cent in the long run.” I used to raid my San Francisco home to bring in sheets, towels, lamps, Splenda, etc, etc, etc.  Then I’d have to go out and buy replacements for the things I took out of the place in San Francisco. I created a nightmare routine of leaving Barbados with two empty suitcases and returning with two I couldn’t even lift. Make that four suitcases when Greg and I traveled together. I justified it by telling myself (and Greg) that I was “saving money.”

I paid overweight charges on airlines, threw my back out, and took advantage of my kind husband’s patience far too often before I finally learned to accept that even though selection is small and prices are high, life is much sweeter when I don’t try to beat the system. I now buy what I need here in Barbados. Plus, by buying goods on the island I’m contributing to Barbados’ economy. And I can travel with a small, light bag.

6. “When you throw away anything, remember that Barbados is a 14- by 21-mile island.” Consider how difficult a problem trash is in a small place like Barbados.

I was ridiculously cavalier about replacing very slightly used items (furniture mostly). The truth is, I’m only slightly less so now.  I’m afraid that living in a disposable goods culture is still a lesson this American needs to unlearn.

78 Responses to “Barbados: Six Things I Wish I’d Known Before Moving Here”

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  25. David says:

    I grew up in Barbados and moved to the US in 84. Service in Barbados has always been delivered as if the customer is a nuisance, and bank employees are the worse offenders. I suspect it’s poor management and the unions’ strangle hold on labor that encourages the behavior.

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  28. Olivia says:

    Hi David ,
    I too left Barbados 1984 . Rude employees just need customer training . Their behavior has nothing to do with the union . Some people are just ill-mannered .

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