Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Trini Tuesday-Touch Me

One of the things I loved the most about Trinidadian culture was the touching. It's a thing that may drive a lot of Americans a bit crazy because we tend to have these strong senses of personal space and if someone 'invades' them we bristle, stiffen, recoil. Even Americans who may come from large families where there is lots of hugging and kissing and such tend to be standoffish about coming in physical contact with strangers. It's just an American thing. I don't know if it goes back to our puritanical roots or what but there it is. Now you add to it the growing germophobia and we are becoming icy and isolated.

In Trinidad, however, there isn't that standoffishness. Get on a maxi-taxi or better yet an H-car taxi, which is just an ordinary sedan, and you'll be flush up against a total stranger, shoulder to ankle contact. Your taxi mate will move over to give you space but they aren't going to act like they are climbing out the window to avoid touching you. It's just accepted that you'll be in close quarters. Go to the fresh market for your produce and you'l be bumped and jostled unapologetically. It's understood that it's crowded and you're going to come in contact. All this is with strangers.

If you are with friends, it may get even closer. In the States there is sometimes this whole dance of touch avoidance between genders. We don't want someone to get the wrong idea. In Trinidad, not so. My male friends would wrap me up in warm hugs, not some delicate A-frame where you lean in and only let shoulders graze, but welcoming, protective hugs.

In the US, even friends of the same gender (men especially, but even us ladyfolk) avoid certain kinds of touching because we don't want the people around us to get the idea we are 'more than friends.' Women can hug their female friends but we don't often publicly sit with arms around each other, nor would we often walk arm-in-arm or hand-in-hand. Grooming each other would be reserved for special events only, like a special party or a wedding. In Trinidad, I could freely maintain extended physical contact with a girlfriend and that was a good thing. Working on each other's hair was a normal thing among friends, not just reserved for school girls playing dress-up.

A lot of my Trini friends initially displayed a reserve in physical affection because I was an American and they knew Americans have different outlooks on the whole issue. When I didn't bristle from the taxi and market place jostlings with them they slowly became bolder. When I welcomed the gentle advances made, the walls came down. When there was no more shyness from either side and every casual touch was comfortable for each of us (and it actually occured in short order) I knew my heart had found it's home in Trinidad. My spirit could be refreshed and my soul fed by a simple, silent brush of skin.

Then I came back to the US. Much as I love Pennsylvania, I ache for the easy freedom of touch I felt in Trinidad.

32 comments:

Charles said...

Cool... learned something very interesting about you today, Michelle. Anyway... your description of Trinidad reminds me of Hong Kong. Not quite as friendly and affectionate as your Trini friends, perhaps, but I can certainly appreciate the personal space and close quarters thing. Well, if we ever meet I'll be sure to be completely and totally demonstrative and affectionate.

Sheri said...

wow - what a great, though provoking informative post. You're right about the stranger thing. I actually do bristle when a stranger inadvertly touches my skin. How strange.

Trinidad sounds like a fabulous place!

ttfootball said...

Good one Lime...and HOW VERY TRUE!! It IS something that I miss here, something that makes me feel a bit lonely sometimes in spite of my friends. With the Europeans you have to see the moments, which i've learned to do, but the Americans? no way!

lime said...

charles, i wouldn't even begin to be able to thank you enough.

sheri, that is to me it's most wonderful attribute

tt, i completely understand. it's a painfully isolating sensation. gyul, i feel yuh....

Jodes said...

come by today, looking for every parents assesment of my post!!!!! ;)

Great Trini Tuesday as usual.

barefoot_mistress said...

I have this awful habit of touching the arm or shoulder of autorickshaw driver while asking directions, or of an old man I might be talking to....Im just "touchy feely" as some people have said...
Well, this always surprises all of us, because they do not expect it and I do not expect their reaction....
However, in India, the men walk around holding hands, arms around each other etc....it would appear to a Westerner that they are gay, when in fact they are not....
Anyway....was I too touchy feely Idiot and Logo? :P

Apple said...

I grew up in a family that rarely hugged. Marrying into a large Italian family was a shock for me. I am still very uncomfortable in a crowd. I think I would have a hard time adjusting to life in a culture like Trinidad’s.

Anonymous said...

As a European I am somewhat in the middle, as ttfootball said :). I feel comfortable getting close to people I know, but crowds have a certain stress factor for me.

Have you ever noticed the difference in the distances held before ATM machines around the world? They are a good indication of how much personal space is valued in a culture.

Tommy said...

I kow a Trini I'd like to have shoulder to ankle touch with. What you doin later? LOL Great post babe. TTYL
TG

lecram sinun said...

True. When I first arrived on these shores it to me a while to get use to this whole personal space thing. I have to think that being a big country (and a fairly new one with an immigrant population)... size-wise has something to do with this american quirk.

Moosekahl said...

I think I'm a "tweener". I have no problem touching my patients, holding there hands, I HATE wearing rubber gloves for simple things. I like to walk arm in arm with my boyfriend, I give my best friends hugs. BUT...I have those spaces too. I recently have made friends with a younger woman who is very touchy...hugs and kisses even if just casually running into each other in the hall at work. I'm a bit uncomfortable with that. Also, my own immediate family was always very antitouch. I like to think I've improved on that but I still have some boundaries. More likely boundaries with those close to me instead of strangers, weird uh?

And the germophobe thing...drives me nuts! Get over it people and just wash your frickin' hands like we have always done :)

Cindra said...

Damn, I hear you. I don't know if it's more of an eastern thing...but out here in the pacific northwest, there is a whole lotta huggin' going on. i would shrivel up and die without that contact...HERE IS A BIG HUG FOR YOU.

you know, last night when i was chattin' with logo, so were you, and about daughters it seems...anytime you wanna have a support group...i'm here, sistah. just catch up wtih me at my blog and i'll give you my email~!

Be well, and hug on, sistah.

snavy said...

I hear you on the people getting the wrong idea part. A very good friend and I were walking holding hands one day and I thought my bro-in-law was gonna scream at me. He just didn't get it.

I am a bit of a germaphobe though and some people DO have cooties.

lime said...

jodes, thank you

susie, it works for me!

apple, it was hard for Mr. Lime who is far less touchy feely than i am

cosima, that's an interesting observation. ATMs were not too prevalent when i was in t'dad but i can see where it would be a good indicator.

tommy, i'm here for the pressing, lol

lecram, another excellent point that i think has a lot of merit

moose, thank youfor validating my position on the whole germophobia thing. it's gotten a bit out of control...

cindra, thanks, big hugs back atcha!

snavy, i can see the hysterics from BIL now.....

MyUtopia said...

I know what you mean about personal space. I am normally a huggy person and don't have personal space issues. A friend of mine has major issues with personal space and is not an emotional person at all. She gave me a hug yesterday because I did somehting nice. It was wierd. : )

Breazy said...

That is the one thing I don't like about Americans . The standoffish thing gets under my skin because I am one of those people who like to touch . I am not a touchy , feely person but like you explained in the post I am comfortable with the touching . So , if you are ever around me be prepared for hugs and if you sit beside me then you need to prepare to have your hand grabbed or sometimes I might even hold your arm. Great post Lime , I always love your Trini posts !

AndyT13 said...

I am guilty, guilty, guilty! I would have thought that would be so unlike me but when my Spanish male friends would hang all over me and talk right in my face I'd freak out. "Back the f*ck up motherf*cker!" I'd say something like "If you're closer than a foot you'd better be prepared to be kissed or punched." Shameful really. Definitely something that takes some getting used to for sure! Trini Tuesdays rock!

Fred said...

I'm a lousy hugger. Except with The Missus. Maybe I need to visit Trinidad for a good education.

James Goodman said...

i come from a large touchy feeling family. And once i've established friendship, greetings and farewells are accompanied by a hug (for both men and women), but yeah, even with all the intimacy I grew up with, contact with complete strangers will cause me to recoil. Perhaps i should spend some time in Trini to get over that.

lol, my word verificatin is ratdish.

Spitfire said...

I always enjoy reading here Lime...

My family is touchy feely, I know what you mean about Americans

*bowls Lime over with a hug*

lime said...

myutopia, it is odd when it's so unexpected

breazy, so long as you're gentle with janita it works for me:)

andy, it is definitely an adjustment. i'm not overly fond of 'close talkers.'

fred, as long as you're good at hugging the mrs...that's the most important

james, well you're ahead of the american game then :D
ratdish, teehee

spitfire, like the way hobbes pounces calvin? love it!

SeaRabbit said...

I had a very good and close Trini male friend... yes... very protective and hugging like only a bear should know... ;-)
I don't know much about the culture... but I appreciate his nature and the cuddles...

Tan Lucy Pez said...

Wow. That sounds so nice. *sigh* I guess we are cold here.

m said...

i'm a toucher! in a good way, of course.

hugs and kisses all around!

well, it is just not the same on the computer.

m said...

ps i read a book called Love at Goon Park...it is about a scientist who discovered how important love is to children...

in the book, the author describes how at the end of the 19th century, doctors began to understand that germs were spread by close contact, so they advised people to not touch or kiss their children. somehow, the lack of physical contact has been perpetuated in our society for generations!

ZigZagMan said...

when i hug....I tend to do it warmly and with the exress feeling of your oobs on my chest......and say out loud....."boobie hug". yes yes...I know this unaceptable......but phhpt.....:)

My take on germs,,,,,,,,,,your imune system only gets stronger if it fights some of those lil bugs....we we are not doing ourselves a service sterilizing our world....

Winks lass....and happy B'day

lime said...

searabbit, glad to hear you've had a little taste

lucy, sometimes...

m, that sounds like a very interesting book

zig, LOL, well at least you're honest.

Gary said...

I have a lot of hispanics living in my neighborhood, and one of the cutest things I see occasionaly is two teenage girls walking together holding hands, or walking arm in arm. It's very charming.

tl said...

In Indonesia I was sitting, minding my own business, when the bloke next to me grabbed my hand and started cleaning my fingernails. I freaked.
Later, when I found out he had no ulterior motives, I found the touching stuff was not all that bad.

:)

lime said...

gary, that is sweet

tl, LOL...i can imagine it was a bit unnerving at first!

Anonymous said...

Lime, what a sweet post! I would love this sort of thing over here in NJ. I love hugging people. But I can understand that some (many) aren't as into it as I am.

Oh well. That's what my wife and cat are for I suppose. :)

{{{{{{{ HUG }}}}}}}

topped with a smooch!

Craig said...

OK, this is surely way past the statute of limitations for comments, but. . .

In the charismatic circles I traveled in back in the 70s, we took a kind of pride in being very 'huggy' with each other, as one more marker of how 'counter-cultural' we were. It really was wonderful, just for the freedom to express openness and affection for each other.

But alas, the passage of years has mostly worn that away. The prevailing culture and its 'sexualization' of virtually all physical contact, have filtered their way back into folks' thoughts. And of course, there really were a few guys who liked to come to the prayer meetings because they could get some 'hug time' with the girls.

(*sigh*)

And among the 'new members', especially the younger folks (ie, under 40 or so), who weren't around in the days of 'counter-cultural hugs', the warm appeal of physical contact hasn't taken hold. So you get more of a sideways, 'one-armer'. It can be entertaining (in a sad way) to watch what happens when someone goes for a full-frontal 'two-armer' on someone who's thinking 'one-arm side-winder'. . .

Thanks for this. . .