Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Touch of Trinidad

Thank you all for the condolences. They are much appreciated. I'm doing fine but for obvious reasons Trinidad is very much on my mind. Since there's been a lot of turnover in readers over time and since I have some other things going on that are taking me away from blogland today and since the island and the people I love there are on my mind I'm reposting something I wrote about 3 years ago. It's just a little insight into the culture and part of why I felt so at home there.

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.

12 comments:

Hilary said...

My brief visit to Barbados (35 years ago) gave me a similar glimpse into that sort of genuine warmth and comfort. I encountered some of the warmest, friendliest people there. I quickly gave up the concept that it was a foreign country. It felt like a real home.

g-man said...

You need a little touchy-feely?
I'm your Boy!!!

Desmond Jones said...

Thanks for this, Lime. . .

You remind me of a time in my life, back in my teens, when I was a very young Christian, having come in contact with the charismatic movement of the very early 70s, which was very 'huggy'. And as much as it took me back at first to be on the receiving end of a vigorous, unabashed man-hug, it was also freeing to just be able to get over that reserve, and be able to express, in a physical way, what was in my heart.

Over the ensuing nearly-40 years, we've gone a tad more 'mainstream', and most of the younger guys will only do 'one-shoulder' hugs - the full-frontal, 'I-love-you-man' hugs we used to do are falling by the wayside. And that makes me sad, just a little. . .

(Of course, it must also be mentioned that there was another phenomenon of the creepy guy that would occasionally show up at community stuff, and just go around the room, hugging all the girls, especially the more, uh, well-endowed ones. . .)

S said...

Opposite problem in India. I have a habit of touching and you shouldnt do that there....gets me in trouble sometimes...

May only pleasant memories of Trini waft through your head today....

~Dragonfly~* said...

Heartfelt hugs are the best ever!!! No matter from whence they come....

Logophile said...

ya know, reading this post today, and thinking it over again, I've come to the conclusion that I am a bit of a chameleon about touching.
In Greece and Italy were it was cultural to be more in contact, I was, but among groups who don't encourage it, I don't.

I have some friends I will sit very close to and others with whom I maintain a distance. Hmmmm


Anyway, I'm with you, people need contact, it is good for us.

Casdok said...

In the UK we are also rather standoffish when it comes to touching. Sad really.

Craver Vii said...

Physical touch is my primary love language (along with Words of Affirmation). It's difficult for me to walk through a crowd of friends without handshakes, hugs and high-fives. To the annoyance of a few, I even feel compelled to give a slight tug on a pony tail now and then. The funny thing is that as much as I enjoy all the touching, I am also keenly aware of a sense of boundary and that makes me feel waaaay uncomfortable if someone's touch seems inappropriate.

Just to stay out of trouble, when I hug women, I mostly do the one-arm, side hug. Maybe I should arrange a trip to Trinidad and fill my personal hug quota, whaddya think?

Beach Bum said...

While in the army a buddy asked me to join him and his family at his home in New Mexico for Thanksgiving.

As someone use to family hugs back home I felt comfortable seeing his family do the same thing but they started hugging on me I was taken back. They made me feel at home and to this day it was one of the best memories of my army years.

Cosima said...

It's funny how different personal space and touching, hugging, and kissing is handled around the world.

What strikes me about living in Dubai as opposed to Hong Kong the most is the many hours I spent sitting alone in my car, when I would rather walk, people watch, and frequently stop at interesting sites as I did in Hong Kong. But here we all drift by each other in air-conditioned steel bubbles... which is really the only way to survive the desert heat without melting... so I am not complaining too loudly.

Suldog said...

When we got together (far too briefly) for dinner, one of the most marvelous things I took away from it was hearing some of your tales of Trinidad, and having you explain a few of the things I found initially puzzling. Absolutely fascinating stuff, Lime, truly.

Jocelyn said...

So well said! I love being all laid on and gushed over and invaded.