The US Virgin Islands Best Guide

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Visitor Letter

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Visitor, welcome to the Virgin Islands. You may not think it, but you've stepped onto some very foreign territory. Sure we're under the US flag and all of the residents are US citizens, but things work a bit differently here. Now I'm well aware that you as a visitor have been left scratching your head quite a few times wondering what it is you said or did that totally and completely pissed off a resident. Chances are you weren't abiding by some very simple guidelines. No one will tell you what these guidelines are, but I'm throwing you a bone here so listen up:

1. Mind your "manners"

In the Virgin Islands, it is required that you start of your exchange with any resident with the words "Good morning", "Good afternoon", or "Good evening". Unless you do this, be prepared for one very standoffish exchange. This isn't really manners, it's more like a requirement. Trust me, you'll need this very important foot-in-the-door. The best part is it's up to you to keep track of the time to know exactly which phrase to use (we residents always know and will correct you if you screw up). Be sure to ask a fellow tourist what the time is before you start asking questions.

2. Avoid Driving

I know what you're thinking. "I've driven on the freeway, this should be a piece of cake." Man, you don't know how much trouble you just bought yourself. Now I commend you if you truly want to learn our ways, but keep these facts in mind.
*Nobody here drives the speed limit. Furthermore don't expect a speeding ticket unless you actually hit somebody.
*We drive on the left. Seems the US is one of the very few countries in the world that drive on the right. Getting over the mindset that because America does something that the entire world should do it will take you far.
*It's not really that we drive like morons, it's more that we're all fighting for what little road space that's available and you'll probably get caught in the middle. Avoid any James Bond-like tactics and you'll be ok.

3. The Customer Is Always Right...Except Here

You're probably used to getting what you want fast and without hassle. If you don't, the waiter is probably looking at unemployment. Please leave this mentality at home. ANYWHERE you go will take up some measure of time. It may be because the establishment is paying special attention to details or they simply don't give a rat's ass how long you hang around (because you're hungry and you're not going ANYWHERE). Get used to "Island Time". Island Time applies to the checkout lane, the bank line, whatever. Keep in mind you came down her to slow down. Well guess what, that's what you got.

4. Develops Some Cartography Skills

That's reading maps....because you sure as hell aren't going to get accurate directions from a local. Think about any small town you've visited in the past. Remember what it was like asking them for directions? The locals had no idea what any of the streets were named. They guided you by telling you to look out for landmarks. It's the same thing here. So either you learn the map or ask for directions because you won't have them both.

5. Know Your Ride

A taxi isn't just a taxi in the Virgin Islands. We have regular taxis, tour taxis and dollar taxis. Regular taxis are what you probably encountered the minute you got out of the airplane terminal. Tour taxis are more geared towards cruise ship visitors. They charge a bit more for a tour of some of the island sights. If you're here on the cheap, look out for dollar taxis. They stop at designated bus stops. As long as you're traveling withing the town region (aka not going up any hills) the fare is $1. Anywhere else expect to pay $2 and make sure you know where the hell you're going.

6. Don't Wear Socks With Sandals

Actually, this is pretty much taboo anywhere in the world. I just mentioned it because it annoys me to no end. Moving on....

7. Don't Try To Mimic the Lingo

If it's one thing that really irks us is a non-native trying to talk like us. This is the equivalent of saying "Hello-o, do you-o know-o where-o the bathroom-o is-o?" to a Mexican. The Mexican doesn't understand a word of what you said and has put you him his "stupid American" box...which means he'll pretty much ignore your inquiry. Everyone here understands English quite well so speak it freely. If you say "Yeah, mon!" and get smacked don't say I didn't warn you.

8. You're Not Superman/Wonder Woman

People on vacation believe they're invincible. Nothing bad can happen on vacation right? Wrong! The rules here are the same as anywhere else. Don't wander into places that lack a multitude of people, stay in well lit areas, and travel with groups if you can. If you're recreating in the water, please learn how to swim first (trust me, someone will be available to teach you). If you're drinking to forget, be sure to pay the bartender in advance and secure your ride home well in advance.

9. Stop Looking For Creature Conforts

You're just not going to find them. Sure we're got a few major fast food chains but the USVI probably has about 20% of all the stuff that's out there right now. So if you're craving a Quarter Pounder, you ok. If you're looking for the Half Pound Burrito you CAN find it, but just not at Taco Bell. Don't be afraid to ask around for certain types of food. If it's one thing people here are open about it's what they like to eat. Hooking up with a local could mean the difference between a bag of chips or a plate of ribs at 12am.

10. Don't Be Afraid to Disconnect

Yes we have Internet here. Yes we have cable/satellite/digital television. Yes, you can even pick up a copy of the New York Times at select locations. Trust me though, you don't want to deal with all that stuff. Relax! Find a beach and have a drink in a coconut half like they do in the commercials (good luck finding the coconot half, but I'm speaking hypothetically here). You're not missing much and you'll have plenty of time to catch up AFTER your vacation. Live it up! THIS is your world now.

I hope my 10 simple rules for getting along in the USVI didn't scare anyone off. They were in fact meant to encourage you to get out there and do what you came here to do. Get drunk, pick up drunken girls (or guys, whatever your preference is), get wild and have a little fun. So get out there and party, party animal. Oh, and if by some chance you bump into me and ask me for directions you better have a map handy otherwise I'll just tell you to hang a left at Wendy's and keep on driving 'til you get there.

Found @

Posted : January 24, 2006 9:13 am
Posts: 319
Reputable Member

Veeery good rules to vacation by!!! We adopted the "When in Rome" attitude several years ago, and have felt welcomed on each return trip since. We have run into some rude people even vacationing by these "rules" but, that's just how some people live their lives.

Great post.

Posted : January 24, 2006 9:37 am
Posts: 50
Trusted Member

These rules should be posted in every hotel room and villa for the new visitors to your beautiful islands. We learned all of this on our first trip to Stt, and every year since (6yrs) have pretty much lived those rules when we come there in Feb. for 3 weeks then we come back home refreshed and rested ready to tackle the rest of winter and snow. 28 days and counting. Thanks for taking the time to post this.

Posted : January 24, 2006 10:15 am
Posts: 319
Reputable Member

Better yet...hand them to every person getting off a plane...ship 🙂

Posted : January 24, 2006 10:19 am
Posts: 50
Trusted Member


Posted : January 24, 2006 10:34 am
Posts: 1

Any other visitor guidlines we should tell people?

Should we warn them that St. Thomas dairies has no cows?

What is recombined milk anyway?

Posted : January 24, 2006 10:38 am
Posts: 1

Beverage milks can also be prepared by recombining skim milk powder and butter with water. This is often done in countries where there is not enough milk production to meet the demand for beverage milk consumption. The concept is simple. Skim milk powder is dispersed in water and allowed to hydrate. Butter is then emulsified into this mixture by either blending melted butter into the liquid mixture while hot, or by dispersing solid butter into the liquid through a high shear blender device. In some cases, a non-dairy fat source may also be used. The recombined milk product is then pasteurized, homogenized and packaged as in regular milk production. The final composition is similar to that of whole milk, approximately 9% milk solids-not-fat, and either 2% or 3.4% fat. The water source MUST be of excellent quality. The milk powder used for recombining must be of high quality and good flavour. Care must be taken to ensure adequate blending of the ingredients to prevent aggregation or lumping of the powder. Its dispersal in water is the key to success.

Posted : January 24, 2006 10:42 am
Posts: 90
Trusted Member

As a longtime visitor to the islands, I can testify to the wisdom of your "rules". They deserve a permanent and prominent place on this (and any other such) forum!

Posted : January 24, 2006 11:03 am
Posts: 2026
Noble Member

Interesting and surely very helpful.

I do have a question and I wonder if you can help....

SO often, I have heard and read similar comments to yours..
1. Mind your "manners"

In the Virgin Islands, it is required that you start of your exchange with any resident with the words "Good morning", "Good afternoon", or "Good evening". Unless you do this, be prepared for one very standoffish exchange. This isn't really manners, it's more like a requirement. Trust me, you'll need this very important foot-in-the-door. The best part is it's up to you to keep track of the time to know exactly which phrase to use (we residents always know and will correct you if you screw up). Be sure to ask a fellow tourist what the time is before you start asking questions. "

Why is it it that I always do this, with a smile, looking the person in the eye....and I am usually met with someone who then looks down and grumbles? It sure isn't encouraging and is very perplexing. The older people are the typical offenders here, as the younger ones are normally quite welcoming and respond in kind.

I don't expect a friendly exchange because I am spending money or contributing to the economy or anything like that....I expect it because I am a nice person and exhibit a pleasant disposition. So, why the "tude"?

I have been traveling to and living in the VI for my entire life (38 yrs)...though I am not native. So, I am used to it and just brush it off.

But, can you imagine how new visitors feel when they've been schooled like this to greet with these special greetings and they bend over backward to adhere to these rules and someone grumbles and growls at them in exchange?

So what's the deal? And why don't many VI residents practice what they preach?

Here's my theory and I hope I am right - those doing this are not from the VI....they are down island people who have come to work and capitalize on the tourism, so they really don't care if you enjoy STT, STJ or STX because they have no pride in these places anyway. Is this correct? If not, can you explain this to me?

I appreciate your guidelines and think they are very helpful. I just wish you could add a guideline for how to deal with the "tudes" one is likely encounter from certain folk.

Posted : January 24, 2006 11:07 am
Posts: 1

Not My List. I found it on another website. I Just thought it would help many visitors.

I understand the attitude comment. Tourism is the biggest industry on island. Yet many tourists leave feeling as if they were disrespected.

I wish something could be done but I don't think we should come to their island (their meaning locals, born and raised) and try to change them.

I have been to many friendly islands in the Caribbean. I appreciate these islanders so much more after residing in St. Thomas. I cannot speak for all of the other Caribbean Islands, as I have yet to visit a few, but most of the other islanders respect their islands and tourists. They treat their tourists as special guests who deserve to be shown all of the lovely sights and experiences that their island offers. Other islanders also respect their islands. St. Thomas could be so beautiful. But the garbage, junked out cars, and graffitti is disgusting in some places.

Posted : January 24, 2006 11:25 am
Posts: 1

Guy Benjamin writes about the importance of formal greetings in West Indian culture. He also stresses that just because I greet someone properly it doesn't mean that person is going to want to be my friend. It's not a "magic word". What it does do is make it clear that I was raised properly.

And when I go about my day here in the northeast--dealing with bank tellers, gas station attendants, convenience store clerks, grocery store clerks----I'm often ignored, met with indifference. For some reason I don't take it personally when I'm at home.

Posted : January 24, 2006 11:33 am
Posts: 1

Those rules for a great vacation are terrific! I concur, agree, and always obey that letter of the law. One exception......I have noticed on my past two trips to St. Thomas (we stay at Secret harbour - wonderful place), when we visit the regular tourists sites, ie. bars, resturants, souvenier stores, we alsways get nice friendly responses when we greet with the "Good Morning, Afternoon", or whatever for the correct time is.

Howvever, and this is the afore mentioned exception, when visiting the same stores that locals habituate, ie, K-Mart, the Grocery stores, out side of red Hook, we get treated with the same amount of DISrespect, no matter how we greet the folks. It's almost like they are saying, we are tresspassing on their sacred ground, hurry and leave. Therefore, I think THEY are the ones who should be handed the rules, so they know how to act properly when confronted by us touristsy types who just want to have a good time for one week out of the miserable year we just toiled through!

O.K., I'm finished with the soap box.....anyone else need it?


Posted : January 24, 2006 11:53 am
Posts: 1

I just have one addition to point 6 about the "socks with sandals" rule. Please, please, please - - especially no BLACK socks with sandals or just with shorts period. Remember this gals, and especially guys! In fact, if your boyfriend/husband/brother/father/uncle/grandfather, at any point in his life, walks out the door in this attire - - BRING HIM BACK INSIDE TO CHANGE!!! Immediately!

Posted : January 24, 2006 12:26 pm
Posts: 1

2. Avoid Driving

*We drive on the left. Seems the US is one of the very few countries in the world that drive on the right. Getting over the mindset that because America does something that the entire world should do it will take you far.

If you check out the following site, you will find, out of 243 countries only 76 of them drive on the left. There is also some of the history in how and why countries drive/drove on the left/right. So the US is NOT in the minority but in the majority.

Posted : January 24, 2006 5:48 pm
Posts: 6
Active Member

Totally agree. One really must be careful when taking posts and posting them as truth from other sites. That post could have been and obviously was one from a poster with an agenda. #1 was the only one that made a little sense. Best wishes!!

Posted : January 24, 2006 5:58 pm
Posts: 3316
Famed Member

As a 21 year resident here I'm aways polite and am well accustomed to greeting the patrons of my restaurant with a cheery. "Good Evening!"

As far as places like KMart and other supermarkets which are serviced by some of the younger locals, it's a catch as catch-can routine.

Some of them are really disgusting, totally ignoring the greeting or blatantly sucking their teeth. Due to their lack of upbringing, replete with lack of education and their general basic angst. they seem to think that whoever crosses their path owes them a living and that not only applies to the white people they deal with but also the black people who come through their check-out line.

Finding good employees here in whatever sector of business you're in is extremely hard. There are bad apples in every sector of business and it has nothing much to do with either black or white.

Some of the snowbirds who come here to work seasonally in the restaurant/bar business get all involved in going out after their shift is over and blowing everything they've made that day, arriving to work the next day with a bleary hangover and assuming it's not noticed. Oh how wrong they be!

It's got all to do with general respect and a basic work ethic rather than anything allegedly "cultural" which some would have you believe.

I really in all good conscience can't advocate that average newbies or visitors verbally retaliate against teeth-sucking or other signs of disrepect because I'll do it for you in my own way.

But, wait! I just changed my mind! Oh please say something if you feel you've been dissed. Just do it politely and wih a smile on yur face, as in, "Excuse me, what did you just say?"

Enough, I gone!

Posted : January 24, 2006 6:03 pm
Posts: 319
Reputable Member

OH I have to return all of my vacation clothes 🙂

Posted : January 24, 2006 6:24 pm
Posts: 1

The rules rule! Couldn't agree more. Y'know, I live in a "touristy" area in the states, and I get sick of the tourists too. I try to be polite, but, honestly, it's hard sometimes. So, if the "natives" (i.e. people who live where you're visiting) are sometimes a bit rude, take it with a grain of salt. Put a smile on your face, greet people properly, and enjoy your trip.
Oh, bare toes all the way!

Posted : January 24, 2006 9:43 pm
Posts: 171
Estimable Member

Good list - I just can't believe you/they didn't mention that wearing bathing attire in town is illegal but, more than that, extremely tacky and disrespectful. Only excuse I can think of is racing from your snorkel/diving charter to the showers.

Posted : January 25, 2006 10:07 am
Posts: 90
Trusted Member

Re/ the whole attitude of the locals thing, I've found that after a proper greeting of "Good What-Ever-It-Is", I'm frequently still met with indifference at best. Regardless, I then follow up with a comment or question that goes just a bit beyond what would be expected of a typical impatient tourist, and communicates empathy with the other person without going too far too fast. For example, if the customer before me was being a jerk, I'll smile and softly say something like "Do you 'spose they're having a bad day or maybe they're always like that?" Even just asking "How's it going today?" in a tone of voice that indicates you actually care can be effective. More often than not, I'll immediately get a slightly suprised glance, then the look softens and will be followed by a genuinely friendly response. In communications it's called "closing the gap" and it can break through preconceived notions and even cultural barriers when used appropriately. Sensing the situation is an art form to be sure, and of course it doesn't always work, but at least trying is certainly worth the effort.

Side note: I've also decided that a good idea in de ilons is a good idea here as well, so I've adopted the "Good Morning" greeting and personal follow-up as standard procedure back home too. It's amazing to watch people's response!

Posted : January 25, 2006 1:14 pm
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