Island Time


A gratuitous pastel sunset in the BVI.

Island time is a phrase that could mean a lot of things, but it bugs me that the most common usage seems to be the disparaging way we talk about Caribbean people or institutions running behind schedule. Not that I don’t respect a punctual operation, because I do. No, the reason it bothers me is because in my experience, at least here in the BVI, island time is not about simply running late. Instead, it’s a nuanced and complicated way of describing different aspects of time, being on time, or levels of rushing.

The most eye-opening such phrase, for me, is one I have heard exiting many buses and taxis: Take your time. If you’re not used to hearing the phrase, it can seem off-putting, almost like a commandment, but it’s actually sound advice. Even though a load of people might be waiting on me to exit the vehicle, it would inconvenience everyone a lot more if I wasn’t careful on my way out and wound up injuring myself or another passenger in my rush. I’ve also heard people say taking time ain’t laziness, which speaks to the way that a task well done is worth waiting for.

Along the same lines, some people say hurry, hurry, never done. This phrase tells you that the more you rush something, the more likely it is that you will make a mistake and wind up having to start the whole task over. When I was a kid, the old people used to say “haste makes waste” in much the same way.

Describing time can be a source of confusion regardless of where you are, but I’ve found the BVI is pretty consistent. One time means that something should be happening immediately or right away. If I ask you when you want me to pay back that money you loaned me last month, you would probably answer “one time,” and hold out your hand.

For things a bit less urgent, you will hear just now, which means in a while, or that there’s no rush. This is the one you use when your partner wants to know when you’ll be ready to leave the house but you just need to fix up your look before you can go: “just now, babe.”

If something has been going on since before the discussion began, the phrase is all now. This is the one you can use when you’re waiting on your buddy and they ask you when you will get to the meeting place: “I’m here all now.”

I know there are a lot more time phrases out there. I’d love to read what other people’s favorites are in the comments.


This column first appeared in the Aug. 16 edition of the Limin’ Times.


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