Culture and etiquette
Despite the wild bacchanalia of Carnival, T&T is generally a friendly but conservative society. As a foreigner you will be treated politely and the same will be expected in return.
Outside the cities, it’s usual to acknowledge people passing on the street with a nod of the head, “good day” or just “alright”. Before starting any conversation, whether in a shop or asking for directions, local custom is to say “good morning” or “good afternoon”; the same goes when entering, say, a maxi. Everything is slowed down in T&T; people take longer to interact, to converse and to serve you in a shop or a diner. If you arrange to meet someone, be prepared to wait – being on time in T&T may well mean being 30–45 minutes after the time originally arranged, with no apology. Don’t get frustrated; be flexible and tolerant and you will save yourself a lot of stress. Inevitably, though, if you follow suit and turn up late, you’ll confront an irritated Trinbagonian who’s made the effort to comply with “foreign” timekeeping.
Religious faith holds strong in T&T, especially in Tobago, and this affects islanders’ day-to-day behaviour. Though you may see overtly sexual dancing and hear lewd lyrics, local people are still quite morally conservative; public drunkenness, for example, is very much frowned upon. Couples in T&T tend to be very undemonstrative in public, and the highly erotic-looking dancing (“wining”) you’ll see is usually between friends or couples. As a foreigner you may well be asked to dance by a stranger, but there’s no necessity to demonstrate your wining skills unless you choose to – and twerking against several new acquaintances in one night will probably raise a few eyebrows. Note also that while local women may accept a dance with a stranger, she may just give him a “small wine”, dancing for a while so as to be polite but breaking off after a minute or so. Of other social conventions, beachwear is restricted to the beach; nude and topless bathing is not allowed. Bear in mind also that camouflage clothing is illegal in T&T (a law passed following the 1990 coup in an attempt to prevent civilians from impersonating the military). The ban is most often enforced at airport arrivals halls, where offending items are confiscated, but camo (even a bikini or kids’ hat) shouldn’t be worn outdoors and is best left behind. Using obscene language in public is illegal and though the law is not often enforced, it is nevertheless important to be aware of it.
Finally, it is illegal to smoke in all enclosed public spaces in T&T– something adhered to rigidly.
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