by Dave Martins – Credits Stabroek News.

Dave Martins 2010 CDIt happens sometimes that a singular occurrence, or a passage in something one reads, can open your mind to something that passed unnoticed before and you suddenly recognize multiple examples replicating that first light coming on. This week I ran across a comment from Borapork, a frequently interesting local blogger, in which he was lamenting the “topless nakedness” display of the West Indies cricket team after their recent stunning T20 victory over England. Bora ended his criticism with the plea, “Return decorum to the sport.”

The relative merits of Bora’s position aside, his emphasis on “decorum” caused an instant recognition in me of how much that quality is valued in the Guyanese culture, and it led me to then further reflect on the different shades or influences of England that still remain with us half a century after the English departed.  

I know from my youth in British Guiana that “decorum” was high on the behaviour list then, and here we have a blogger in 2016, stressing its importance. Indeed in the same week, another blogger came across as “veddy English actually” in responding to a picture of officials in the press showing one official without a tie. He wrote: “I think the shirt jack does look respectable in the presence of guys in suits, but to be slumping around in a jacket without a tie, that’s unacceptable. Let’s have some decorum around here.”

Just picture that assessment being delivered by a guy in a bowler hat standing in front of 10 Downing Street, and you’ll see the connection. I don’t know that the word “decorum” was applied, but I know I grew up in Guyana where “proper behaviour” was the order of the day, whether at home at Vreed-en-Hoop, or travelling to town on the ferryboat, or playing sports at Thomas Lands in the afternoons, and it’s clear to me that aspects of decorum, although slightly less rigid, are still part of us today.

Another example of the English influence is the practice of saying “good morning” and “good afternoon” to strangers in public that we grew up with. It is a common behaviour here that is generally missing in North America, and you recognize the difference immediately when you go there, walk into a doctor’s waiting-room, say “good morning”, and nobody responds. Many times you will see a man from Guyana in those countries get in an elevator and remove his hat; the other persons stare at him with that “What’s up with this dude?” look.

In my early years here, good manners were recognized as part of your social requirement, whether at home or outside; there was particular emphasis on “what’s proper” in public, and constant reference to “the law” as still exhibited by my attorney friend Leon Rockcliffe. Leon reminds me of a Jamaican living in Cayman who was my occasional tennis partner there. If you shut your eyes and listen to his chat you would think you’re hitting ground strokes with a bloke from Manchester. He had been long gone from Jamaica when I met him in Cayman talking that way, and he was still talking that way when I left Cayman 25 years later; the influence remained.

The more I ponder, the more examples of it I see in the region: our mania for cricket and for soccer in the English Premier League (Caribbean callers to the Sportsmax programme on TV routinely speak of such teams as Chelsea and Liverpool and Manchester United with unwavering devotion); the interest in English royalty (not the Dutch or the Saudis, but the English); the pervasive “sweet tooth”; the love of small shelves in the house with ugly-looking little knick knacks; the dinner bell (not common now but still with us very avidly in some homes). It is also comical to see some of our senior cricketers still following the English disposition for bulky sweaters even when temperatures don’t seem to warrant them; Caribbean folks may not mention it openly, but they have to be privately saying, “What de bumba clat ah rang wid dem chaps?”

The more you look, the more you see. It is manifestly there in our independence structures with the frequent appearance of the Westminster model in our politics, and in the allegiance among our legal brethren to appeals being directed to the Privy Council in Britain while our Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) languishes with just four members.

Go down the priority list and one will see shades of England still in play in the various dress codes one encounters in Georgetown at Government Ministries and even at the Cultural Centre where the entire panoply of Guyana regularly presents itself.

I am not entering the “for and against” debate of the practice; I am simply citing its existence here, and its absence in other places I have lived, as evidence of an English position that we have voluntarily adopted. It is there even in our footwear among the males who still consider the English Clark shoe as the epitome when it comes to that category, and I notice that the tie-clip we grew up using to hold the neck-tie properly in place is back in vogue after a long hiatus; even the brothers in North America, so influential in fashion, are using them very visibly keeping things in proper English line.

Mind you, it has not been a blanket acceptance. The things from the Mother Country we’ve rejected include warm beer, lawn bowling, Guy Fawkes Day, and traditional English fish and chips. Also, other culinary variations such as cucumber sandwiches and haggis have simply not caught on here. But in my calmer moments, as I look around these Caribbean societies, it’s obvious that so many decades after the English have departed many aspects of England are still strongly with us. Also, despite the occasional anti-British vitriol we get from certain public speakers, it is worth noting that by and large we seem quite at home with most of the influences that remain.


Dave Martins and the Tradewinds – Copycats

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Ken Corsbie  On 06/04/2016 at 10:23 am

    Another good one David.. Then there is cricket and football and..oh yes. English language.. the proscenium arch of theatres.. and the thousands of Caribbeans living in England for the past 50 years.. and there is the proper way to hold and use a knife and fork (see the Americans for distortions).

  • Albert  On 06/04/2016 at 12:11 pm

    Starting with the British one would think culture in the case of Guyana would be an amalgamation of characteristics from each race who occupied Guyana…..and called Guyanese. Thanks to our politicians and leaders it does not seem likely.

    • Thinker  On 06/04/2016 at 2:06 pm

      Culture doesn’t work like that Albert. It is influenced by people’s history, religion, knowledge systems, behaviours, etc. and is subject to change. Politicians have very little to do with it except if they share an idioculture of things like financial impropriety, fraud, law-breaking, etc. Then that culture can spread like wildfire.

      • Albert  On 06/04/2016 at 4:16 pm

        Thinker you have to explain a little more here. Guyana is a mixture of, is it 6 races. Each has some form of its own history, music, food, various forms of rituals. All put together in a geographical and environmental location call Guyana. What choice is there for a civilize existence other than to have what many call a “Guyanese” culture, with all those features pool together.
        Don’t you think political leaders can influence the economical and cultural direction of the country’s development. For instance, if Burnham had left the sugar industry in the hands of private ownership and they had move out rather than suffer losses. Would this not have had a major impact on the direction of this country….cultural and otherwise.

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 06/04/2016 at 3:19 pm

    Another interesting and insightful article from Dave Martins.

    “Another example of the English influence is the practice of saying “good morning” and “good afternoon” to strangers in public that we grew up with. It is a common behaviour here that is generally missing in North America, and you recognize the difference immediately when you go there, walk into a doctor’s waiting-room, say “good morning”, and nobody responds.”
    ~ I experienced the same thing in Fortaleza, Brazil.
    ~ It was in Brazil that I first realized how much my behavior and attitudes had been influenced by my British colonial upbringing. While adapting to the Brazilian way of life, I also learned to embrace my British-Caribbean differences. It’s like growing appendages while remaining whole and intact.
    ~ Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles, I find “thank you” in short supply. But that’s a whole different story of what it means to be an American.

  • Albert  On 06/04/2016 at 5:08 pm

    Rosa you need to move south. The first thing that would hit you is the courtesy of the traditional southerner. People address you as “sir” and “Mom” Coming from the rough, tough, north I did know, at first, how to respond to southern hospitality. Now I am an artificial southerner.

  • Thinker  On 06/04/2016 at 5:19 pm

    @Albert. Culture cannot be imposed by politicians. Ataturk tried it in Turkey and years after it is now falling apart. Guyana will be heavily influenced by Western culture as it evolves in the English speaking world because it is a part of the latter. Quebecers realise how much language is part of culture even in a Western society. Akbar the Great in India tried to invent a religion incorporating several religions and the Muslims would have none of that. There is a natural evolution to culture and when people perceive certain values they hold as useful (leading to success in many spheres) they will not give them up easily. True all over the world.

  • L. A. Phillips  On 06/05/2016 at 10:41 pm

    One BIG absence from the list of things inherited from the English is “black pudding”, called “blood pudding” in England!

  • demerwater  On 06/06/2016 at 9:06 am

    In this age of “Kleenex” and the ubiquitous roll of paper towels, the handkerchief has stayed with me for most of my life. It was about this time in 1953. We were all dressed in serge pants and white long sleeved shirts; the latter with red white and blue epaulettes added, in parade formation, caught up in the pomp and ceremony of the Queen’s Coronation. And along comes Mr. (Francis) Yhip instructing that we must not let our handkerchiefs show out of our pants’ (side)pockets. To a boy, each of us who ‘sported’ a handkerchief had taken great pains to make sure that a corner of it protruded just so much (no more, no less).
    I do not know how long before that, my mother was sewing handkerchiefs for me; but they were always white and always ‘worn’ at Sunday Mass and similar occasions. Over the years, the handkerchief moved from my side pocket to my hip pocket and whenever I wore a suit, a second handkerchief established its presence as a thin sliver of white border over the breast pocket. I never went for the idea of three or four peaks or colors on that one. It was always a thin white line. I have done all sorts of work, all of them outdoors; but each day I could not leave the house without a clean white handkerchief in my right hip pocket. At the end of the day it showed signs and stains of use and abuse.
    And if I can play a little on the words of Dave Martin, ” And so , when the Maker calls. I will still be this way. Ah go sneak into Heaven, reach for my handkerchief … and wipe me forehead in relief”.
    This joke is on me. We, siblings, were all in the Christmas spirit, watching the aunties busy with cake-making, ginger beer setting and things like that. This one auntie looked in my direction and said, “Boy, blow your nose!” I reached into my pocket for my pocket-kerchief and all the adults laughed. My mother, as usual, quietly told me t o button up my pants. That was the first euphemism I learned.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: