How many times have you gone to a V.I. government website and found out-of-date or incorrect information? It happens to me all the time. Google the USVI Legislature, and you’re likely to find as many hits for broken links as useful ones. It’s pretty easy to add another webpage or launch a new website, but it’s far more difficult to manage these links over time.
In the sixth “local tourists” installment, where we ask what’s working in the territory and what isn’t, we get into the cyber weeds.
I’m brief this week because I’m playing tourist for a friend’s big birthday. (I witnessed the nicest taxi woman last night. We should remember that as we point out what’s gone wrong, so much is going right. That said, your taxi complaints are voluminous, and we’ll be addressing that issue very shortly.)
Many of you wrote to say social media was doing the Virgin Islands few favors. Facebook, Twitter, and other such platforms are a perfect place for bad behavior, to say the least. And policing such areas is a job I would not wish on anyone. It only takes one sour voice to ruin a choir, and it takes just one nasty attitude to turn off would-be tourists. A few readers thought that was by design.
One reader said they collected negative tourist feedback and published them, then got shut down.
“I have put these comments on Facebook with over 1,000 hits of agreement until I was blocked.”
I have no way of verifying this, and I don’t know who ran the pages they posted to or did the blocking — or the tone of the “comments” posted. But, calling attention to our shortcoming is perilous. I’ve received nothing but pleasant replies to my efforts in sending your concerns to various government agencies but no actual answers. Not a one. Of course, you aren’t reading this on some angry social media feed. An editor (I hope) reads what I write to make sure I keep within the bounds of good taste and, above all, honesty.
We all wish … strike that. Everyone but Elon Musk, Donald Trump, and their ilk wish folks online were a little more thoughtful with what they say. Some people are incapable of this, simply singing sharp in that choir, while others go out of their way to get attention by being purposefully flat. It’s a cheap thrill and a sad point of pride. I think other people are off-key because no one ever taught them the tune.
One reader found the ad hoc replies to honest visitor questions on social media deeply troubling.
“One thing that stands out to me is that we have a lot of unofficial social media pages for the USVI where prospective visitors ask questions. Although most of the replies are kind and informative, there are usually one or two who make rude, negative comments designed to put visitors off of coming,” a reader wrote. “It’s unfair to complain about tourists to someone who you don’t even know. Many of our tourists are wonderful people who just want to have a good time and spend money! Let’s not judge them in advance!”
This gets to the heart of our “local tourist” experiment that making the V.I. a cleaner, more efficient, more profitable place benefits locals far more than tourists. We have the power to make the changes WE want.
A lot of those changes are couched as being for the benefit of tourists. We want their money. And maybe we want to show off a little. Yes, the tourists come in big waves sometimes, and, yes, they don’t often blend in. I don’t know about you, but when I go to Paris, I try to make myself as Parisian as possible. I know I don’t fit in — my French is merde — but I don’t hang around the McDonald’s talking baseball in a raised voice.
Why? Well, in part because I’ve been taught through a life of paying attention that the Parisians don’t like that. Ole Mat here wants to be liked. Doesn’t always work out that way, but he tries to be respectful.
How, then, are we presenting our cultural ideals. What are our cultural ideals? We talk talk talk like we know, but, really, what is it we want to push forward, and what is it we’d prefer to shed?
OK. Let’s tip toe into that question by moving from the digital world to something more in the flesh.
How do we feel about bare-chested men on Main Street? How about bare-chested women at the beach?
Traditionally, the USVI has discouraged both by example. Not everyone gets the message, of course. Humans — the thinking animal — have a remarkable capacity for density.
I’ve never heard of anyone being ticketed for public nudity. I suppose it could happen. But that’s not really us. We murmur and quietly judge, and suck at our teeth *chups.* We shake our heads at out-of-step visitors and gossip about neighbors. Confrontation isn’t a big part of our culture.
I’ll submit Virgin Islands culture has been, for a long time, at a crossroads: We’re extraordinarily permissive and quietly conservative. Your grandparents would be aghast at your behavior just as your jaw likely drops watching the youth dem.
One reader thought we were unnecessarily prudish:
“Legalize/allow for female topless sunbathing on at least some of our beaches. Since the majority of European beaches are topless (or even nude, see the French Islands), our beaches could be better marketed to the Euro folks if they were topless. I think this is like the second or third question I get asked.”
OK. I’m of the opinion — not that you asked — that we bring two things to the beach with us: dignity and grace. If your best day in the sun is butt naked, I’m not going to send storm clouds your way. But do it with dignity and grace, please.
Like most of you, I’ve witnessed visitors to our islands have a nudie beach experience. These men and women — mostly men for some reason — are our off-key choir singers. We give them the tune and hope they can follow. That said, the old maxim says if you know the rules well enough, you can break them. So, you want to flout cultural norms? Do it well.
A lot of you wrote with an age-old concern: bikinis on Main Street. You asked for an education campaign on the subject, that beachwear is inappropriate for town. Here I’m in total agreement so long as it doesn’t involve making yet another soon-to-be out-of-date website or social media quagmire.
In short, do what feels good, but be thoughtful about it, please.
If you missed the first five installments of our “local tourist” experiments, they’re linked here.
Editor’s note: Chups is a VI term meaning to make a sound through closed teeth with a short inhale burst, which is referred to as sucking teeth.