If you’ve ever visited one of the English-speaking Caribbean islands, jumped into a car and driven off on the left-hand side of the road, have you ever wondered why?
Maybe you’ve been too busy trying to avoid a darting mongoose or dodging the potholes to give it much thought…But this is just one of the many present-day reminders of the islands’ past that has helped to shape these countries today.
The English may have left traces of their time on these islands, but the Caribbean people have given them an unmistakeable West Indian identity. Take the traditional stone-built churches that could have been plucked from any English village, surrounded by tropical palm trees, and hosting the sort of rousing Sunday church services not often found in the UK.
Beautiful Georgian architecture and imposing plantation houses may have taken their inspiration from English designs, but creeping bougainvillea and hibiscus brighten up the stonework and lend an unmistakeably tropical touch. This continues inside such building where beautiful locally-made furniture, of Jamaican mahogany for instance, adds a special flair.
Of course, while English is the official language of these islands, many locals speak “patois”, their own language combining a mix of English, sometimes French, African and their own unique words, that make it impossible for outsiders to understand. Strike up a conversation with locals, and you’ll probably find they have relatives who live in England. They might even challenge you to an impromptu game of cricket and will enthusiastically discuss the latest form of West Indies and English players.
There are even familiar-sounding places such as Brighton or Worthing in Barbados, Falmouth in Antigua and Portsmouth in Dominica, but all have their own distinctive West Indian ambience. In the British Virgin Islands, which are among a handful of spots that are still British Overseas Territories, there’s even a traditional red phone box in one of the bays, which has been ingeniously converted into a shower!
In some ways, aspects of the English Caribbean lifestyle are reminiscent of Britain 20 or 30 years ago, particularly among the older generation who place more importance on formal manners and modest dress. Children are turned out immaculately in their uniforms for school and families turn out en masse in their Sunday best for their weekly visit to church. For visitors from modern-day Britain, it is a refreshing reminder of times past – yet with its own distinct flavour that tells you exactly where you are.