In praise of the praise songs of West Indian men

Who says Caribbean men don’t show their emotions? Just today in town, I got two passionate declarations of love – in an hour and a half! And none of them were from my man!

The first a fervent “Ras…I love that size” as I entered a boutique. The second a more straightforward “Empress, I love you!” as I made my way out of town.

Look, when I was younger, to be honest I did not really appreciate the attention. I did not know how to react, it made me feel uncomfortable and exposed. As I got older, it just kind of faded into the background or I would dismiss it with a roll of the eyes and exasperation.

But you know how it goes. You never miss the water til the well runs dry and all that.

I spent a year in England…stolid, unemotive England. In the Midlands no less, in a town that had maybe 500 black people in it, including the 100+ at my uni.

And I felt like a complete plod…  to use the British expression. It was horrible! Europeans, strange creatures that they are go so far out of their way not to intrude on anyone’s privacy or ‘space’ that not only did I hardly get any appreciative compliments on the street, I didn’t even get a good morning. It was a real culture shock.

Worse, even the black guys were not giving any love … at least not to black girls. I actually encountered one yute who pushed me out of his way (not a hard shove or anything but STILL) at my uni’s club one night to get to a group of white girls – and then he went straight for the homeliest, most overweight, block-shaped one! Wha a gwan wid dese breddas ya?  I actually started to doubt myself after a while. I started to wonder if I was really rather plain and not as attractive and sexy as I know I am.  Felt more self-conscious about my tummy, less enamoured of my spectacular breasts, etc.

Fortunately, that nonsense only lasted about a week until one day I was in class, feeling ploddish, not to mention bored. I looked out the window and caught a glimpse of myself reflected in the glass- the full lips, even features, gorgeous smile … and realised I was being a damn fool letting these people get to me.

Anyhow, in the summer I moved down to London for an internship. I moved into a shared house in North London (a horrible, grotty place filled with unbathed travellers and their wet laundry but more on that another time). Anyhow, having moved into my place, I decided to wander about and check out the surroundings which were much more evocative of home (a genuine Caribbean restaurant at the end of the road, ackees, yams and sweet potatoes being sold on the streets) than where I’d been the last 10 months.

As I made my way down the road, I passed a black man and all of a sudden, I heard a throaty, appreciative rumble:

Em-press!”

I actually stopped dead in my tracks, I was so surprised. And surprisingly touched. It really made me feel like home. And that was not the end of it. I soon realised that I had been right back in the winter- the problem was not me, it was where I was living. Being in London, with a substantial West Indian population (I eventually moved to South London, with even more West Indians…and a barber shop at the top of my road) it was like being home again.

The appreciative and creative comments, the hilarious, bold and yet kind of sweet attempts to get attention with ever more flamboyant compliments, the flat-out lies (like the many compliments on my walk when I know I walk like the Terminator on crack), the inventive ways of making you feel better even when you’re feeling at your worst.

Like the guy in my old office complex who used to tell me how wonderfully dressed I looked “every time I see you” or the man who told my friend that she looked like she “could use a long, hot bubble bath” when he saw her (ooking exhausted and no doubt haggard at the end of a work day. Now who else but a West Indian man could come up with such a creative way of complimenting you even when you know you look like shit? :)

2 comments for “In praise of the praise songs of West Indian men

  1. May 22, 2008 at 1:25 am

    Love this post, and love your blog. I really feel old feminism devalued women in many ways, and your more contemporary outlook embraces all of womanhood, where what you look like is as functioning a compliment as anything else about you. Thanks for your comment on my blog, and please visit again.

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