Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Monday, December 08, 2008

Terms of Endearment. Obey The Law.

A very funny thing happened on the way to the market. I met a man, with whom I occasionally play tennis--he's much better than me, and I do my best to not look too bad. We were at a cocktail party on Friday evening. He greeted me as usual, and as usual, I kissed his wife on the cheek--no stiff British formalities, thank you. We chatted about tennis and about how his business was doing--selling fish products to restaurants on the west coast. Then, somehow, he got onto how husbands and wives get on. "Listen, mate. It's simple. Just say 'Yes, dear.' Go with the program. Women scream what they feel, we blokes bottle it up." His remark shocked me because if there is a man who does not bottle things up on the tennis court, it's him. My shock was hidden, though and I nodded, like the good dog.

A short while after, I scooted around the party floor and had a range of discussions, all of which touched on this same subject of couples and how they see each other, though sometimes only in the tangential space of my mind.

One lady, whom I had never met before, told me how she lived here but her husband did not, but that was alright. I probed. "He stays in Trinidad and comes here from Thursday to Monday every week," she added. I did the maths quickly, then queried, "But that means he's here more than he is there. So, why say he does not live here?" She gave some explanation that I just could not fathom but I sensed that in her mind (like when children have to deal with their parents' absence on travel), the time away though less bore down on her more.

Another European lady, who works for one of the regional development banks, pressed me to remind her of a definition of the stay-at-home male spouse that I had given some time ago ("STUDHs"--spouses travelling under duress happily), and for me to meet her husband for the first time. He is English and wants to write so is interested in my blog and other things about adjusting to life inside the nest rather than out in the fields.

The next day, when I managed to get to the market for my obligatory fish cutter and cappuccino breakfast, I met upon some of the usual suspects. Rose, who is my server du jour each Saturday, gave me her normal kiss, "See, I'm not sweaty today. Just cool and nice, just like this morning." I smiled, and knew better than to try to say something witty. Her friend, who was doing the frying, filled my sandwiches. "See how she wan' sweet him up? Look at the size of the fish! That will be $6 dollars each, now, or $12 for the two sandwiches. No discount for you!" I still had no courage to bat back the ball. "Wha' happen cat got you' tongue? Where you' wife? Abandoned you again?" Rose knows my buttons. "No, no. I just lef' her...at home sleeping with the little one. She may come by later," I eventually said, feeling that I had uttered something safe. I went off smiling and waited to see who else would pass by. Dawne soon arrived, but she is not for today's subject.

Now, one of the things about many couples is that they have their own language when it comes to affection and insults in public. One of the couples I met are learned friends. The wife, is a vivacious woman whose opinions will smack you in the eyes--and I have had my cussing and know that it's all "lerv". However, she uses a term for her learned partner-in-life that would normally make me bristle, but his bristly face never changes. So, I never run to his defence, feeling that however it may sound to me, to him it's alright.

Another friend, who is afflicted as I am by the urge to write a blog, had an exchange with me and we discussed her husband's travels and newly elevated position in the world of international finance. She refers to her husband in public as "The Husband" (see this post from Notes from a small rock, for example). Even though the term itself does not change, the assiduous reader--me--can sometimes detect in the writing certain inflections which suggest the need for at least one adjective. That may be "the damned...", "the truly beloved...", or "that lame horse..."--though, these implied additions always carry a tinge of affection.

I have always used neutrally the term "My Wife". However, because I know that I live in a world of stereotyping, I use it with a number of qualifiers. My wife is a career woman--I don't use "working: because we are all working. So, when we were both based in Washington and working for the IMF, and I had to introduce her to friends of mine, I added, "also an economist with the IMF" or "the mission chief for [country X]", or "Head of the Staff Association Committee". People we know tend to flounder when they cannot place you in some sort of socio-economic hierarchy, so even though I felt the qualifiers were a bit redundant, I saw that they had a calming effect on those we met. It also prevented them from descending into a pit of their own digging by asking "So, do you have a job, Mrs. Jones?" If you have never seen Miss Piggy when she gets angry, watch the video and stand clear:

Conversely, a few years ago, when my wife was taking time off from her regular job with the IMF to bear a child, move to Africa with me, have a sabbatical, write a research paper, organize an NGO, and run a project with the United Nations, I had to be a bit creative about my qualifiers. I'll be honest, in that I recall the sort of glazed doe-like expressions on people's faces when I (as a man of some not insubstantial standing in the socio-economic hierarchy of Guinea) introduced her as "doing a sabbatical", or something else that described well what she actually did. Never would I, or do I, or dare I add the natural qualifier "the mother of...". That qualifier turned the doe eyes into the greyed glass eyes one sees in zombies in some bad B horror movie, as they moved slowly in her direction. Oooh. Scary! Ironically, now that I am a STUDH, I have now lost my name and have become "the father of..." or "Rhian's dad", and I see those zombie eyes more than ever, but looking at me.

In many places, the terms that are associated with wives can often be seen as slightly disparaging. In England, for example, you have the Cockney rhyming slang terms for "wife", such as "trouble and strife", "fork and knife", and "bag for life" (see Cockney Rhyming Slang Dictionary). More obliquely, English people often refer to the wife and "she who must be [obeyed]". It's a short step from terms like that last one to think that "The Law" is a good term. My favourite has been for some time the "Minister for Interior Affairs" or the British equivalent the "Home Secretary".

Terms like "Honey", "Dearest One", "Sugar Dumpling" seem to be used by married couples only in movies; even the Obamas don't go there and they are now The First Lovie-dovies (or at least First-elect). We, or I should say I, use them for my children. If you hear a man using them on the telephone, then for me that is a sure sign he's talking to one of his kids or (look out) "de odda 'oman".

All of this to say that between people who know each other well, it's alright to KISS a lot (keep it simple, stupid). That is how I will act and The Law will be obeyed.

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