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From BC to bpTT, Germany

Part I
Published: 
Friday, September 18, 2015

The bulk of Thank God It’s Friday today and next week will comprise something I wrote in 2009 for what I assumed was an obscure German magazine, since it chose to call itself “Kulturaustausch—Journal for International Perspectives;” clearly they didn’t intend the title to trip off everyone’s tongue. 

I just can’t imagine your average Josef Blogschmidt strolling into the newsagent’s and calling for, “A pack of Marlboros, two Kit Kats  and this month’s Kulturaustausch.” If you want your magazine to be remembered, call it, “Time” or “People” or even “Weekly World News”—just don’t call it, “Kulturaustausch—Journal for International Perspectives.”

Before explaining how I came to be explaining “liming” to German intellectuals (with a penchant for kulturaustausch, which might be German pepper sauce), I’d like to publicly heap praise on a private company, bpTT, and not just because we share initials. This is the first weekend of the tenth T&T Film Festival and, since yesterday, and until tomorrow, all the primetime screenings at MovieTowne have been sold out, and all because of the lavish generosity of bpTT.

Weeks ago, bpTT bought all the tickets for the 9 pm MovieTowne screenings from Thursday-Saturday and has given them away, first come, first served, to anyone who applied. Not just that, bpTT bought everyone firetrucking popcorn! On top of the free tickets, bpTT paid for a $30 voucher redeemable at the concessions counter.

That’s just the kind of no-strings, hands-on support of a worthy cause that film festivals—and governments—dream of—and governments never get! But the Film Festival has got it, in spades, popcorn and Diet Coke, from bpTT—who are also sponsoring the Youth Jury prize this year, as they did last year. Take a bow, bpTT. 

Give Jack his jacket, Jim his gym boots and bpTT their BC Pires big-up; they firetrucking well deserve it (as does the National Gas Company and Flow, but today is bpTT day at TGIF).

And Germany day, too. This is the first part of what appeared, in German, in 2009, under the headline, “We call it Liming.”

The email came from Karola Klatt from the magazine KULTURAUSTAUSCH: “Could I please explain “liming” to the Germans?” And I thought, “Hmmm. Perhaps I should try to explain “comedy” to them first, as a warm-up for the task of conveying to the hardest-working people this side of Japan the concept of liming—the art of doing nothing whatever as though it were something of the greatest importance.”

It’s not just the concept of liming that might be alien to Germans and Europeans generally, except possibly the Spanish and Portuguese. The language and idioms of the explanation itself would be hard to interpret—and God and Karola alone know how, with all the Sprachgefühl in the world, what I write here might be translated into German. The unavoidable reality is that liming is one of those activities, like cunnilingus, the Moonwalk or yodelling, that is both best explained and understood by demonstration and participation. And the gap between those who lime and those who seek a definition of it may be impossible to close. You might as well seek to translate the shrug of a New York pawnbroker into Swahili.

It seems to me that what has to be first understood is the approach to liming which is itself a reflection to the Trinidadian approach to anything. And the Trinidadian approach to anything is likely to be the polar opposite of that of the Western Europeans. Though, if my reading of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s books and my watching of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s films are reliable indicators, it is not necessarily so far removed from the approaches of Eastern Europeans behind the Iron Curtain.

If I were describing this article to a Trinidadian journalist, I would say, “I have to explain liming to white people;” and any Trini who wasn’t being deliberately obtuse would recognise there was no racism whatever involved in my terminology. Indeed, that fearful, troublesome and persistent Aryan that might spring to mind at once in Berlin would be the farthest thing from Trinidadian contemplation on Maracas Beach. 

“White people,” used this way, does not apply to physical characteristics at all, unless you mean physical geography. Indeed, white Trinidadians use the term in this context without intending themselves to be included in it.

The Trinidadian “white people” are “cultural foreigners,” the historical occupants of the Great House on the plantation. People who would be intimately comfortable with foie gras but who would not understand what “a doubles with slight pepper” was. (It’s a deep-fried mini-burrito filled with curried chick peas and a dash of hot sauce).

The character “Fives” from the novel The Lonely Londoners, by Samuel Selvon, the Trinidadian writer who died in 1994, got his name whilst liming. Someone told Fives he was “as black as midnight;” another limer at once piped up, “Nah, he blacker than midnight; he black like five past twelve.” Thus he became “Fives.” 

I have met “white people” who are physically as black as Fives. Members of Parliament in T&T, who wear insufferably hot jackets and ties every day, are “white people” in this sense: they are completely removed from what is customary and sensible in their own country.

This is the gap between the Trini and the German, the nonchalant limer and the diligent researcher, the speaker who builds words logically by adding to them syllable by syllable to amplify meaning and the one who casually and regularly uses terms that anywhere else in the world would be racist or hostile but in Trinidad are neutral or even benevolent.

BC Pires bin ein Berliner, even if most Trinis will take that to mean BC

Pires is a German bin liner

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