Trinidad and Tobago:  Customs and Issues Affecting International Business

Charles H. Tidwell, Jr.

A Presentation at:  Reaching The World: International, Intercultural, and Ethical Issues:  A Conference for SDA Business Teachers
Andrews University
June 28, 2001    

Trinidad and Tobago:  Customs and Issues Affecting International Business

Abstract.  Because Geert Hofstede’s research on cultural dimensions has been limited to 40 or so national cultures, it is often difficult to obtain data on smaller countries or lesser developed regions.  In an attempt to rectify a need for such information, this study focuses on significant Trinidadian cultural traits, including the role of Carnival and calypso in maintaining a working multicultural environment, as well as on reporting Trinidadian anecdotal findings regarding Hofstede’s dimensions.

Trinidad and Tobago:  Customs and Issues Affecting International Business

The  Impetus for a Trinidadian focus

    The focus of this presentation is the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, particularly as it impacts intercultural communication and international business.  One may well ask, why focus on Trinidad?  First of all, Trinidad and Tobago is one of the more developed and economically robust countries in the Carribean, a region more noted for its economic problems than successes. While I have never lived there for an extended period as an expatriate worker,  I have been able to visit on four or five occasions for periods of 3-4 days to 2 weeks.  My interest in Trinidad stems largely from the MBA program which the School of Business offers in Trinidad and my teaching of a graduate MBA course, Intercultural Business Relations.  After my first contact with Trinidadians, I was impressed with the pervasiveness of multiculturalism.  This is an inherent factor in Trinidadian society.   Especially noteworthy is the apparent ease within this society of merging many disparate yet potential divisive elements.  

    Because of this graduate course along with the regular contact I have each summer with the Trinidadian and Tobagonian* students when they come to Andrews University to complete their MBA program, I have developed an interest in learning more fully the basis of their culture and, more importantly, how it potentially impacts not only my own involvement in intercultural communication but also prospective international business situations.  The particular impetus for this presentation has been student research papers** prepared in the Intercultural Business Relations course.  I asked students to analyze their own culture and to compare it with another – focusing on some aspects of the taxonomies for such study implicit in Geert Hofstede’s Dimensions of Culture, Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s Cultural Dimensions, or Edward Hall’s high / low contexts paradim.

*Technically I should use the words Trinidadian and Tobagonian to differentiate between the cultures found on the two islands that make up this country.  The differences between Trinidad and Tobago are not a subject of this study but certainly deserve attention in another forum.  Generally, I will use only one term – Trinidadian – in an attempt to avoid the awkwardness of expression and overt repetition.

**Acknowledgments.  My deep appreciation to the students in BSAD 560, Intercultural Business Relations, taught in Trinidad in December 2000, who provided many of the anecdotal insights reflected in this paper: Wayne Bankay, Frederick Bowen, Del Charles, Renwin Jacob, Jason Jagroop, David Massiah, Deanne Mungal, Barry Mykoo, Winston Peters, Gail Remy-Rajkumar, Michael Rampaul, Marcia Romany, and Kevoughn Webster
Why study in Trinidad culture?

    From a pragmatic viewpoint, there is a general sparseness of cultural information about Trinidad and Tobago, or for the entire West Indies for that matter.  Information is often difficult to obtain outside the region.  However, the literature and research on European or Asia cultures is fairly extensive and is much more readily available.  For instance, Hoftstede’s seminal work concentrates primarily on Europe and Asia (and to a lesser extent on Latin American countries).  Despite the preeminence of developed countries, globalization in business and international communication now includes dozens of relatively small countries and economies.  Thus it is increasing important for researchers to give greater attention to these lesser international trading partners – not just the major G7 or G8 players such as Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain, Japan, Canada, Russia, and the United States.  This presentation is intended to be a first step in helping to rectify a dearth in the currently available literature and research on smaller country cultures and economies.


    In order to facilitate a fuller understanding of Trinidad, I begin with essential country demographics and follow that with standard economic data as noted in Table 1 and Table 2 below.  Trinidad and Tobago are two islands located just off the coast of Venezuela.  Although Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba are larger both in size and economy, Trinidad has the reputation of being one of the more fully developed Carribean countries.  It should also be noted, however, that Trinidad is largest of the Lesser Antilles or the Eastern Caribbean (the group of West Indian islands stretch from Puerto Rico to the coast of South America) and along with Jamaica takes a significant leadership role in the Caribbean, particularly in Caricom, the organization of Caribbean countries.  As the country name demonstrates, it is composed of two separate islands.  Tobago is the much the smaller at about 300 square kilometers (116 square miles) and has tourism as a primary focus.  The island of Trinidad is 4,828 square kilometers (1,864 square miles) and has the petrochemical industry as a primary resource (Capital, Land, and Climate).  And, while English is the official language and is found in all schools and government offices, Hindi, Spanish, and Chinese are also spoken – often as the first language by a number of groups.

Table 1:  Trinidad and Tobago Demographics
Caribbean, islands between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, northeast of Venezuela
5,128 sq km [1970 sq m], or just slightly smaller than Delaware
Natural resources
petroleum, natural gas, asphalt
1,175,523 (July 2000 est.)
Roman Catholic,  29.4%
Hindu,  23.8%
Anglican,  10.9%
Muslim,  5.8%
Presbyterian,  3.4%
other,  26.7%
English (official), Hindi, French, Spanish, Chinese
Ethnic groups
black,  39.5%
East Indian (primarily immigrants from northern India),  40.3%
mixed,  18.4%
white,  0.6%
Chinese and other,  1.2%
parliamentary democracy

from CIA. (2000).  “Trinidad and Tobago.”  The World  Factbook.

    More significant is the incredible multicultural nature of the country.  Few countries in the world have as complex a makeup.  First of all, no ethnic or religious group is a majority.  The population is an almost equal mixture of people with an African or East Indian heritage (each about 40%) with the remainder being largely of mixed race.  The religious makeup of the country is also a significant mix – about equal parts Catholic, Protestant and Hindu (with a strong Islamic heritage as well).

    Trinidad has long had a reputation as one the strongest Caribbean economies – from the sugar boom of the 1850s and the cocoa boom of the late 19th century to the oil boom particularly in the 1970s, an industry which continues to be the basis of Trinidad’s economy today.  A recent article on investment in the Carribean (Carribean Cocktail, 1998, p 36) noted that the manufacturing sector in Trinidad was much more efficient than the rest of the Caribbean.”  Largely because of the petrochemical industry, Trinidad has an economy that is the envy of its Caribbean and Latin American neighbors (although as far as oil is concerned Trinidad is still not in the same league as the Arab countries or even Venezuela).  The basic strength of the Trinidadian economy is illustrated by the standard economic data on GDP, labor force, unemployment, industries, exports and imports presented below in Table 2.

    As noted in the annual World Factbook issued by the CIA (2002), “Trinidad and Tobago has earned a reputation as an excellent investment site for international businesses.  Successful economic reforms were implemented in 1995, and foreign investment and trade are flourishing. Persistently high unemployment remains one of the chief challenges of the government. The petrochemical sector has spurred growth in other related sectors, reinforcing the government's commitment to economic diversification.  Tourism is growing, especially in the pleasure boat sector.”

    A similar view is expressed in the annual State Department FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide, which also notes that the investment climate in Trinidad and Tobago is good (p 2).  This standard guide points out that fast food franchises such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza, Hut, and McDonalds are common (p 7).  In addition, there are strong commercial ties to the United States based on “proximity, language, and familiarity” (p 6).  As one of my Trinidadian acquaintances noted, if it is made in the US, Trinidadians considered it to be better!

    Briefly, a wide variety of investment and trading opportunities are available in Trinidad: oil and gas equipment, chemical production machinery, construction services (particularly bridges and roads), water treatment and distribution products, electrical power systems and  equipment, food processing and US food products, automobiles (although Japan and Europe have the edge because of the need for right-hand drive vehicles), cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, household electronic and consumers goods, computers, agricultural machinery, agricultural products (notably wheat, soybeans, rice and dairy products), hotel and restaurant equipment, and pleasure boats and accessories.  (FY2001 Commercial Country Guide,  pp 13 - 22.)

Table 2:  Trinidad and Tobago Economic Data
$9.41 billion  (1999 est.)
GDP - real growth rate
5%  (1999 est.)
GDP - per capita
$8,500 (1999 est.)
Labor force
558,700 (1998)
Labor force
by occupation
(1997 est.)
construction and utilities,  12.4%,
manufacturing, mining, and quarrying,  14%,
agriculture,  9.5%,
services,  64.1%
Unemployment rate
14.2% (1998)
petroleum, chemicals, tourism, food processing, cement, beverage, cotton textiles
Agriculture - products
cocoa, sugarcane, rice, citrus, coffee, vegetables, poultry
$2.4 billion  (1998)
Exports - commodities
petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, steel products, fertilizer, sugar, cocoa, coffee, citrus, flowers
Exports - partners (1998)
US 36.9%
Caricom countries 29.4%
Central and South America 9.7%
EU 6.3%
$3 billion  (1998)
Imports - commodities
machinery, transportation equipment, manufactured goods, food, live animals
Imports - partners (1998)
US 44.7%
Latin America 18.9%
EU 13.7%
Japan 4.8%

 from CIA. (2000).  “Trinidad and Tobago.”  The World  Factbook.

Cultural essentials

    In order to set up business relations with Trinidadian companies, it is not only essential to choose an area where there is need and room for growth but it is also essential for any business with any pretense to a global involvement to have clear understanding of the cultural norms on which Trinidadians base their business and personal practices.  While there is a certain commonality to many business relations, these are enhanced if cultural considerations are given due weight.  A key to functioning well in a Trinidadian business environment is the ability to be comfortable in a multicultural setting.

    The history of Trinidad and Tobago is essential to understanding the basis of its multicultural ethnic and religious nature.  The salient points include the initial colonization by Spain which in turn lead to a significant French impact.  Discovered by Christopher Colombus in 1498, Trinidad was controlled by Spain until its was captured by the British in 1797.   While very few Spanish settled in Trinidad, the Spanish invited all Catholic nations to settle in Trinidad and many French Catholics did so during the French Revolution.  This French-Spanish influence (together with the proximity to Venezuela) is still seen today in the strong presence of the Roman Catholic church at a religious level and in the popularity of Spanish-based music known as soca parang (although increasingly referred to as Christmas calypso).  Parang music performances are a fixture of the Christmas season.

    The French were particular instrumental in the cultivation of sugar cane, coffee, and cocoa.  More importantly, they brought in African slaves to cultivate the land.  The early cross-cultural nature of Trinidad is noted on one  web site (History and Culture) as follows:  “When the British arrived, they met a country ruled by the Spanish with French speaking citizens” and it might be added, a country primarily populated with an African-based people.

    The British abolished slavery in the 1840s.  Thus it should also be noted that slavery has a fairly short tenure in Trinidad – fifty years at the most.  The abolition of slaves meant an immediate shortfall of labor.  This was met by the importation of thousands of East Indians as indentured laborers.   Chinese and Portuguese also arrived as indentured laborers during last half of the 19th century.  Early in the 20th century, Syrian and Lebanese migrated to Trinidad and played an important role in commerce, particularly in the textile and retail industries.

    In essence, Trinidad and Tobago may be seen as an international or perhaps cosmopolitan society composed of dominant African and East Indian components with a strong mix of British along with Chinese, Portugese, Spanish, French, Syrian and Lebanese influences. The importance of the British influence cannot be overstated.  Not only was Trinidad and Tobago a British colony from 1802  until independence was granted in 1962 (and it is still part of the British Commonwealth), the British influence is still evidenced in the dominance of English as the national language, the high importance given to cricket and soccer, along with the political, judicial, and educational systems.

    The importance of this multicultural diversity is reflected in the National Anthem (“National Emblems of Trinidad and Tobago”) composed by the eminent calypsonian and statesman, Patrick S. Castagne.

        Forged from the love of liberty,
        In the fires of hope and prayer,
        With boundless faith in our Destiny,
        We solemnly declare,
        Side by side we stand,
        Islands of the blue Caribbean Sea,
        This our Native Land,
        We pledge our lives to Thee,
        Here every creed and race finds an equal place,
        And may God bless our Nation,
        Here every creed and race finds an equal place,
        And may God bless our Nation.

The closing repetition is particularly noteworthy.  There is a clear emphasis, at least at a national ideological level, on the need for unity in diversity.  This focus on unity is also reflected in the Coat of Arms with its motto: “Together we aspire, Together we achieve.”

Cultural Issues  

    However, such public statements as an national anthem or motto should not be taken as primary evidence of a harmonious ethnic society.  Such public emblems, however, do underscore the importance Trinidadians place on such harmony.  In fact, there is plenty of evidence that it is often an uneasy harmony.  Recently, Peter Richards (2000) asked the question, “Has Trinidad and Tobago managed to create racial and social harmony among members of its two main ethnic groups over the last thirty years?  There as are as many Trinidadians who say no, as those who acknowledge that some strides have been made in that direction.”  He goes on to point out that gains resulting from the 1970 Black Power uprising have dissipated and that general elections are decided by race.  There are currently two major political parties, the United National Congress and the People’s National Movement, with memberships and districts structured significantly on ethnic lines.  Currently, the UNC which is dominated by Indo-Trinidadians has a majority in the Trinidad House of Representatives, the elected house of the Trinidad Parliament.  The UNC, which recently won reelection in December 2000, has been in power since 1995.

    A significant study of Afro-Trinidadians in business (Ryan, 1992) has noted a occupational stratification with Afro-Trinidadians dominant in the public sector and others (Indians, Chinese, Europeans, and Syrians-Lebanese) dominant in the private sector.  He particularly notes the low number of Afro-Trinidadians in private business and comments that perhaps only three would qualify to be on “a list of the 100 most successful businessmen in Trinidad” (Ryan, 1992, p 201).  Several major factors contribute to this lack of business involvement by nearly 40% of the population.  Most telling are the lack of an extended family structure among many Afro-Trinidadians in contrast to the generally well-defined extended family structure found in the Chinese, Indian, and Syrian-Lebanese groups, lack of access to venture capital, and lack of solidarity from others of their own ethnic group.  

    Two more recent situations highlight the potential for ethnic and religious division within Trinidad.  The recent work of a political scientist at the University of the West Indies (Ryan 1999), brought my attention to an incident of religious tension in 1998 when a Hindu prayer flag, a jhandi, remained flying over Petrotrin, the state-owned oil company, long after the Divali festival was over.  (Divali is an annual Hindu-based holiday in Trinidad but one which is widely celebrated by most ethnic groups).  Ryan (1999, p 253) uses this incident to highlight a number of tensions between the Afro- and Indo-Trinidadian cultures including the struggle for political power and the struggle between musical cultural forms such as calypso and pan on one hand and chutney on the other.  He concludes that a clash of cultures is unavoidable and that what remains to be seen whether it leads to “unrestrained conflict” or results in a creative, new mainstream culture.  

    Then, in the fall of 2000, Morgan Job, Minister of Tobago Affairs, commented that the educational system in Trinidad and Tobago contributes to a two-caste society (2000).  He particularly notes that “The education system prepares lower income boys, [in this case meaning Afro-Trinidadians] for a set of careers which Chinese, Syrians, Lebanese, and local white boys never consider.”

    On the postive side of multiculturalism is the study by St Bernard [1999] which points out the relatively high level of acceptance of interracial marriages in Trinidad and Tobago, an acceptance this is strikingly absent in other multicultural societies such as Singapore or the United States for that matter.  93% of Afro-Trinidadians or those of Mixed Race had no objections while 65% of Indo-Trinidadians were also positive.  While it is clear that there was a larger number of Afro-Trinidadians without reservations, it is significant that the overwhelming majority of Trinidadians, including those from the East Indian culture, have a generally positive perception of this often divisive issue.  

    Despite the tensions, there are a number of cultural agents besides a positive stance towards interracial marriage which promote a clear pattern of social unity despite obvious differences in class, ethnic background, and religion.  Probably the most significant agent is Carnival and three related aspects:  calypso, pan, and the masquerade (or “mas” as it is called in Trinidad).  

    There are probably more studies of the Trinidad Carnival than any other social phenomena in Trinidad.  Economically Carnival serves as an  important tourist attraction to a country which otherwise is not a significant tourist destination.  The island of Tobago with its sandy beaches rather than Trinidad, which has either a rocky or swampy coastline, is a more common tourist destination.  But even with the tourism draw, in many respects Carnival remains a local event which has an incredible significance in the lives of all Trinidadians, including the thousands who have migrated to Canada, Great Britain, or the United States.  Carnivals’s origins are probably Catholic but it has been transformed to a major extent by the African heritage of Trinidad.  Carnival in Trinidad, as many are quick to point out, has a greater significance than any similar fetes in Brazil, New Orleans, or Europe at the start of the Lenten season.  As Nurse [1999, p 92] points out, Carnival in Europe and the United States has been primarily limited to the an elite group or even to the aristocracy.  In Trinidad, however, it has involved the majority of the population of all classes and often serves as a means for the ordinary individuals to challenge the socio-cultural and political order.  In a study of ethnic involvement in Trinidadian festivals, McCree (1999) notes that both Afro and Indo-Trinidadians are involved to a significant degree in Carnival and that there is no significant difference by race in this involvement.  McCree (p 125) concludes that the festival “assumes a national character.”  

    As an aside, it should be noted that Seventh-day Adventists in Trinidad typically do not become involved in Carnival.  That is, they do not generally participate in pan (steel bands), in writing and performing or even listening to calypso (at least in public SDA settings), and particularly avoid the masquerades which typically involve skimpy costumes, references to the African occult, and often copious amounts of alcohol.  However, rather than an out-right rejection of this pivotal aspect of their culture, Seventh-day Adventists as well as other more fundamental religious groups provide alternative Carnival celebrations, most notably a Carnival Camp for Seventh-day Adventist young people on the days when Carnival is celebrated throughout the country.

    With reference to pan (steel drums) and calypso, it is important to note that pan is the only new musical instrument created in the 20th century and, as Trinidadians are happy to remind the rest of the world, was invented and developed in Trinidad in the 1930s largely in reponse to a British government ban on African drums.  Calypso, which is often irreverent topical songs filled with political comment and social satire, are a staple of Trinidadian culture.  As McCree (1999) notes, two-thirds of Trinidadians listen to calypso / soca, an involvement in a national music culture far greater than any involvement with jazz, pop, rock in the United States for example.   Calypso tents, events which feature the most recent creative efforts, are a standard feature of the Carnival seasons which runs from the New Years until Lent.  Regis (1999, p xi) who has written an extensive work on the political dimensions of calypso, comments that “the calypso continues to articulate the deep-seated aspirations of the nation.”  Many calypsos model the norms and expected behavior of the nation and laud outstanding successes.  Regis (p 16-17) notes for instance the lyrics from The Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco), perhaps Trinidad’s most famous calypsonian, who sang “Model Nation” (1963) soon after Trinidad gained its independence in 1962:  

        It’s a miracle all these different people
        Can dwell so well
        You see we are educated to love and forget hatred
        You now, you know it’s so
        You people who are foreign
        Ah got a message to give you when you going
        Spread the word any where you pass
        Tell the world there’s a model nation at last

    One final unifying aspect of Trinidad society is the practice of “liming.”  As one of my students commented, liming is probably the first Trinidadian word which an outsider learns.  However, learning the meaning of the word is not the same as practicing it.  In fact, it is probably an activity which provides a level of self-identity to a Trinidadian that outsiders cannot easily attain.  In a sense, liming, along with carnival and calypso, is a source of personal and national identity.  Liming refers to the activity of gathering together and talking in a public place.  It is a social activity as well as a performance art for there are good limes and bad limes.  The study by Eriksen (1990) refers to liming as the “art of doing nothing.”  Eriksen notes that it depends on shared, spontaneous meanings.   What makes liming a unifier is that it transcends class, social, ethnic, religious, and regional boundaries.  While predominantly a male activity found throughout the country, women are also increasingly becoming involved.  This is an area that researchers would do well to give greater attention.

Review and Application of Hoftstede:

    However, it is important to move beyond the basic facts that demonstrate the multiculturalism inherent in Trinidad and Tobago and the cultural systems that help support and maintain this multicultural society.  A more important question is: What does it mean to be a Trinidadian / Tobagonian?  It is here that the research literature, particularly that of Geert Hofstede, has the potential to be useful.  His most recent work, Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations, was published in 2001 as a second edition update of the initial pivotal work published in 1981.

    First let me briefly summarize the five cultural dimensions that Hofstede has developed through his multi-decade study of 116,000 IBM employees around the world.  
●    Individualism - Collectivism, which may be the most significant basis of cultural differences, refers to the tension between individuals looking after themselves and the need for integration into groups, notably the family.  
●    Power Distance refers to the degree to which the less powerful accept and expect power to be distributed unequally.
●    Uncertainty Avoidance refers to the degree to which members of a society are comfortable or uncomfortable in unstructured situations.  
●    Masculinity / Femininity refers to the level of differentiation of gender roles.  
●    Long-term / Short-term refers to the extent that a society is willing to delay gratification of material, social, and emotional needs.
 It should be noted that this last dimension is a relatively new addition to Hoftstede’s work and is based on research by Michael Bond from the University of Hong Kong.  However, because of the nature of evidence that I have been able to collect so far, I will not be spending much time on this last dimension.  Further study and research will be necessary before I can add any significant data on Trinidadian perspectives towards this Long-term - Short term dimension.

    However, pivotal Hofstede work may be, as I mentioned earlier there is still a dearth of research on the smaller countries around the world.  Fortunately, Hofstede’s work (2001) also suggests a number of predictors which can be useful in determining the makeup of a previously unstudied culture (pp 118, 180, 254, 299, 360).  Key predictors are summarized in Table 3 below.  On the basis of these predictors, one might then categorize Trinidad and Tobago as mixture of individualism and collectivism, as low in power distance society, as low in uncertainty avoidance, as tending toward the feminine, and as having a mixed long and short term orientation.   As a clarification, it is important to note that Hoftsede arranges his country data on a continuum.  Thus, when I indicate a mixture, in essence I mean a dimension that is in the middle and has traits of both sides of the continuum.

Table 3:  Hofstede’s Predictors of Cultural Dimensions
Predictors -- High    
Predictors -- Low
more economic development
strong middle class
moderate to cold climate
nuclear family
pragmatic majority education
less economic development
weak middle class
tropical or subtropical climate
extended family
traditional minority education
Power Distance
tropical or subtropical climate
less need for technology
large population
oligarchy/military political power
little questioning of authority
moderate to cold climate
higher need for technology
small population
representative political power
more questioning of authority
Uncertainty Avoidance
young democracy
weak interest in politics
many precise laws
blase about nation
other races rejected
aggressively fundamental
old democracy
strong interest in politics
few and general laws
proud of  nation
other races accepted
no persecution for beliefs
ego orientation
money and things important
different male / female values
stress on what you do
maximum gender differentiation
men tough; women tender
live to work
relationship orientation
quality of life important
similar male / female values
stress on who you are
minimal gender differentiation
both men and women tender
work to live
Long Term  
status unimportant to relations
traditions adapted to circumstance
leisure time not important
low savings
quick results expected
status important to relations
respect for traditions
leisure time important
high savings

    First of all, there is a balance between individualism / collectivism.  There are several strong predictors of individualism that appear to apply to Trinidad.  Compared to other Caribbean nations in particular, there is a significant amount of economic development, there is a fairly large middle class, and there is a pragmatic education system which is available to a majority.  However, there are two significant predictors of collectivism (or low individualism).  It is a tropical climate and there is a fairly extended family structure, particularly in the Indo-Trinidadian culture.  One minor observed evidence of this is the number of non-immediate family members who come to Andrews University each summer to participate in the graduation exercises involving our Trinidadian MBA graduates.

    Trinidad is generally a Low Power Distance society.  While the fact that it is a tropical country and has a lesser need for technology, the small population size and the political characteristics outweigh climate and technology.  In fact, compared to other Caribbean countries, Trinidad should be perceived as significant in its technology base.

    Trinidad should generally be viewed as a culture with a Low Uncertainty Avoidance dimension. As a fairly young democracy it would normally be categorized as a High Uncertainty Avoidance group.  However, it should be recognized that as a British colony from 1802  to 1962 Trinidad and Tobago were part of a major democracy and thus had a long history of democratic processes, albeit as part of a colonial system.  Overall, however, Trinidad is characterized by the traits of low uncertainty avoidance: high interest in politics, national pride, many laws as a heritage from the British system (although laws are ignored if thought to be unjust – another trait of a low uncertainty avoidance society), and high acceptance of other races and religions.  Another important aspect of a low uncertainty avoidance is the tendency to accept unusual or deviant behavior.  This is noted by Bird (1992,  p175) who writes that “It would be wrong to give the impression that there are mad men and women walking all the streets, but equally wrong not to admit that it is unusual not to see at least one or two different ones every day.  It is a problem, like that of the pavement dwellers, that Trinidad never came to grips with even during the years of its greatest wealth.  Most people attribute this to the laissez faire attitude which can be found in so many aspects of Trinidadian life.”  

    Trinidad should be viewed as a tending slightly toward the Feminine.  While there are still clear gender roles, women have an increasing parity in the work place.  Particularly important is the emphasis on quality of life, a concept that is particularly expressed in the annual involvement in Carnival which, along with international test match cricket in Trinidad, leads to a virtual shutdown of the country on those specific days – even though they are not official holidays.  The importance of quality of life is also found in the lackadaisical attitude (from a U.S.  perspective at least) towards time.  I have been repeatedly bemused by the flexibility of deadlines – class appointments and assignment deadlines, the start of social functions, and the willingness to change schedules (although the instigator often appear less concerned than the individual affected).  This casual attitude towards time and deadlines is reflected in a common saying in Trinidad: “Anytime is Trini time.”

    As an amusing digression, consider the experience of several Trinidadian students on the Andrews University campus last summer.  They were here without vehicles and after a week or so in the rural environment began to get cabin fever.  Fortunately, there is a local bus service, Berrien Bus, which one can “book” for a small fee for a trip to the mall in Benton Harbor or Niles.  The students scheduled a trip at 10 am on a day off.  The first student arrived at the bus stop near Lamson Hall at about 10:05 and the rest straggled up in the next 5 -10 minutes.  After waiting another 10 minutes, one of them finally gave the company a call to ask where the bus was.  The students were chagrined to learn that the bus had been there promptly at 10:00 and when no one showed, went on its way!  In Trinidad, a “booked” bus would have been expected to wait until all its passengers showed up!

    Finally, Trinidadians demonstrate a mixture of a long and short-term orientation.  While quick results and the importance of leisure time are important (suggesting a short term orientation), traditions are readily adapted and reciprocity is not a strong issue.  At this point data is not available on savings and investment trends one of the key predictors for this dimension.

Divergent Student Perspective

    However, I was not at all surprised at the divergence views I found in student papers when they attempted to apply Hofstede’s concepts to their own Trinidadian culture.  Nor was I surprised that there were several significant disagreements.   Because of the multicultural mix that is the nature of Trinidad, it became quickly apparent that each ethnic group has a different perspective.  There are multiple “Trinidads” that one continually needs to keep in mind when dealing with individuals and organizations from this culture.

    Briefly, here is a sample of student responses.  It should be emphasized that these student responses are strictly anecdotal.  At this point, there has no systematic attempt to collect empirical data.  As noted earlier, based on Hofstede’s predictors, Trinidad and Tobago should range in the middle of the individualism - collectivism spectrum.  Student evaluations of this dimension were about equally split.  Five indicated that Trinidad was highly collectivistic while five perceived it as strongly individualistic (although several in either group tempered their initial evaluation by noting that other cultures in Trinidad were different or that the younger generation was changing).  Two indicated that Trinidad was a mixture of both.  Significantly, those from an Indo-Trinidadian culture typically saw it as collectivistic, a view which reflects more closely their own subculture.  Those who saw Trinidad as strongly collectivistic made comments such as: “Trinidadians can be considered to be collectivistic in nature, with primary loyalty to the nuclear family and extended family.  Decision-making is based on what is best for the group and there is still a strong dependence on the organization, institution to take care of the individual.   One comment from an Afro-Trinidadian is particularly telling: “The East Indian community is a particularly clannish group and would, to a greater extent than any other ethnic group, organize their social and business activities around family members.”  Those who saw Trinidad as individualistic commented on the US influence.  For example, one wrote: “Trinidad and Tobago are ‘copy cats’ of the United States of America and broadly speaking, the patterns are similar.  The individual is the most important part of society, and one is taught very early in life that he/she is responsible for his/her actions.

    Based on Hofstede’s predictors, Trinidad should be viewed as a low power distance culture.  Here, student basically disagreed.  Seven perceived Trinidad as having a high power distance dimension, two saw it as mixed, and only one considered Trinidadians to be low but also noted that some of the subcultures tended to be more hierarchal.   For example, one Indo-Trinidadian student noted that “everyone has a specific place, those in power emphasize their position and there is respect for authority.”.  Another student, an Afro-Trinidadian, elaborated on this when he wrote:  
        Starting in the home, we are first taught to respect the authority of the father, mother and elders of the family.  This is further reinforced at the early levels of schooling where respect for teachers, principals and even senior students are [sic] emphasized.  We also see examples of power distance in the work environment.  In the civil service for example work is conducted in a very hierarchical manner.  Instructions are basically given in a top down manner and a particular function goes through several people and stages before actually being performed.  Authority in the Government Service is centralized to the extent that decisions on very straightforward issues are delayed, seeking the approval of Head Office.  Both in the private and public sectors power or hierarchy indicators are obvious.  Senior Officers are addressed by their surnames and are usually located in separate offices from other members of staff.  In the private sector it is common to see the names of managers written on their office doors or their titles painted on their car park spots.
    As noted earlier, Trinidad is generally a low uncertainty avoidance culture.  Students assessments were in general agreement.  Five considered their culture to be very low in this trait.  Only two perceived a high uncertainly avoidance and one of them identified it as a workplace factor noting that “There are many formal rules, a predisposition to details and specifics in planning and a general intolerance of deviant ideas.  More typical was the comment that “Trinidadians display low uncertainty avoidance. They have little concern for future events and are particularly laissez faire in their outlook. For example they feel that they live in a blessed country where disasters cannot occur and things like hurricane warnings are usually ignored. The high incidence of AIDS among the population is also an indication of this temperament. There is a tendency to tolerate deviance in society by allowing undesirable events to perpetuate before action is taken to resolve them.”

    Finally, Hofstede’s predictors suggest that Trinidad is a moderately feminine society.  Once again student assessments generally disagreed.  Six characterized Trinidad as highly masculine.  Three suggested that it was in the process of changing from masculine to feminine.  Only one thought it was feminine commenting on “the significant presence and influence of women in politics, business, and in society.”  It may also be significant that none of the female respondents considered the society to be moving towards the feminine.  The typical response was that “women are viewed as equal in traditionally male-dominated industries, [but that] this phenomenon is recent.  Males still hold the top positions in major organizations and women are still viewed as the primary care-giver regardless of [their] professional standing.”  That this issue still need further study is also suggested by a recent article on gender mobility in Trinidad and Tobago.  Bissessar (1999, p 409) notes that it is “difficult for women to attain higher level public services positions . . . because of the structures and systems that were introduced under the British administration.  She concludes by suggesting that equal representation can only be attained through affirmative action.


    In summary, then, what does it  means to be a Trinidadian.  I have discovered from first hand experience as well as from anecdotal student remarks referred to in this study that Trinidad is a complex society.   As I noted earlier, there are multiple Trinidads one must come to know. First of all, one must acknowledge that there is a significant mixture of ethnic groups and religions.  More importantly, Trinidadians are a practical people who deliberately and consciously seek methods to enhance this multiculturalism that has become center to their very nation.  Gannon ( 2001) has developed a series of metaphors to assist in understanding the salient traits of a variety of different cultures around the world.  For instance he identifies the United States through the metaphor of football, Mexico on the basis of the fiesta, Spain on the bullfight, and Korea on its kimchi.  I would like to propose that a suitable metaphor which helps us understand Trinidad is its Carnival.  Carnival and its associated songs and music as seen in calypso and pan, embodies the strengths of multiculturalism and provide an annual reminder that strengthens the national conscience.  At the same time, with reference to Hofstede’s primary dimension, the mixture of individualism and collectivism that I find a significant national trait also finds its expression in Carnival.  Carnival is a group experience that high-lights the importance of individual expression.

Areas of Further Study

    To me the most significant implication of Trinidad multiculturalism is the fact that it works.  In an American society that is increasingly diverse, but which is also increasingly nervous about its diversity, it is reassuring to discover at least one region of the world that handles its diversity with ease and aplomb.  From a business perspective, it is also imperative that the experience of Trinidad become normative.  In an increasingly globalized world, it is essential that businesses (and that includes the business of education that we are all in) be inclusive of all cultures in their dealings both within the corporation as well as externally in their dealings with others – suppliers, customers, partners alike.

    However, this study is only a beginning.  There still remains a need for further studies to provide data and findings which either replicate Hofstede’s work as it applies to Trinidad or which show that Hofstede’s finding have limitations based on a narrow industrial focus.  It is important to understand more fully the dimensions of individualism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity as they apply to Trinidad.  It is especially important to include the long-term / short-term dimensions with a focus on time concepts in Trinidad.  Obviously, the study I have presented today is preliminary and has an obvious weakness due to its reliance on anecdotal evidence and, like Hofstede, may also be too narrowly focused on business and industry and on managerial level responses.  A broad study which includes all class levels, not just the more highly educated in managerial positions, is essential to obtain more accurate data on culture and its applications in Trinidad and Tobago.


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