Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Spot the difference!

At first glance, there are a million differences between Trinidad and Tobago and Austria. And they're all obvious. Really, they are. Maybe not at first glance, but they're still all right there. 

There's the differences that you don't have to look for at all, most of these are apparent even if all you know is their approximate geographical location. 

  • One country is in the Caribbean, the other is in Europe. 
  • One is an island nation, the other is land-locked. 
  • One is  tropical, with heat and whole months of rain, the other is temperate and has all four seasons, with a white Christmas like in the movies and all. 
  • One is mostly made up of hills/mountains and some plain terrain, the other reaches into the freaking Alps. 

Then theres the differences that you won't know by only knowing whereabouts the countries are located on a globe or a world map. These, you'll spot once you do some light investigation, or just look at the introductory paragraphs on their respective Wikipedia pages.  

  • One country has a size of 5,128 km², the other is spread over 83,871 km². 
  • One has a population of 1,226,383, the other has 8,219,743 inhabitants. 
  • One uses its own currency called the TT Dollar, the other uses the Euro. 
  • One used to be a colony, the other used to be a world power. 
  • One's main official language is English, the other's people speak mainly German. 

The next big difference, that's the one you find when you look more closely at the people who live in those two countries. Either you read about them or you go and meet them right there, but no matter how you go about it this difference will jump right in your face - literally. 

  • One country's ethnic mix is 40% East Indians, 37.5% Africans, 20.5% mixed and 2% other. That means that there's people of all sorts of ethnic backgrounds with all sorts of long-term histories mixed together, and very few "whites". The other country doesn't really have a mix, it's 91.1% Austrians and 8.9% other. Basically, that's almost saying that there are only "white" people and the majority of them share a history as well. 

The following set of differences goes deeper still, these are the ones you won't be able to see until you've at least visited those places. You can still figure them out through reading, as you can most things, but if you want to find them for yourself, it will take you a few days. 

  • In one country, you can get into a shared taxi or maxi wherever you want and get out wherever is closest to your destination. In the other country, public transportation is comprised of buses, trams and metros with pre-defined stops, no exceptions. 
  • One country's delicious fruits are imported to the other's entire continent, the other country's healthy, dark, bursting-with-seeds bread is unheard of in the first. 
  • Asking for pepper in one country will get you a sauce, in the other, a black powder. 

There's a million and more of those little things that differentiate Trinidad and Tobago from Austria and the other way around. But the truth is, those differences do not matter one bit. They don't count. In fact, they might even cancel each other out. There's always a "but" in between a pair of them, because one place might not have this but it has that. The other place has that but it doesn't have this. And so on and so forth. It's not important in the end. 

Fundamentally, those two places are the same where it matters. People have jobs in both countries, there's a social system that takes care of things like health and education in both countries, there's good infrastructure as well as beautiful nature in both countries. And for all you nay-sayers, you're right, there are bad politicians who make idiotic and/or horrible decisions regularly - in both countries. 

The thing here is that lots of people who do not know Trinidad and Tobago and only know that it's an island nation in the Caribbean automatically assume that it belongs to and forms part of what way too many people call the Third World. But it's not. It's a very well developed country that has a lot to offer to its residents as well as visitors - who it does not depend upon for income, something that also sets it apart from every other Caribbean island. 

So, if both countries have their pros and their cons, they're both stable and beautiful and inhabited by people who might not speak the same language but are equally nice (most of the time), then what is it that does set them apart? What's the one true difference between these two wonderful places? 

I'll tell you. 

As always, the devil lies in the detail. So deep down that you can't figure it out through reading - superficial or extensive - or visiting or any of that, only by living in both places. There's tiny things that will show you why there's more than an ocean between Trinidad and Tobago and Austria. And one of those in particular made me realise all this, made me think about differences and made me want to talk about which are real and which ones aren't.

That one thing is what it all boils down to, in the end, after peeling away all the ideas of what might be real but is only in our minds. Something that is completely and utterly normal here and would seem completely and utterly ridiculous there. It's the breach that can't be crossed, the one thing that - for me - will forever mark the true difference between these two countries that I love.

And it's the fact that the toilet paper (Yes, I really am talking about toilet paper, bear with me.) in my bathroom here in Favoriten, Vienna, Austria, is one hundred percent different from the toilet paper in my bathroom in St. James, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. 

Not only is it three-ply. 

Not only is it light pink. 

It smells of peaches. 



  1. Replies
    1. You should have seen my face when I figured out what kind of toilet paper it was. Walking past the bathroom, wondering why it smelled of peach in there, seeing the toilet paper -> smh... ;)