Warasa Garifuna Drum School

Shilling Chips and Sweets

Being a former British colony and a current close neighbour to the USA seems to have caused some interesting idiosyncrasies in Belize. For several months when I arrived, I wondered whether Belize used British or American spelling. I would see “tires” for sale, but people of many different “colours”. It all became clear when listening to the annual Coca Cola National Spelling Bee (a very American event) on the national radio station. The judges announced that both British and American English spellings were acceptable. Belize has officially decided not to decide.

The same seems to apply to weights and measures. Locally bottled water is sold in 500ml, 1 litre, 1 gallon, and 5 gallon bottles. Speed limits are given in miles and kilometres. People ask for a pound of onions at the market, but the nurses at the hospitals record your weight in kilograms. Sweets are called sweets and a 25 cent coin is called a “shilling”.

A Belizean "Shilling"

But crisps are called chips and chips are called fries and they say “tomayto” instead of tomato. And so children here, instead of asking for a 20p mixture or a 10p bag of crisps, will ask for a “shilling chips”, or ask “how much sweet I cud get fu shilling”. A biscuit is a biscuit, not a scone like thing drenched in gravy.

The sense of humour is far more similar to British than American, in that you can take the piss out of your best friend and they know that that means you are good friends and you will all be laughing about it rather than getting offended. Since there are not that many British people in PG, the little similarities in language and humour to back home are my saviour many times. It is funny how little things can make you feel at home. My first Easter in Belize I spent in Hopkins with a fellow Scot, Kirsty. I bought a bag of shilling chips from the local ‘Chiney’. On sampling them, I declared that they looked like Wotsits, but tasted like Quavers, and was overjoyed to have someone with me who knew exactly what I was talking about.