Cultural Red Flags To Be Aware of > When Living in Jamaica

The following document was shared with me by a Jamaican friend who has done work with CUSO Caribbeans’ Office. She very politely emailed me to say  “that she recently visited my site and found my information useful and entertaining, and will be forwarding more information for me to share with you the readers”

I of course was most thankful for the information, as while I have mentioned something on a few of these topic areas in past blogs, I am overjoyed when local Jamaicans endorse what I am sharing with outsiders about Jamaica.


Red flags are simply your own reactions to Jamaican culture. The thing is to use these reactions to warn you of deep cultural differences that could lead to misunderstanding. “Foreigners” sometimes react to Jamaican culture by thinking Jamaicans are “rude” or “unintelligent “.

It is probably not possible to avoid such reactions altogether. However, instead of letting them stop communication, reactions can be turned into red flags to remind you that a different way of thinking exists.

PATWA – is actually a language in itself, spoken regularly by the majority of the population… Much of the population will make an effort to switch to English when they speak to someone from “foreign”.

“JAMAICA TIME” – is one thing that often gives visiting dignitaries and business people some concern… Jamaica Time refers to the slow start of business meetings, appointments, lunches, social events, etc. and those who run by Jamaica Time are generally fairly laid back about it.  When someone says “soon come”, perhaps you can establish some sort of time frame… otherwise, you could be waiting for in undefined period.

TURF – Jamaicans like many other nationalities generally like to protect their “turf” and at times resent “outsiders” coming in to change things and telling them “how to run things”.

“BEGGING” – Social neglect has made begging quite commonplace on street corners and by schoolchildren, especially.  Solicitation of money by children and others is not uncommon in Jamaica; it is your decision whether or not to give small change; J$10 – $20; a cigarette; lunch money; etc. There is no reason to feel intimidated by the pressure put on you by the “people” in the street, the “sellers” along the road in New Kingston or the children who are begging… A simple but firm “No, not today” should suffice… Whatever you decide to do, please remember that your attitude will be “mirrored” so it would be best to do or say it with levity…

CAR WINDOW WASHERS – General hawkers (sellers of flowers, newspapers, peanuts, etc.) – can be a major nuisance. Either respond with a quick decisive NO or have at hand $10 or $20 to pay for the service, or the amount for flowers. Always best to keep your windows closed at intersections and always be aware of who is around you so as not to leave yourself open to have handbags, wallets, etc. taken from you.

PSSSSSSSSST WHITEY ETC.! – This is not meant at all to be derogatory or rude (Jamaica’s nomenclature often reflect colour, physical attributes and personal characteristics). The person is probably just looking for acknowledgment.  If you do not respond lightheartedly, however, or if you react negatively, the person who is “hailing you up” can consider himself “dissed” and the situation can become unpleasant.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT! – There is nothing currently on the statutes against sexual harassment. Efforts are being made, however, on a number of fronts in the Women’s Movement and with the Bureau of Women’s Affairs to address this situation. To date, a National Policy on Sexual Harassment is being prepared. Women in general come under a lot of pressure from men and it is not unusual to hear “Yo, Sexy!” or “Mi waan yu fe have mi baby”, etc., being directed to a female walking on the street or park.  According to the ones who call out, it is complimentary and wishful thinking.  It is recommended to acknowledge with levity, however, do NOT engage in prolonged conversation as it may be perceived as willingness on your part and encourage boldness.

ANANCYISM – Jamaicans would be mortified and highly insulted if they knew that you thought they were misleading you or deliberately distorting the facts. Many Jamaicans will tell you what they think you want to hear for many reasons; to be nice to you; to “save face” either for you or for themselves or their community, family, etc.; to save embarrassment; for convenience. One should NEVER accuse a Jamaican of “lying”, although there is an expression which is usually taken very lightly and is acceptable to denote “incredulity”… “Yu too lie”.

URINATING IN PUBLIC – Although this is “against the law”, particularly for males, one sees this happening time and again. Absence of public urinals.

“MADMEN (and women)” – These people are often vagrants of unstable mind who live on the streets, often begging. There are a few who walk around totally nude or wearing just a shirt… Different; but not generally threatening.

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN SCHOOLS – Unfortunately “smacking”, “claps”, “licks”, “beatings” takes place in some schools, particularly primary schools.  Beatings also take place in homes.

Jamaicans Cry Out: We Want Work

The following article was published  on (Jan 11th, 2009) and I wanted to share it with you the readers. The entire world is currently experiencing an economic slow-down, and even Jamaica’s  employment situation looks bleak for many locals.

Last week, there was an article in the paper that showed pictures of over 600 people lined up in front of a bakery, looking for employment.

The Captain’s Bakery in Kingston’s owner said he placed an advertisement in the newspaper to fill ten vacant positions for his shop. Little did he expect over 600 women  to line up in the hot sun all day to apply for the jobs.

Several large companies surprised some employees by distributing “no return” letters to staff on December 31st. What a way to begin the New Year, for many?

People thinking of moving to Jamaica who plan to seek employment, need to be very aware of this job shortage situation, as several companies in the last week are forecasting massive redundancies. I get emails almost weekly, asking about how to seek employment here in Jamaica, and I try to be a honest as possibly.

Companies thinking of moving here and creating jobs, can do well in such an environment if they can create jobs to assist with this crisis. My advice is that all should do intense research before any upcoming move.


Published: Sunday | January 11, 2009

Arthur Hall and Avia Collinder, Sunday Gleaner Reporters

FROM THE tough inner-city communities in the Corporate Area to that quiet farming district in Westmoreland, the cry for jobs has been echoing across the island.

To underscore the problem, last week, 600 persons turned up to apply for 10 vacancies at The Captain’s Bakery and Grill in St Andrew.

“You have a job can give me?” one frustrated woman asked The Sunday Gleaner team, while others offered to do any sort of job that was available.

‘jobs, jobs and more jobs’

But this should come as no surprise to the Bruce Golding administration, which booted the People’s National Party out of power in 2007 with a promise to create “jobs, jobs and more jobs”.

Now, with thousands more Jamaicans losing their jobs in the past 12 months and indications that the worsening global economic crisis could cause many others to be sent home, the Ministry of Labour is pulling out all the stops to find new job opportunities.

Already, Labour Minister Pearnel Charles has announced that his ministry will be switching its focus from industrial disputes to human-resource development and looking Redundancies reported to the labour ministry

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