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 by CUSO CARIBBEAN OFFICE
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.