One of the many traits Jamaican people are known for is our friendliness. This is especially true along the north coast of the island, where tourism puts locals in the constant company of people from all around the world.
But in spite of our friendliness, many Jamaicans are quick-tempered, and can hold grudges lasting several generations. In fact, a lot of the local crime and violence stems from this behaviour, and creates what was called “reprisal killings” in my sociology classes, back in 2006.
Murder is an extreme example, of course, but it nonetheless illustrates a likelihood to burn bridges once you get on our wrong side. Unfortunately for many foreigners, who undoubtedly prize their gregarious and exotic Jamaican friends, there are a few things that are passable (or even praised!) in your culture, that are terribly disrespectful in ours.
As a result, many foreigners may find themselves confused when they lose a Jamaican friend, or spouse. So, here are a few things you do that unknowingly drive us crazy.
1. Trying to Stereotype or Mimic Jamaicans
Every Jamaican can relate to this scenario. You mention you’re Jamaican and suddenly, a foreigner wants to show off their skills at sounding like you, which they rarely ever do successfully. Then comes their Jamaican trivia, which includes Cool Runnings, Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, and weed.
For the record, all the Jamaicans I spoke to, while working on this post, named this as their number one pet peeve. One said, “Yasssss that should be there 7 times!” Even so, we understand the international appeal of our culture, so the first few times, we might let it slide. Thereafter, a few things might happen.
If we know you well enough, we’ll ask you to stop. If we don’t know you very well, we may excuse ourselves from the conversation. There are also Jamaicans who can never pass up on a good joke, and will encourage you to make an ass of yourself, for their entertainment.
There is also a fourth response, which usually happens when the accent or our dialect is mimicked by foreigners in entertainment. Drake recently earned himself some unpleasant words from Jamaicans because of this.
Even VW once endured our wrath, as many Jamaicans were offended by the company’s use of a White American mimicking a Jamaican accent. The idea was that cars made him feel Irie (happy). But the rationale didn’t stick with a lot of locals.
Americans and many other First Worlders often view imitation as flattery, when it comes to their culture. Jamaicans do not.
2. Rolling Out of Bed
…and throwing on your clothes, without taking a shower, is convenient for a lot of Americans in a rush. But it’s truly disgusting to us.
A few weeks ago, I received a series of text messages from one of my high school friends, who now lives in New York. I did not edit a single word:
Yo IDK why when fall/winter season comes around people just decide to stop showering.
I couldn’t tell you how much unwashed ass I smelled today. An entire section of the class was pure funk.
Dude, I’m tempted to carry around a travel sized Lysol or Febreeze spray just for that. Frickin wash ya ass before you come out in public fam.
Do you know how many people I see dressed to kill and out here smelling like a landfill?
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this complaint. In fact, that week alone, two other West Indians complained to me about the same thing.
I’d like to think we’re not the only ones who find this gross, and that many Americans with good hygiene are also turning up their noses at this, but here’s why it’s especially disgusting to us.
When you live in a tropical country, where central air conditioning is often only for cars and large commercial businesses, proper hygiene is your lifeline. Unless it’s a quick trip up the street, we shower before we go anywhere. And then many of us shower again before bed.
We bring this habit with us to foreign countries, when we move. So when we run into body odour, especially first thing in the morning, it’s a pretty big deal. We will never look at you the same again.
3. Letting Your Dog Lick Your Face & Plates
Even worse than not showering often, is the dog-licking. If you want to see Jamaicans turn up their noses, wait until that movie scene or ad comes on with an American letting the dog lick their faces.
Dogs are not known for exceptional hygiene, and do seem to enjoy eating disgusting things, never brushing their teeth, and licking their butts. To then have them lick your face with that mouth makes our skin crawl. To have them lick your plates? Even worse.
My parents (my Dad is Haitian, not Jamaican) generally do not eat at Americans’ homes, if they know they have a dog, for this very reason. If they do end up going, they ask for a paper plate, or scrub your plate so hard before they pile on the food, you might think it has leprosy.
Your dog, your face, your plates, your rules. We just don’t want to taste Fido. Ever. For the record, we generally don’t sleep with our dogs either, though we may make exceptions for smaller ones. Cats, however, are usually welcome.
4. Inviting Us to a Messy Home
For most people anywhere in the world, if a stranger is coming by, you clean up. If someone you’re romantically interested in is coming by, you might clean up twice as much. But once you start to get comfortable with someone, then you may stop making such a fuss about a clean house.
In Jamaica, flippantly inviting someone over to an unkempt house is a sign of disrespect. It doesn’t matter if you knew the person for 1 day, a year, or your whole life. Your place doesn’t have to be spotless, but we at least expect your bed to be made, your clothes to be off the floor, and no offensive odours.
This is not to say that we don’t have messy Jamaicans. I know quite a few. But even the messiest people tend to clean up when you come by. And if not, they will likely not invite you in.
In fact, the only messy Jamaican homes I have ever been to were currently under construction. This is not uncommon. We do more building than buying of homes, and tend to remain there during the building process.
5. Superficial Conversations
Jamaicans can turn anything into a debate. We gladly play devil’s advocate for the hell of it. However, our debates are not meant to start arguments, hurt anyone’s feelings, or belittle their opinion. It’s just entertainment.
We don’t even call it a debate or argument. We call it reasoning, or say we are holding a reason. This permeates all classes and subcultures of Jamaican society, though different groups focus on different things — minus the airheads present in any culture and any country, of course.
For example, Rastafarians smoke weed and hol’ a reason to debate religion and African heritage. And ghetto youts stand on the street corner and hol’ a reason about police brutality (by class, not race), and the lack of employment opportunities on the island.
This is not a pastime reserved for academics. So when Jamaicans try to discuss race, politics, religion, and even sexuality with foreigners, and get hit with a brick wall of evasive answers and polite smiles, we eventually grow bored (or suspicious!) and take our conversation elsewhere.
6. Refusing to Discuss Race
That brings us to the next thing that will send us packing: a refusal to discuss race. In Jamaica, since we never had Jim Crow Laws, the KKK, or any Neo-Nazi movement, we never really suspect our non-Blacks of racism.
However, we know enough about foreign countries to sometimes suspect their non-Black nationals. Because of this, before accepting your friendship or romantic advances, many Jamaicans will attempt to test where you stand on race.
The foreigners we befriend are the ones who give open and honest responses to these attempts, even when we disagree. The foreigners we love most are the ones who give us something to think about. The foreigner we suspect is the one who dodges every question about race, and hides behind a polite smile.
A family member once blatantly told me one such White American I introduced them to was racist. He was very uncomfortable whenever race came up, and would often leave the room, or change the subject.
Once he got comfortable, he told me African-Americans were imagining racial divides, that the media was to blame, and he was colour blind anyway. I promptly repeated it to the family member, who only laughed and said, “I told you so.”
7. Lying to Spare Feelings
In fact, being evasive, or even worse, blatantly lying to spare our feelings, is a big problem. In some cultures, it’s better to lie if it means being polite, than to be honest if it means you’ll offend.
While Jamaicans do expect some level of tact, our tact tends to be a coarse joke or obvious sarcasm. Something that tells you what we think, while blunting the edge. I’ve noticed the same with my British, Irish, and Spanish friends, so maybe we inherited this from them.
If we find out you’ve lied to us because you think the truth would hurt our feelings, this will probably do more harm than good to our friendship. Why? Jamaicans are proud people. To lie to us because you think our feelings are supposedly so fragile, implies that we are weak.
There is a reason the animal and symbolism most associated with Jamaican culture is the lion. We don’t like to be coddled. We’ll much better appreciate the overt truth than the covert lie. Even if it means we’ll go home licking our wounds tonight, we will respect your honesty in the morning… or at least, by next week.
8. Being Gay
Like race, politics, and religion, sexuality is a common topic in Jamaican circles. It comes up at social gatherings, at school, at work, in church, and even while out at the club. It is not a topic we shy away from. Even so, homophobia runs rampant in Jamaica.
While women are not immune from this, Jamaican men do tend to be more homophobic than Jamaican women. For men, identifying as a straight male is viewed as culturally necessary to support their masculinity.
Even when Jamaican men are not personally homophobic, many refuse to associate with gay men and other members of the LGBTQ community, because of what it means for their reputation with family and friends.
Still confused about this? Please read The Dark Side of Paradise to better understand homophobia in Jamaica.
9. Spoiled Children
Discipline is not only expected of Jamaican children; it’s required. Even if kids don’t learn discipline at home, they will learn it at school, or exit the system. A perfect example of this is the motto of one of the best high schools on the north coast, Cornwall College:
Disce Aut Discede
In English, this means Learn or Leave. Yes, I’m serious. My high school was right across the street from theirs, so I can verify that this is true.
In school, we follow strict rules and guidelines. For those of us who attend Catholic School, the rules are even more strict. Many of us know the drills of lining up by form or grade rooms, the meticulous uniforms, and the protocols regarding how we address members of staff.
Much of this is reinforced with corporal punishment in school and at home. Corporal punishment is now illegal in schools, but I know many instances where parents personally show up and give teachers permission to serve an ass-whopping, if necessary. Naturally, many of us behave ourselves so we can sit on comfortable backsides.
With a background like this, you can imagine the thoughts in our head when we see foreign children misbehaving, and parents failing to exercise any authority over them. If this describes your family, Jamaicans will likely do their best to keep their children far away from yours.
10. Asking Us for Weed
Thanks to Rastafarianism and the most famous Rasta, Bob Marley, Jamaica is known for high-grade weed and a mostly accepting culture. However, contrary to popular belief, we are not all napping in hammocks, with a spliff (blunt) tucked behind our ears, and a coconut by our sides.
In fact, I find it’s Americans who should get the award for weed. I have only met three Americans who do not, and have never, smoked weed. And many of those I know who don’t currently smoke, may confess on an honest day to indulging at least 2 or 3 times each year.
Want to know something else surprising? I know more White weed-heads than Blacks and other minorities. In fact, I only know one White male (European, North American, Australian, South African, or otherwise) who has never smoked marijuana.
Most of my Jamaican friends do not smoke, or do any kind of drugs. If this surprises you, it shouldn’t. I wrote about this before in 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Jamaica.
That said, jumping to the conclusion that we smoke, or worse, that we have weed to offer you, seriously ticks off non-smokers. If you want to look like an ignorant-stereotyping-buffoon to us, this is your first class ticket.
On the other hand, if we do smoke, we might not mind. Even so, it’s a good idea to find out where we stand on this, like you would with any other human being from another country.
So there you have it, foreigners! If your Jamaican best friend no longer wants to eat at your house, the Jamaican family next door won’t let their kids play with yours, or your Jamaican girlfriend wont kiss you after seeing you and Fido together, now you know why.
Keep in mind that many Jamaicans come from multinational backgrounds, and travel frequently. Because of this, we may adopt habits from other countries, which makes some of these less offensive.
But best believe, when our fellow Jamaicans catch us doing things like… washing our hair in the kitchen sink, or hanging out at gay bars, we’re likely to get cut off, too. 😅
Have you lost any Jamaican friends by committing any of these unforgivable sins? Or are you the Jamaican who dropped a few foreign friends, because they didn’t get with the programme? Tell me all about it in the comments, below.
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