The 10 Unforgivable Sins That May Cost You Your Jamaican Friends

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.

If you’re fascinated by Jamaican culture and would love to learn more, then I also recommend:

 

Alexis Chateau Black Cat

 

Featured Image courtesy of Rudy Cox, a Jamaican med student living in Guyana. Follow my bunna-man of 6 years on Twitter as @RudyCox and Instagram as @_rudycox.

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65 Comments Add yours

  1. shaunz says:

    Great post! I’m Jamaican as well, thankfully i haven’t lost any friends by any of the above. I’ve only lost friends because i’m living in a different country and they were more of childhood friends, so we grew a part getting older..👏🏾

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey, Shaunz! Tried following your site, but it says it’s deleted 😦

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ve cut off a few friends for almost everything on that list. I’m not homophobic, but I included it because so many of us are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. shaunz says:

        Hello, i’ve updated my blog, i don’t know what’s happening! Try this Shaunzworld.com
        It was a well written post!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Didn’t work. I can view, but can’t follow via WordPress. You have a beautiful website though!

        Are you on .org, and not .com, by chance? That would explain it. I followed you on IG and Twitter instead 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. shaunz says:

        Oh no..;(. That’s a shame!! Thank you so much, i really don’t know why that’s happened. I’m .com. Yes i noticed you followed me, i appreciate it, thank you so much..;) xo

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Hmm…. You may want to double check your settings. Check your gravatar too. That might be the issue.

        And you’re welcome! I look forward to seeing you in my time-line. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      5. shaunz says:

        I will do that, thanks so much for the tip. Sure thing, have a lovely weekend..xo

        Liked by 1 person

      6. You’re welcome. Have a lovely one, yourself! 😄

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A very interesting read again. I did ask myself though: the ‘we’ you are talking about, does that include every Jamaican, or are Jamaicans, like elsewhere, not totally homogeneous and are there differences in acting and thinking. In my country, the Netherlands, we have this debate for some years (due to the influx and emancipation of newcomers) about what is being Dutch. What defines the Dutch. And the more I thought about it, the less I could think of what is really really Dutch. There are of course some traditions, we do have our own language, we have an own history, we are as a nation defined within Europe because of that history, we have some typical attitudes perhaps, we have a certain sense of humor. But with the attitude and sense of humor uncertainty creeps in. Has every Dutchmen the same sense of humor? No, certainly not. Is that attitude a national asset? No, classes (in our rather classless society) have different attitudes. It is about common sense here to not discriminate homosexuals. (One of the issues with immigrants with a Muslim background is that they mostly do not agree with this liberal sexual… well…. attitude). Are all of the Dutch happy with this non-discrimination thing? No. There are social differences between the large(r) cities and the countryside. There is a kind of gap between higher educated folks and the middle or lower educated people. We of course, like almost everywhere, have political differences. So, to make this already far to long story short – I wonder whether one can talk of ‘we’ when adressing the people of a country.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Peter, I think you’re trolling as the answer to your question is obvious and included in the article itself. Even so, I’ll humour you, as I find a lot of first worlders have a hard time understanding the concept of a unified culture, like we have in Jamaica.

      As said in the article, “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.”

      To further expound on this, Jamaica has a very homogenous culture. Violating some social norms can come at the risk of ostracizing and even death, especially where homosexuality is concerned. There is a lot of culturally accepted violence against the LGBTQ community.

      Does that mean we’re all mindless robots walking around with no diversity or thinking for ourselves? No, it does not. We are individuals, which was the exact point of even the very first thing on the list. I don’t listen to Bob Marley, or reggae, or have a stereotypical Jamaican accent, but foreigners swear we all do. Number 10 also illustrates this, where I pointed out we don’t all smoke weed, and hate to be asked about it.

      There is also the point on homophobia, which does not apply to me. The article it directs you to entitled “Dark Side of Paradise” illustrates homophobia in Jamaica while clearly showing I don’t subscribe to that thinking, and neither do many others. But irrespective of MY thoughts and opinions, homophobia is culturally accepted in Jamaica.

      So in short, yes, I am referring to WE when I say Jamaicans, and do so with confidence. Regardless of our personal preferences and choices as Jamaicans there is a strong, overarching culture that decides what is socially acceptable or a social norm. But does every pointer refer to all 3 million of us? No.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Alexis for the comprehensive reply to my respons. I did put some effort in articulating my piece and please be sure it was not meant to be trolling. There were and still are some things I don’t fully understand. Interesting, for example, is what you wrote: the concept of a unified culture, like we have in Jamaica.” And: ‘Jamaica has a very homogenous culture’. And: “Keep in mind that many Jamaicans come from multinational backgrounds, and travel frequently,’ And: ‘Does that mean we’re all mindless robots walking around with no diversity or thinking for ourselves? No, it does not. We are individuals’. This raises some questions: how came this unified and even homogenous culture into being? How does this relate to the multinational background of (many) Jamaicans? How can all these individuals create (and live in) such a homogenous culture? Can we see some contradictions here?

        Now I think I do understand your post was meant to be light hearted and fun. And probably not to provoke a debate. I myself could make a list of cultural habits of the Dutch (offering just one cookie with a cup of tea, being blunt tot the point of insulting, being cheap goats, everybody is riding bycicles (well, that actually is true 🙂 ) , we leave our curtains open because we find we got nothing to hide, and the like.) That would be partly true but just as much untrue because it’s not ‘the’ Dutch doing like so, it’s ‘some’ Dutch. It perhaps was more or less common culture in the past, but it is not anymore. There is no such thing as ‘we’.

        Perhaps this is different in/on Jamaica.

        Again, I don’t want to take this further then what you perhaps meant your article to be. I did understand though Jamaicans love to reason. And I didn’t want to back down and avoid a discussion. Not on race but on the topic: does a national culture realy excist.

        I wish you a good evening! Peter.

        Like

      2. A unified and homogenous culture is easy when you’re small, and isolated as an island. There is nothing strange or surprising about that. Jamaica is very different from our neighbours, as they are from us. Our dialects differ, the accent, and sometimes language. None of Jamaica’s closest neighbours speak English. They are French and Spanish.

        As for diversity in a homogenous culture, I see no contradictions. People are people with brains, regardless of culture. As I already said, we have our own opinions, but there is a strong overarching culture that dictates what is normal and what is not. Those norms came from all the main cultures that made us up; such as, the English, the Irish, the Africans, the Indians, Chinese etc. This means that wherever a Jamaican places their ethnic roots, they can identify with the dominant culture, which unifies us. There is no isolation.

        This is unlike America, for instance, where the dominant culture is White or Eurocentric, alienating everyone outside of it if they fail to assimilate. I am sure it is the same in Euro-Dutch countries, where White Dutch culture prevails, isolating everyone else.

        There is a whole section on Jamaica on my blog, if you’re truly curious. To better understand how our cultural diversity created a homogenous culture, I suggest:
        https://alexischateau.com/2017/02/10/the-6-main-ethnic-groups-that-created-jamaican-culture/

        Like

  3. Vic Crain says:

    I don’t see any of these issues as singular to Jamaicans. Most would be offensive to anyone, at least imho. One point: body odor isn’t necessarily linked to bathing (or lack thereof). It can be a function of illness or even diet. The odor is usually no fun, regardless of the cause.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Vic, the thing about culture and people is that we are all humans, and many cultures and individuals share similarities and opinions no matter what their background is.

      Other West Indians in general can relate to much of these, I’m sure. I didn’t say “West Indians” because I can’t speak to all their cultures. Likewise, I didn’t say “10 things that tick off everyone in the world”, because I don’t know all cultures. I can only speak to my own. In Russia, for instance, it is culturally acceptable NOT to shower everyday, especially in the colder months. So that’s not my call. Likewise, most Americans don’t think twice about a dog licking their faces or plates, so this is not a pointer I can say everyone would be turned off by.

      However, it doesn’t negate the fact that a lot of Jamaicans deal with these 10 things in particular, perhaps more so than anyone else. There is, for example, no other culture more known for weed than us, and Jamaica is ranked as one of (if not the most) homophobic nation in the world. These are not necessarily things to be proud of, just facts.

      Like

  4. angela1313 says:

    After reading your post I breathed a sigh of relief. Jamaicans I have met in the past have obviously educated me pretty well, maybe because I try to be direct and honest and will ask to be educated before I screw up. I lived two years in Korea and I understand about living in a very unified and homogeneous culture. I think that understanding is hard for a lot of Americans. Anyway, honest conversation is far more useful than avoiding a subject or lying to spare feelings in my book, so maybe that has helped me over the years with my Jamaican friends and co=workers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I find a lot of Americans and some European nationals find it difficult to wrap their minds around how homogenous our culture is.

      They have indeed educated you well! Good questions are always welcome. We love talking about our culture. It’s the assumptions that get to us.

      It’s also well to note that “cost you your Jamaican friends” is an exaggeration. Most times, it’s more like an eyeroll, a quiet gag, or “these damn Americans” haha.

      I don’t think any of my American friends shower before leaving for work or school, and all of them with a dog let them lick their plates and faces. It annoys me, but…meh… there’s more to friendship than that 😂

      Like

  5. As an American some of these things are what irk me too about others. Don’t leave the house in the morning without washing up, I will discuss race in a second and if I invite you over the house will be clean!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for dropping by, T. Maybe you should move to Jamaica! I’ll help smuggle you in! 😂

      I know a lot of Americans irked by many of these, especially educated Americans, liberal Americans, African-Americans, naturalised citizens, and the children of immigrants.

      Like

  6. buddy71 says:

    gee, i would say most if not all those items above would not keep me friendly. and im not from Jamaica
    seems to be mostly common sense etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We think it’s common sense too, but we run into these with foreigners all the time haha. 😂

      I would say other West Indians, the British and Irish, Jews, the Spanish and other Mediterranean folks, tend to be on the same page as us with most of these.

      Like

  7. I really enjoyed reading your post. It was insightful and honest without being ethnocentric.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I come from a multicultural/multinational background, so I try to write in that vein so my people can relate, but it doesn’t alienate others.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. 😊

      Like

  8. Yesssss especially to the weed statement. Thoroughly despise the smell, never used it and have zero intention to. I’m also tired of encountering youth who experience its psychotic and other negative but medically-significant effects. This was a fun read though Alexis 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wrote my psychology paper at UTECH on the connection between marijuana and erectile dysfunction. Did you hear about all those guys in their 20s in Jamaica a buy Viagra? No sah! 😂 The smell and the smoke makes me sick. But to each their own.

      And thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. #7! I’d rather hear an ugly truth than a beautiful lie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, we would all prefer a beautiful truth haha… but if not that, then the truth.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Willow Croft says:

    I was so embarrassed the other day when somebody popped over and I didn’t have everything tidied up–they didn’t think it was a big deal, but I only felt comfortable letting them in as far as the living room. And when I had to have the financial foster over to see the cat, I didn’t have time to make everything tidy and it was a “mess” from having everything rearranged to accommodate the semi-feral cat I was socialising in a separate room. It was so embarrassing! Oh, and I don’t understand how people can let dogs lick plates and faces. When you know what the dog was licking (or eating) earlier (I’ll spare the details). Ick. And, yes, I still have the tropical climate habit of showering at least twice a day, even in the desert. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean. I’ve had that before. And Jamaicans do have a nasty habit of just popping up at each other’s houses, especially my grandma’s generation. If we pop up and it’s messy though, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s the deliberate invitation to the messy house that makes us wonder if you value us 😂

      How is your semi-feral kitty doing, by the way?

      Liked by 1 person

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