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 thoughts on “The 10 Unforgivable Sins That May Cost You Your Jamaican Friends

  1. i was born and raised in Jamaica now living in north america, i dropped many foreign friends because they didn’t get with the program. and the most filthy disgusting person i know is a Jamaican,

  2. Just fell into your blog since the words and phrases article. Nice work. I agree mostly with this set. We bathe everyday (sometimes twice). My dog lives inside which is already strange to most, but he’s not allowed to touch anything but the floor. People talk about race all the time regardless of their own race. When the house extra tidy my husband asks who coming over. Lol. And pickney fi have manners. Only one I had an issue with was the mimicking. Most people cannot catch our idiosyncracies and end up sounding Trini while thinling its Jamaican. So it’s painful to listen to, but I thought the VW ad was hilarious. I even bought the shirt from Sun Island – turn dat frown di odda way around. Not upsetting. I found it flattering more tha anything. People say we are so happy…and generally we are. But Jamaica people sour too. Mad fi everyting! Lol

    1. I thought the VW ad thing was funny too. I had no personal issues with it, but a lot of Jamaicans did. I tried to make the list general and not just focus on my preferences. I had an indoor dog too, and I’m not homophobic 🙂

      I don’t know WHY people think we’ll find it flattering to be mimicked, not like the VW ad, but to our face with this no problem mon, like dem eva hear me seh dat yet -_-

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and share such a lovely comment. I’m glad you read the words and phrases blog post as well.

      I hope to see you in the comments again, soon. I’ll be writing more Jamaican posts come next year! 🙂

  3. Trini here, this article is spot on. Another thing that I can’t understand is going out in pyjamas. We always had doggies growing up and while they were spoiled rotten, licking faces, eating out of plates and jumping in bed would never be tolerated.

    1. Hi Tricia! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I knew a lot of West Indians in general would relate to many of these, but didn’t want to drag you all into our mess haha.

      Agreed on the going out in pyjamas thing, although I did see a few university students doing that in Kingston, JA. Never saw that in Mobay though.

  4. Yaasss! As always, well thought out and written. Man you’re right about spoiled children! Just yesterday my aunt was complaining how her friend’s 2yo was spitting at his mom who wouldn’t discipline him blaming ‘terrible two’s”. Unfortunately the result is a dislike for the child. Unacceptable! My daughter is 1 and already knows what ‘the look’ means.

    And laawdd none bathers! Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to hear a Jamaican refer to an American as smelling ‘raw’ or ‘sour’.

    Great post again Alex!

    1. Thanks Shandean! The kids thing is one of my pet peeves. I liked kids until the first time I saw kids in Atlanta. I was 14, and that was the cut off for me. I never recovered lol

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  5. This is a good read, I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, this does not apply to Jamacian only but ALL West Indians.

    1. Hi Anita. I thought about that, but I don’t know all the cultures and didn’t want to draw that blanket. A lot of non-Jamaican West Indians did complain to me about these same things though, long before I wrote the article. 😂

      Which island do you call home?

      And thanks for taking the time to read and comment. So glad you enjoyed it!

  6. I love these posts! As a British person I can identify with most of the things you said. Maybe it’s because we both come from islands, but I completely understand how you can have social norms particular to your culture, but not necessarily follow them yourself. Also that times are changing, so sometimes it’s only the older generation who hold fast to their ideals – although sometimes it’s the younger generation who bring things back (e.g. having afternoon tea in a vintage tea room is suddenly popular again. The same for growing your own veg and home baking – it seems to have skipped a generation). Genuinely shocked that some people don’t clean and tidy their houses before inviting you round and imitate an approximation of your accent – do they do that to your face? If someone did that in the UK it would be seen as massively racist and utterly impolite. Also that people don’t shower every day – even if I’m wrapped up in fifteen layers of wool I’d still have a wash!

    1. Hi Lucinda! I’m glad you’re enjoying these cultural posts! 😊 I’m always excited for the British and Irish to discover them and draw comparisons. I know we both have a lot to thank each other for, as far as culture. We influence each other so much!

      I love that you also understood it applies to the culture, but not to every individual. Why do so many continental folks find this so hard to understand? 😂 You may be right about how much being an island influences that understanding!

      You are right also that different generations hold on more or less to different norms. My generation, for instance, is less likely to be homophobic, or we are at least a bit more curious about the LGBTQ. Our generation is probably also the first to let dogs in the house at all. In my parents time and beyond, dogs were meant to be outside.

      Thanks so much for dropping by to draw these parallels. I’ll see what else I can cook up, in the months to come. 🙂

      1. Absolutely! The same in the U.K. – I suppose because homosexuality was illegal for so long it must be hard to change your mind about what was once a criminal act. Totally different for dogs though, as a nation of animal lovers we’d be more likely to send our children outside! Look forward to seeing what you come up with next!

      2. You know, now that you mention that, that reminds me. Homosexuality is illegal in Jamaica because of YOU guys 😂 We inherited your old buggery laws (remember you governed us until about 50 years ago), and well… Jamaica very conveniently did not change it. Every time it comes up, it gets shot down. Depressing, really. I don’t believe there should be any citizens in a country without basic rights.

        Hahahahaha! You’re right! A lot of people do seem more keen on taking the dog outside than their kids. That’s terrible. 😂

        I grew up as an only child, but I had cousins, all boys, with the youngest being 5 years older. They always seemed to be having so much fun. Girls were always boring to me 😂 I remember going hiking with them one time and falling into a river. I swore I was drowning, but when Jamie didn’t jump in to save me, I finally stopped thrashing about. It was like knee deep…. oh the memories.

      3. Oh dear. Sorry for imposing our empire on you! At least you got rid of us 😂 So is it still illegal to be gay in Jamaica? That’s awful. Totally agree with you that LGBTQ+ people should have the same rights and protections as everyone else.

        Haha! You drama queen. I’m the same as you, only child, only male cousins but mine are about 20 years older than me! Luckily there was lots of kids in my quiet street to play with. I still have the scars….😂

      4. Oh, please! We regret independence! A lot of Jamaicans would gladly be back in the Queen’s fold. All the islands that remained are doing better than us economically. Economics is what Jamaica sucks at, immensely.

        Buggery is still illegal. I’m not sure this new prime minister will change that. He has enough controversy under his belt at the moment with a new ID system they’re trying to put in place by 2019.

        Haha! It looked really deep and I couldn’t swim. So when I fell in, I figured the thrashing and screaming for Jamie to help me would be my lifeline 😂

        I love that I grew up with the boys. I don’t believe I’d be the girl in the woods and traveling about solo, if I hadn’t learned independence and courage from them. My guy friends say I have “an honorary penis” 😂

      5. Well, our economy is all over the place at the moment, can we have Jamaica back? 😂

        It sounds like you had an amazing childhood. Me and my best friend spent a lot of time climbing trees and falling in rivers. I’m still happiest outside covered in mud! Oh my, an honorary penis. I want one!!!!

      6. Haha — come get us! A lot of us might help you take us back lol

        As far as playtime, yes, I had a pretty amazing time with my cousins and their friends. If they were stealing the car, I was on the lookout, and then scrambled into the backseat before they pulled out. The things we got up to! Nothing dangerous though.

        We would actual steal the car to go drive on the dirt roads, and there was this really old lady who lived on the road we used to help. I don’t think she had a lot of family, or they didn’t check on her often.

        You may need to contact your male peers about the honorary penis!

  7. As I have shared, many Jamaicans live here. Fortunately, I shower every morning, pick up my messes, don’t imitate any accents, would never think of asking for weed, and like to discuss everything including race. My sticking point is with homophobia, but that hasn’t come up in my conversations so far.
    Loved this post.

    1. Thanks Elizabeth! I was waiting for you to come along! 😊 I know these things likely don’t apply to you. That’s why I like you so much haha

      Thankfully, not all of us are homophobic. I’m not. But it’s culturally accepted to be. A lot of Jamaican musicians are banned abroad for lyrics encouraging violence against the LGBTQ.

      1. You might have already read it, actually. It’s one of my much older ones. If you haven’t, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. It’s quite graphic.

        I’ve been looking for that Trevor Noah video I had mentioned, but I can’t find it 🙁

      2. I hadn’t read it, but just did. I am very curious about the historical root of this. It seems a holdover from the very rigid laws in England that jailed people like Oscar Wilde. Let me know if you ever find any documentation about its roots.

      3. Actually, you pointed out the roots just now. It’s a holdover from colonial Britain. They later changed those laws, but we did not.

        Religion has a deep hold on politics in Jamaica when it comes to things like abortion and the LGBTQ. Not so much on our culture though, the way we carry on.

        I like to say we talk conservative, and walk liberal. People get abortions pretty easily anyway, and the LGBTQ has their own underground communities. It’s just not supported by law.

Chat to me nuh!

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