Everyone loves Jamaicans! How could you not? We beat you in track and field… but let you win at football. We have better rum than you, legendary beer, and the best coffee in the world. But, we’ll concede to your whisky and vodka.
Our beaches are some of the best in the world, and even Canada wants a whiff of our Mary Jane. And have you seen our flag? Tried our food? Heard our music? How can anyone else even begin to compare?!
But… that’s part of the problem isn’t it? At some point, our love for our country and how unequivocally awesome we are — amongst other things — finally starts to get on everyone else’s nerves.
Inevitable, really. Just as you sometimes get on ours.
The last Jamaican post I wrote covered The 10 Unforgivable Sins that May Cost You Your Jamaican Friends. So this time, let’s flip the script and talk about some of the many things Jamaicans say and do that drive our foreign friends (and lovers!) absolutely nuts.
Of all the possible reasons we could tick off our non-Jamaican friends, this was the first one offered up by almost every Jamaican I spoke to. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve met a Jamaican who doesn’t have a story about the first time they told a foreigner to hush. 😶
If you’ve read 14 English Words & Phrases that Mean Something TOTALLY Different in Jamaican Patois, then you know Jamaicans use hush as a form of consolation. If you didn’t, well… now you know!
But even for foreigners who do know what we mean, it inevitably rubs them the wrong way when they hear what often means “shut up” in their own culture. Oops?
2. Talking Too Fast
Different languages, cultures, and their resulting accents, have varying speeds of spewing out words. Americans in the south, for instance, tend to talk with a slow drawl. Spaniards, on the other hand, can spit out 50 words a second, if you let them.
Jamaicans are more like the Spaniards. We speak very quickly and often swallow words and syllables along the way. For instance, in patois, “Me na’ go” is a shortened form of “Me not going” — and the former is far more likely to be used.
When you throw in our habit of mixing English with patois, you have a confusing mess that leaves our foreign friends out in the communication-cold. As one Jamaican illustrates it:
And just in case you’re wondering, I understand every word of this. Our foreign friends? Highly unlikely… 🤣
3. Operating on Jamaican Time
Everyone knows about Eastern Time, Central Time, even Daylight Savings, but did you know there was also a thing called Jamaican Time? When I was in Jamaica and an expat invited me out for the first time, they would usually add:
And I mean 8PM as in 8PM. Not Jamaican time. ACTUAL 8PM!
Why is that relevant? Well, Jamaicans are not known for being punctual. While on the island, there is something about the cool breeze, the salty air, the blue seas and skies… that makes us forget what time it is.
Before we know it, we’re walking into our 8AM shift at 10AM with no good excuse. Throwing a party at 8PM to midnight? Ah well… we’ll be there at 11PM and you’ll just have to suck it up and keep the party going until 4AM. Sorry. Not sorry.
While not every Jamaican has an issue with punctuality (I’m virtually never late for anything!), it’s a common enough occurence that we’ve become [in]famous for being fashionably late.
Naturally, foreigners who are not acquainted with Jamaican Time are confused and angry when we show up 3 hours late for dinner. We’d tell you we’re sorry, but next time you might just want to tell us 4PM if you planned on seeing us at 7PM?
Just trying to help you out here… 🤔
4. Calling It Like It Is
In 10 Unforgivable Sins that May Cost You Your Jamaican Friends, I explained why it’s a terrible idea to try to spare a Jamaican’s feelings. While we are known for being ignorant (hot-headed), we’ll be twice as mad if we think you prioritised politeness over the truth.
This works both ways. That is to say, we will tell you like it is. Of all the reasons I tick off my foreign friends, this has to be the number one way. Here’s a perfect example of how this lands me in trouble all the time.
Once, while dating an American college student, he lamented not getting as high a grade on a test as he had anticipated. I asked him if that wasn’t the weekend he’d been playing Call of Duty all night, when I reminded him to study.
To say he was mad at me would be an understatement. When he finally calmed down, he asked me why I couldn’t just sympathise with him. This confused me. Why should I sympathise? He wasn’t ill or busy. He was playing video games — and I did remind him.
Needless to say, a Jamaican man is the worst person an unsuspecting American woman could throw the Do I look fat? line at. If the answer is yes, he will tell you yes. And if you get mad about it, he will probably wonder why you bothered to ask him in the first place.
The good news is… when you look spectacular, you can bet he will tell you that too in no uncertain terms — even if he doesn’t know you. Jamaican men can be be extremely forward and flirtatious.
5. Saying No
While we’re on the point of being blunt, it’s probably a good time to mention that another big thing I get in trouble for quite a bit is saying “no”.
An American male sat me down on three separate occasions to explain to me that his family and friends were very offended by how often I said the word “no”. I’m not sure why this is such an issue, as I’ve noticed that it’s fine if men say it. Women, however, should not. Apparently.
I don’t doubt for a second that this is why American women often allow themselves to be talked into situations they don’t genuinely consent to. It creates problems at work, and in relationships. No doubt, it also has women dredging up sexual harassment cases a decade later when they finally find the nerve to belatedly revoke consent.
Since African-American women are more likely to dish a “no” without reservation or remorse, I think this is why they are considered “sassy” or “angry Black women”. Because gods forbid you reserve the right to make your own decisions…
To further illustrate how much of a problem this is, I (and many other Jamaicans I know) have been approached by American women who want to know how we just say “no”, and not care. How do we stand our ground?
Easy. We’re Jamaican. It comes with the territory. 🙃
6. “Well, In Jamaica…”
Which brings me to the next thing that ticks off our foreign friends: our unmatched patriotism. Most patriots of other countries believe their country is the best thing since sliced bread, and tend to overlook its faults.
Jamaicans do not. We know perfectly well what our faults and strengths are, and we love our country all the same. That’s because our love for Jamaica and being Jamaican has very little to do with any organisation, what the government does, or what our bad apples are up to.
It’s about our history, our culture, the people, our struggle to overcome hardships, and our legendary accomplishments. We will forever be the coolest kids on the Caribbean block. We could be ruled by Satan and be twirling in the international breeze, sprinkling Jamaican fairy dust.
That is true love.
For those of us who left Jamaica as adults (like I did), we will spend the rest of our lives abroad drawing parrallels to home — to the annoyance of our First World friends, who often secretly believe we should concede to their country’s superiority upon arrival.
But… that’s never gonna happen.
Can’t walk into a store and just purchase birth control? What? Well, in Jamaica I could just walk right into a pharmacy and get birth control for $2 without anyone asking me any damn questions.
Got harassed because we’re Black? Well, in Jamaica we don’t even have racism. We have classism. At least I can change my class. What do I do if I’m Black in America? Wake up and aspire to be White like Michael Jackson? *hisses through teeth*
We also annoy the hell out of other West Indians, because Jamaica tends to be the first Caribbean country people think of, and is certainly the most famous. Their countries — whatever the names are — get lost in the shadow of our black, green, and gold flag, waving in the island breeze.
Who is Barbados and Trinidad? Does not compute.
7. Legendary Homophobia
If you meet someone more homophobic than a stereotypical Jamaican man? You must have been searching really, really hard. In 2016, I wrote about how big a problem this was in The Dark Side of Paradise.
Rather than think up new words when I have a perfectly useful set already written, I’ll quote from that article:
While Jamaica is known for beautiful beaches, friendly people, and chill music, Jamaica has also developed a reputation for being the most homophobic country on Earth.
…good old Bob sang a great deal about “One Love”, …[but] reggae itself has become a vehicle for homophobic ideologies. Not only do artists condemn the LGBT community, but they also condone maiming and killing them.
This has led to music bans around the world for Jamaican artists like Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Bobo Ashanti, Sizzla, Capleton, Elephant Man, T.O.K., Bounty Killa, and Vybz Kartel.
Ironically, these artists are some of the biggest and most successful on the island. Some are singing slightly different tunes now in order to tour worldwide, but this has done little to stem homophobia in Jamaica.
Thankfully, the millennial generation is a lot more accepting of the LGBTQ community, but we have a very long way to go before we see any real progress in this area.
8. Casually & Frequently Bringing Up Race
To be fair, in my experience, this really only ticks off White Americans. North or south, it doesn’t matter. If you want to watch a White American squirm uncomfortably across from you at dinner, bring up race. I have, however, yet to meet a European, Australian, or South African that reacted in this way.
While we are perfectly aware we’re walking a thin line on this one, we are unlikely to avoid this if we plan to keep you around. Why? Because, as I’ve discussed before:
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.
In short, we know damn well we might tick you off when we bring up race or slavery, but that’s how we know to stay away from you.
In Jamaica, race is not a taboo topic — and is frequently discussed in classrooms, on street corners, at work, and within Rastafarian circles. So, if we have to censor these conversations because they make you uncomfortable, you can’t sit with us. Bye.
9. Impatient Driving
Bringing things back to a lighter note, driving with a Jamaican is always a death-defying experience, especially when driving with our taxi drivers.
There was an old joke I heard in school about Jamaican taxi drivers converting more people to Christianity than pastors. How? Easy! Passengers were offering up prayers to spare their lives in the backseat of taxis, more than they did at church. Yes, we’re that bad.
Jamaicans are very impatient drivers, and will often disregard road signs and road rules on the island. We turn the soft shoulders into an extra traffic lane, and will likely drive through a red light after 1AM on an empty street (we look both ways though! 😇).
10. Giving Directions
Apparently, we’re terrible even when we’re not the one behind the wheel. Never ask a Jamaican for directions. You will get lost.
Everywhere is always right up the street, ’round the corner, pass the big mango tree, and Miss Marge yaad (literally means yard, but more accurately translates to home).
Especially if you’re in the rural areas, we’re unlikely to remember street names, and will tell you you’re just a few minutes away when it’s an hour drive. Our Jamaican Time probably has something to do with the poor estimates… 🤔 Who knows?
If you’re Jamaican, have you ticked off your foreign friends with any of the things mentioned above? Did I forget any?
If you’re a non-Jamaican who has been equally blessed and cursed with Jamaican friends, what are some of the things we’ve said and done that left you confused or upset?
Don’t worry, I won’t let anyone attack you in the comments! My block and delete game is impeccable. 😅
If you’re fascinated by Jamaican culture, and would love to learn more:
Just in case it actually needs to be said, not all ten things listed above applies to every Jamaican. In fact, many of them don’t apply to me. My Jamaican posts are meant to reflect the whole, not the individual.
Likewise, there are many foreigners who don’t find any or most of those things offensive; whether due to familiarity with our culture, like the British often are; or similarity to our culture, like the Mediterraneans, particularly the Spanish.
Thank you doesn’t do justice to the gratitude I owe Rouchelle Fountain for allowing me to use her photos on such short notice! When I do these Jamaican posts, it’s really important to me that it’s graced with a Jamaican face, so special thanks to Rou for making this possible.
Rou and her husband are travel agents, seeing the world together. Follow their adventures at @rouchelle_2788.