Jamaican life is stimulating, loud and thrilling, the people upbeat and warm, and with the following dumplings of knowledge afloat in your soup, you’ll soon be swaggering around town like a breda possessed.
“Shake hands with the whole of Ochi!”
A Wilson tip for tourists to cut-out-and-keep if you want to promote a more friendly accord between nations: pick a bar, any bar, grab a stool and a flask and Ting. Buy the bartender a drink too and before long you’ll be sharing some rum and reasonin’ with the locals — a fabulous way to spend an afternoon and soak up some true Jamaican sunshine, make new friends and generally improve the day.
NO INSULT INTENDED
“You talking to me?” Jamaicans are typically no-nonsense and will call people as they see them. For example: if you are a Caucasian male you are White Man, if Chinese you are Mr Chin.
Simply a perception of your race, appearance or walk of life, no insult is intended. Folks are openly referred to as Rasta, Indian, Chef, whatever... or in Wilson’s case, White Bwoy and Fatty, just before you ask.
YOUR FRIENDLY GUIDE
Tourists stick out a mile, so don’t be alarmed when you’re hit on by a friendly fireball pitching his services as your personal town guide.
A lot of the tourism channels warn against this but most of these unofficial hosts are honest and genuine, and seeing the town in a nutshell with a local for an hour or so is a fascinating diversion, a bit of fun in return for some dollars. But keep your wits if you’re offered a ‘smoke’ — it would not be the first time someone got woozy and the ship set sail without them!
Whether waiting to be whizzed-off in a sweltering minibus, strolling through town avoiding eye contact, or just lyming around in a bar nursing an ice cold beer, you’ll be offered everything from pineapple donuts and bag juice*, sugar cane and phonecards to cologne, leather belts and facecloths. Where else could you purchase your weekly groceries and summer wardrobe from the comfort of a minibus or barstool?
Street sellers, and other enterprising characters making a living off the pavement, are part of the town’s lifeblood and deserve your custom.
*It’s OFFICIAL… one of life’s greatest pleasures is speeding back from Kingston to Ochi in a crammed minibus next to the open window with a bag juice and a box of pineapple donuts all to yourself.
THE “FIST BUMP”
Popular greetings of ‘respect’ come in all levels of intricacy; the simple ‘fist bump’ is the one you will most receive. In another, the fists meet vertically, then horizontally, then a brief flick of the thumbs, but there are countless variants from ‘high fives’ to the ‘elbowing’ of elbows (a good one when holding two drinks).
One theory we entertain is that the fist bump greeting came about so that germs and other icky substances were not passed between bredren who had neglected to wash their hands after relieving themselves — it would be quite a keen show of initiative were this true.
KEEP IT COVERED
Out of the many cultural misjudgements Wilson discovered the hard way, one is that no matter how heavenly your torso, it’s considered impolite for men (and indeed ladies) to be stripped to the waist when entering a restaurant, bar, bank, shop or office. You will be refused entry by the security doorman unless you cover up.
So when not on the beach or by the pool, affirm your dignity in a marina vest or shirt.*
*Why do older male visitors from the USA insist on wearing Hawaiian shirts while in Jamaica?
TEMPT ME NOT…
Wander down any street and you will pass unwittingly through frequent clouds of a certain heavy, pungent nostril-tickling aroma.
Laws relating to marijuana (ganja, da herb, etc) have softened — it is ‘illegal’ but only a ‘petty offence’ to possess up to 56 g (a sizeable bag we are told). For religious purposes, true Rastafarians may use the stuff, and tourists with a medical prescription can apply for a permit.
We all know what goes on so just be discreet — you wouldn’t build up a chalice pipe in a restaurant after a meal would you? And don’t start chicken-dancing on the roof of a stationary police vehicle with a big seven-skinner blazing between your teeth.
What do we think? We’ll just settle for a few cold beers and a Matterhorn, thank you.