If a Jamaican asked you to bring a couple of apples and you brought two, they likely wouldn’t be very happy with you. Or they’d think you were being a bit mean or even stupid. Thing is Jamaicans really don’t like using the word ‘two’ because of the connotations attached to this little number for them. Trying to understand how a couple does not represent two and why Jamaicans won’t say two, is quite possibly like trying to understand Jamaica. An island filled with quirky cultural nuances and a language so rich and colourful that you’ll be still trying to understand what’s been said, long after everyone else has moved on. So, after one whole year living in on one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, what have I learned about Jamaica?
1. Noise: Jamaicans love noise. When they’re not making noise, their dog is making it or someone else’s dog is. Doesn’t matter what time of day or night as most Jamaican’s possess an inner zen like quality and are oblivious to the cacophony of intrusive sounds. In Jamaica you get used to loud living, or have good ear plugs.
2. Jamaican Food: it took a while for my British palette to adapt to Jamaican spice but there is no dispute Jamaican food is delicious. Try some roast breadfruit with your jerk chicken or some fried plantain and forget scrambled eggs at breakfast, ackee and saltfish with a side of green banana and a Johnny cake is the only way to start the day. Food also comes with great views – Eits Cafe, The Gap and Strawberry Hill won’t leave you disappointed.
3. Street Hustling: In KIngston hustling is a national pastime. So what if you don’t want your car windows washing with a dirty sponge and some filthy water, you’re going to get it done anyway. Keep some spare change in the car, hand it over and move along. Enjoy the banter and remember: these guys are just trying to make a living.
4. Driving: Plenty of Jamaicans manage without a car but personally living here would be impossible if I didn’t have one. Jamaicans, normally the most easy going people, on the planet turn into F1 drivers behind a wheel. If you’re waiting patiently at a red light, expect horns to be beeped for you to move. If you still haven’t got your foot on the accelerator and your car revving the moment they turn amber, expect the car behind you to beep it’s horn. Likely a taxi will have already overtaken you anyway and driven through the red light. Route taxis rule the road (look out for the red number plates) best to not drive to close as they stop often to pick up fares and likely their break lights (and everything else) will be long broken. When driving keep an eye out for massive pot holes, pedestrians, cyclists, vendors pulling carts, dogs, and goats. No easy feat when driving at night, without street lighting.
5. Supermarkets: Groceries are expensive but then most of the food available has been flown half way around the world – so it makes sense to buy local. Though, you can find pretty much everything here. I spotted asparagus recently retailing at $25 USD for a small bunch and curiously, Waitrose food is available in some of the higher end grocery shops. Also it’s rather endearing to be on first name terms with the young fellas who neatly pack and organise your shopping (into a thousand plastic bags) and then take it to your car.
6. Service: Expect service to be a little slower than you’re used to and if you remember the customer isn’t always right, you’ll be fine.
7. Rum: Dark rum, white rum, and lots more …with coconut water, ginger wine, Ting, in a punch or just on ice, everyone has a favorite way to enjoy Jamaican rum. It’s delicious and goes down way too easy.
8. Lizards: life is tropical in Jamaica and things that go bump in the night will often be the result of several lizards doing acrobatics around your bedroom. They’re totally harmless and the only annoying thing about them is the crazy amount of lizard poo that gets deposited around the house.
9. Healthcare: OK so cleanliness in hospitals might leave you feeling a little queazy but general care is first rate. A GP appointment is always booked for at least forty-five minutes and referrals to other specialists are often arranged for the same day. Kingston also has an active late night doctor scene. Need to see a Gyno/Dermatologist/Endocrinologist etc at 7pm on a Saturday? No worries, you’ll likely find one in Kingston.
10. Jamaican people: are the nicest, happiest and funnest people you’ll ever meet.
11. Jamaica is a beautiful Island: it has so much to offer outside of the inclusive hotels and resorts. Explore beaches, waterfalls, the many historic sites, cycle in the countryside, raft down the Rio Grande or trek to the summit of the Blue Mountain, spending two weeks locked inside a Riu means you’d be missing out…