INTERACTION AND COMMUNICATION
Jamaicans are fascinating people. For a majority of them, there are few certainties in life. Wages are low, inflation is high, the dollar keeps on sliding, unemployment is high, there is way too much crime and health care isn't up to standards. Yet people are hopeful and resiliant. Many do not know what tomorrow will bring so it is the present that is celebrated with much fervour.
That’s why the Jamaican experience isn't about Jamaica's beaches, its wonderful climate or its all-inclusive hotels. It's about the people you'll meet and party with. Your visit to Jamaica will be memorable if you sit down and reason with Jamaican people and you will make lots of friends doing so. Jamaicans take partying very serious and you can be a part of that. You are truly welcome on any street party, beach party, stage show, club or food festival, but here's the thing: you have to want to be part of it. People are glad you're there so talk to them. Be open, look people in the eyes, have fun, be funny and most of all, be yourself.
Jamaicans greet tourists a lot. This can be a surprising experience when you come from a country were people ignore each other completely on the street. It’s wonderful though. Greetings can be anything from a nod, a hand gesture, a ‘yes’ or ‘yes yes’, ‘blessed’, ‘blessed love’ and then some. Do not ignore people and greet them back. If fact, why not catch them off guard and greet them first when you make eye contact. A greeting will often be the start of a conversation. Jamaicans mostly strike up a conversation out of curiosity, just for the sake of, well…, the conversation. More than not they will not want anything from you, just an exchange of words. It’s very pleasant.
Ask people ABOUT anything
Jamaicans are proud of their country and enjoy having tourists around. They want you to have a good time. If you need anything do not hesitate to ask. Ask taxi drivers, vendors, people in bars or on the street. If in need for directions, people will show you the way. Looking for a fun activity or a party, people will tell you where to be. Once you have asked people a couple of things you will realise that Jamaicans go out of their way to give you the best information possible.
Bring a phone
Life in Jamaica is one long conversation and Jamaica has one of the highest cell phone penetration rates in the world. Everyone is constantly calling each other, even if it’s only to hail dem up. When you meet Jamaicans they will ask you to take their number so you better carry a phone. Jamaica is a country where you make friends easily and before you know it you’ll have your own network of ‘linkies’. Jamaicans love it when you call them back the next time you visit. Next to its social usefulness, you’ll also need a phone to call a taxi, which you will be doing now and then. So bring a phone and buy a sim.
Buy a sim
You can buy a simcard in a Digicel store. There is another operator on the island but Digicel is the ‘bigger better netwerk’ with a 90% market share and there is no denying you can get Digicel credit basically anywhere. So ask around for the Digicel store. You need to bring your passport with you to get a simcard. The sim is only JMD 600. Write down your phone number or memorize it. All you need now is credit. You’ll find prepaid credit, in the form of a phone card, almost anywhere: in bars, stores, on the street. Start with JMD 200 credit and see how long it lasts you. You will notice that JMD 200 credit might cost you a little more than JMD 200, depending on where you buy it.
Catch the vibes
‘Catching the vibes’ is a real thing. Catching the vibes is certainly not being led straight from your resort hotel to ta Cool Runnings party boat, getting drunk with other tourists while dancing to techno music and shouting ’no problem’ or ‘yah man’. Just saying. Catching the vibes is becoming part of the ongoing conversation that is Jamaica. It’s humour and it’s pleasure. It’s making fun of people and being made fun of, all in good nature. You catch the vibes when you feel that life is truly different in Jamaica, when it strikes you that some people have so little and yet they feel so blessed and happy. It’s when you start wondering about who has the most quality of life: you in the West or this people under the sun. But don’t worry and don’t stress. You can come back here anytime, and you probably will.
You can find testimonials on travel websites from tourists saying they got ripped off in Jamaica. They felt like everyone was out for their money, they payed way too much money for food, drinks and taxi rides and they claim the Jamaicans they met where verbally aggressive and harassed them. What these accounts have in common is that they all come from people who went to a resort on an all-inclusive holiday to Jamaica’s north coast and who seemingly have no experience interacting with people outside their comfort zone. I’d say they probably lack a dose of humour as well. When we go to Jamaica we never experience 'harassment'. What is harassment anyway? Is it when people come up to you and talk to you? When they ask you something? When they ask for JMD 100 or to buy them a drink? Some of the best experiences you will remember from your trip to Jamaica are surely conversations with strangers. On the street, in a bar, on the beach, anywhere. More than anything, Jamaicans are curious about tourists and want to talk to them. Sometimes they might ask you for something, sure, but more often they will not.
And if they do ask you something, be yourself and answer what you want to answer. Maybe you feel like sharing a drink and maybe money's short and you don't. Jamaicans can take no for an answer but they need an answer. Be respectful. Do not ignore people. Look them in the eye, give them a reply. Discuss, reason and argue with them. Discussions and reasoning are good for your personal development and character. Be firm, stand by what you believe in, crack a joke now and then. Don't take yourself too serious. You're in Jamaica, far from your ordinary life where human interaction and conversation might be way less authentic than it is here. Enjoy it, you'll be in you usual routine again before you know it.
Learn about yourself
In Jamaica you get a chance to learn a lot about yourself. You can choose to open up and be who you want to be. Be positive, make eye contact, listen to what people say and reason with them. Conversations in Jamaica are different than what you are used to. They are not as much about work or career as they are about life, family and spirituality. About the things that matter. After all, life is different in Jamaica where the sun always shines, where you can swim in rivers and the sea, and where you can pluck fruits from the trees when you feel like it. So while you are here, open up and learn about yourself and where you are in life.