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No Problem, Be Happy: How to Understand Jamaica’s Love of Life

Photo by M. Timothy O'Keefe

Tips and advice for first-time Jamaica visitors

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This guide helps first time visitors to Jamaica understand the nation and its people. Jamaicans typically are friendly, fun-loving people. Many are poor and not well schooled, yet they have something far more important than wealth, technological advances or book learning. They have their special attitude about living life, which is to have fun, whatever they are doing. Jamaicans are famous for their relaxed, laid-back, “No problem,” “Don’t worry, be happy” attitude. Of course, not all Jamaicans are so carefree. It’s amazing how many are considering the island’s poverty and high unemployment rate.


Adjust to “Jamaican Time”

Time does not really stand still in the Jamaica. It’s just that things will not always happen as quickly or as precisely as you may be accustomed to. Many arriving travelers had to rush to put things in order at work, dash around to shop and pack, then hurried to the airport and arrive in the Caribbean still in warp drive.

Some quickly get upset when islanders don’t share their same sense of time pressure. Others become angry if locals don’t respond as promptly or as efficiently to every request as employees or service personnel back home.

There are two ways to deal with Jamaican time, which is not going to change. Either adapt to it, or fight it. Much easier to adapt. Yes, your visit is on a time budget. You want to fit in as much as you can—but you also want to enjoy every activity as much as possible.


Relax and decompress

The best way to decompress from Western-style living after arriving is to do little the day you  arrive. Have only a few drinks, eat, look around a little. Go to sleep early if you were up late packing the night before or had a very early flight. You should wake up in a more relaxed mood. If you arrive tired and stay tired, your vacation could be a sour one.

The amazing thing is that if you don’t try and fight the Jamaican time clock, everything eventually gets done. Perhaps not in the way you expect, but it eventually happens. After the first few days and after getting acclimated to the possible delays, many visitors to Jamaica quickly adopt the phrase “no problem” as part of their vocabulary. And “soon come” is the reaction to things that do not happen exactly on time.


How to communicate with respect

One of the greatest cultural misunderstandings between tourists and locals is who should speak to whom first. Jamaicans normally are very polite people and expect to be treated with courtesy. They like to be spoken to when you pass them, even if it is just a nod.

They often expect visitors to initiate any conversation or the passing “hello.” Considering that many visitors come from big cities where residents are afraid even to make eye contact, this type of old-fashioned island politeness may be a foreign way of behavior. It’s best always is to speak first, as politely as you would converse with a colleague at work, and say it with a smile. It’s almost always returned.


How to get along

Many years ago a Jamaican friend explained to me how to get along in Jamaica. His advice has been invaluable and something I always keep in mind when visiting:

“Push, you do not get much. Take it easier, get much more. When we speak, expect to be baffled! Our patois sounds like a foreign language. Sometimes it might sound like you are being scolded, but we love you. We argue hard, but at the same time we will happily share a rum or a smoke with you.

We can be mighty inquisitive, or extremely shy. We are a poor country. Hustling is almost a way of life, a necessity—meet the hustler with humor and compassion, and continue with your mission.

“We like to be acknowledged even if it is only slightly raising the index finger as a greeting or saying one word, ‘Irie.’ “

Irie (pronounced “Eye-ree”) means everything is “wonderful,” “great,” “excellent,” “fine,” “peace.”

You will see Irie printed on Jamaican souvenir t-shirts. It sums up what a good Jamaican vacation should be.


At A Glance

Price Range:
budget
midrange
luxury
Most Suited to:
single
couples
groups
Season:
winter
spring
summer
fall
Length:
weekend
longer

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