“No Problem, Mon!” – Jamaican Stereotypes Debunked
I hope that my very first article doesn’t come off sounding like a rant…
When I was given the opportunity to inform at least one person from every single country about my lovely little island, the first thing I did was run to social media to ask my fellow countrymen what they would want to say to the world, given half a chance. The query inevitably garnered declarations of stereotypes that we’re tired of hearing from foreigners. But not to worry– I won’t destroy anyone’s fantasies of Jamaica. It’s still a fabulous place to visit!
That said, let’s get into it, mon….
#1. We don’t say…..
“No problem, mon!”
“Everyting irie, mon!”
“Cool runnings, mon!”
In fact, we don’t say “mon”, period. I’m not personally sure where these phrases were spawned except, of course, for the famous “Cool Runnings!“, but they have been printed on every kind of clothing and accessory imaginable, and sold in souvenir shops across the island. Vendors in popular tourist areas also tend to perpetuate the phrases for the sake of sales. I will admit to being guilty of the occasional positive utterance of “yeah man” (the more commonly used phrase), but the stereotypical Jamaican accent in the media has warped our “a’s” into “o’s”. Despite this, Jamaicans have a sense of humour, and we still get a good chuckle out of how poorly our accent is portrayed.
#2. …In fact, we speak English.
This one is a bit of a pet peeve, especially among my peers. We’ve been asked what our official language is ad nauseam. For those of you who originally thought our native language was Spanish, you were close! Jamaica was first colonised by the Spanish between 1494 and 1655, but came under British rule from 1655 until our independence in 1962. We do have a creole known locally as patois (pronounced pat-wah), which is what our stereotypical accent has been molded from. Patois is mostly a spoken language and is English-based with derivatives of African and European languages, due to the variety of regions represented on the island at the time of its creation. The myriad of books and songs making use of it, however, show the global popularity it has gained as a literary language…
#3. Most of us live in a somewhat similar manner to the rest of Western Civilization.
Jamaica is a tropical paradise, and we do have some wooden shacks on the beach, but that’s not the standard: we live in concrete and steel houses. We actually have two cities, I might add.
So for all of you with the thought that Jamaicans live on the beach and smoke some special local produce all day, thanks for bringing me to the next stereotype I’d like to debunk, and probably the one you were all waiting for…
#4. Jamaicans don’t smoke weed all day, every day.
I cannot count the amount of times I’ve been asked by foreigners if I smoke weed. It might be hard to believe, but marijuana is still illegal in Jamaica, even though the government is poised to decriminalise it. There are people who still partake in it regularly, but the majority of the nation has to work and actually function in society. I’d personally hazard the guess that most Jamaican adults have tried it, but many (if not most) of us have not made a habit of it, even if we believe it to be some of the best quality in the world.
#5. We’re not all somehow related to Bob Marley…
… Also, not all of us know him. As much as we look up to him and all he’s contributed to the world, The great Robert Nesta Marley passed away in 1981. I have an uncle who claims to have known him, as I’m sure many of us do, but the majority of us can only dream about what it would be like to have met such an icon.
#6. We’re not all black.
I felt a personal inclination to add this item to the list after being told during a recent trip that I don’t “look Jamaican”, and that I’m “pale for a Jamaican”. Our national motto is “out of many, one people.” Remember what I said about patois being derived from languages of different regions? That’s because people from many different countries lived in Jamaica. Many of those people had babies together across the board, and now we’re a rich, multi-cultural nation of all kinds of racial mixtures…
… And we’re beautiful.
#7. Jamaica is neither a war zone, nor is it rife with criminals lurking in every dark corner.
As a single woman who often travels alone, I often stay away from dark corners anywhere in the world. The popular belief, unfortunately, is that Jamaica is only safe within the confines of resorts.
This is simply NOT TRUE.
In our two major cities (Kingston and Montego Bay), there is crime, and let’s be real- there’s a fair deal of it. But as it is in any city, you’ll likely stay out of trouble if you don’t go looking for it. In addition, people living in smaller communities outside of the cities still leave their doors open all day without batting an eye! As an avid fan of the all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica, I can attest to the fact that they’re an amazing way to spend a vacation, but if you want the authentic experience, you’d best jump on the world-wide web and start making a few local friends.
Everyone knows that going “off the beaten path” is what gives you the most fulfilling experience in any new country, and in my opinion, there’s no better experience than eating, drinking, and being merry with a local family or partying with a group of friends.
I’m crossing my fingers that I’ve given you a taste of insight into what Jamaica is really like by dispelling a few of the most common stereotypes that we are subject to when meeting foreigners for the first time. If there’s something you’d like to know the truth behind, please feel free to leave a comment!