Jamaicans are a very social and conversational people. We were told this during the two months of Language and Culture training we received when we first arrived and it has proven to be true. As a way of assisting us in integrating into our communities, we were told to be friendly and to greet people as we pass them. A “Good Morning,” “Afternoon,” “Waa Gwaan,” or “Waa’happn” can go a long way in helping community members take kindly to you, a newcomer and stranger.
We were also taught a Patwa expression that goes, “Howdy come from outta door.” What this means is that when a person enters a room it is their responsibility to greet whoever is inside.
One of the most amusing and practical aspects of the Jamaican culture is that almost everyone has a nickname. These nicknames are rarely derivatives of one’s given name, rather, they usually describe a physical trait of the person or something they are known for. We were told in training to try not to be offended if Jamaicans call you a nickname. Just be prepared that it may be created by observing something about your appearance, the way you talk, the way you act, the work you do, etc.
One of my first and favorite nicknames was “White lady.” In training we were told that some Jamaicans will call white women that until they get to know you. If you end up getting to know someone you may end up exchanging first names but if you never really engage with that person you may be called “White lady” for your entire service.
One of the best aspects of our cultural training was the desensitization they did on this. The first few times I heard “White lady” I felt a twinge of discomfort, mainly because of how charged that word can be in certain areas in the U.S., and how it is perceived as a derogatory remark. Now, when I hear it, it brings a smile to my face, every time. One of the best experiences I have here is when I am walking to work and pass a group of school children and they all holler out, in unison, “Hi whitey!” That makes my day:)
Here are some of the greetings I have received while being in Jamaica:
Sexy white lady.
Buenos Dias (there are Cubans living in Jamaica so sometimes I am mistaken for Cuban)
Nice white lady.
How would you like to become the best of friends?
I like your breasts.
Do you want work? (Use your imagination on this one.)
Are you married?
Do you want a husband?
My favorite? White lady 🙂