Every country has a different way of doing things and what some consider to be normal everyday behaviour is perceived as disrespectful or distasteful to someone from another country. When travelling it helps massively if you get at least a little introduction to the country you are visiting prior to your arrival, so you are aware of the culture, customs and traditions. It isn’t nice to be scorned for your bad or socially inept behaviour, so I always take time out to look and learn (or read a good article on it) before I talk and walk into trouble!
When in Jamaica, do as the Jamaicans do…
When in Jamaica DO…
Chill Out and Relax. You are working on Jamaican time from now on. When a Jamaican replies ‘soon come’ they do not mean it in the literal sense, it invariably means it will happen, when it happens. So be patient, it is usually work the wait, especially if it is for fooood!
When addressing a stranger it is always best to be formal, especially to those that are mature, or of child-bearing age. Using Sir, Mr, Miss or Mam when referring to someone is considered to be a polite way of conversing when you do not know them. It is also used alongside the more informal aunty and uncle and is good to use before the first name of anyone who is older or wiser, but more familiar to you (probably not advised in a formal environment though!)
The same goes if you are being served by someone at a store or restaurant, it doesn’t hurt to be polite and cordially greet people
When addressing a Police Officer, I highly recommend flagrant use of Sir, Mam, or Officer when conversing with them. It shows them respect and that you do not consider them to be inferior to you, which often means they give you less hassle
Try Jamaican food. It is delicious and there are dishes to suit every type of palate, including amazing Ital Vegan and Vegetarian foods
Treat Jamaican people with respect, remember you are not better than them just because you have a foreign passport, or because you are visiting where they are working
Be sensitive to the plight of the working class Jamaicans and do not try to take advantage of them. Many of the people seen vending in public places are just trying to make a living for basic necessities and to make money to send their children to school
Be firm and direct as most Jamaicans are. You will probably only confuse, or get taken advantage of by beating around the bush
Trust your instincts. If you don’t have a good feeling about a situation – remove yourself from it. Better to seem abrupt or rude than to regret staying around longer to see how it pans out
Conserve energy as it is expensive and water because it is scarce. Do not leave the water, AC, TV and so on running for inordinate periods of time especially when you have left your room…
Consider the environment, don’t haul off bundles of coral and shells, remove wildlife or ‘dutty up Jamaica’ by leaving your garbage lying around
Expect the unexpected! You will find more churches per square mile in Jamaica than anywhere else in the world (except the Vatican City itself), but they have a thriving music scene where they love to dance provocatively and wear very scanty clothing. Jamaica is a country of extremes!
Support Jamaica and Buy Jamaican! There are many ways you can do this on your trip, such as purchasing products that are MADE in Jamaica, patronising locally owned accommodation, attractions, tours, stores and eateries and supporting the street and beach vendors
Forget that whilst it is nice to be important, it is more IMPORTANT to be NICE – smile!
Stereotype Jamaicans because of what the media portrays, or because of one rude person you come across
Take photographs of people, or other people’s property without their permission, as they may not always be happy about it. Use common sense and Respect The Privacy of Others. Many Jamaicans love to pose for a picture and will be more than happy to do so if asked, whilst some may ask for a small fee if in a tourist area.
Refer to Jamaicans as ‘natives’. It has too many racial connotations that could be considered as a derogatory slur. Calling a black person ‘coloured’ is also laughable and ironic, when you consider that a white person goes blue in the cold and red in the sun! Using the terminology ‘Jamaican’ is the most appropriate way of addressing the wonderful people of Jamaica
Get drunk and run around half naked, or put yourself in other types of risky circumstances. Drink is not your friend, when you get into a tricky or dangerous situation
Forget that controlled drugs are illegal in Jamaica. Weed, Ganga, marijuana, green, grass, hash, gum, or whatever else you want to call it has been decriminalised (as of February 2015), if you are found to have less than 2oz in your possession, so is now a ticketable offence rather than a prisonable offence. See Below for more information
Flaunt flashy jewellery, expensive mobile phones, i-pods and so on. If you feel the need to show off, do it in the hotel or back at home where they are more readily available
Rent a car and leave it parked on a beach or near a water course where the tide may rise and take it away
Leave your car keys or valuables with a random person because you want to go swimming, or some other task that will remove you from the eye sight of the items
Get a false sense of security because you are on holiday / vacation. If you wouldn’t walk around alone late at night, or visit the local shops in beach attire when at home then don’t do it when you are in Jamaica. Use your Common Sense, or ‘screw your loaf’ as my Dad would say!
30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica!
If you are planning a trip to Jamaica then you may also be considering renting or borrowing a vehicle to ‘Do Road’ and get out and about. To say that I have had some ‘experiences’ when doing this is an understatement! Some of which have been part of the best fun I have had in Jamaica and others have had me at my wits end. I really love to ‘Do Road’ in Jamaica and drive out somewhere and I recommend you do too, to get the best out of your stay. I have put together 30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica! to make your driving experience memorable for all the right reasons…
Renting a Vehicle in Jamaica
I have rented many different vehicles during my time in Jamaica with varying degrees of success and enjoyment. The majority of which have been from informal private renters. This normally works on a ‘referral’ basis, as in one of your friends introduces you to the person that rents the vehicle and you are both therefore ‘recommended’ to each other. There have been instances when this goes smoothly and I have had an amazing brand new vehicle to go ‘Do Road’ in. On the reverse I have had instances on agreeing a rental price only for new ‘terms’ to be set half way through the rental, I have rented vehicles that break down, I have rented vehicles that have not had the correct paperwork causing problems during a police check, I have discovered that I rented a vehicle that was barely legal as the rental fee has paid for a cover note…
Most informal car rentals are at a rate of JA$5,000 a day, you may be lucky and get it for JA$4,000 or JA$4,500 a day. Most rentals are for a minimum of 3 days and the majority of the informal renters do not budge on this stipulation! The Insurance document does NOT have to have your name on it for it to be legal for you to drive. A (photo)copy of the vehicle documents is acceptable for showing to the police if asked.
30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica!
When Driving in Jamaica – Do…
Drive on the LEFT hand side of the road. This is easy for people from the UK as it is same side as we drive on.
Carry your vehicle documents with you when driving anywhere. Driving Licence, Insurance Certificate, Fitness (MOT) Certificate and Log Book, should be carried with you if the Police stop you – Don’t forget to take the documents out of the vehicle overnight in case it is stolen.
If you rent a vehicle CHECK the documents BEFORE you drive off. It is not uncommon for documents to be out of date and you then have a problem if the police stop you.
Check your vehicle before driving off. Ensure there is oil and water in the radiator and screen wash. Check the tyre’s are firm and you have a spare and the tools to change the tyre. Check the level of gas / petrol / diesel and be aware of where the nearest gas / petrol station is if running low. Check the location of the battery and if you need any tools to get access to it. Check the window wipers, lights and horn work – you will need them!
Ask the person you rent / borrow the vehicle from what type of fuel the vehicle takes, which side the fuel tank is on and where the lever is to open it. Your fuel will be pumped for you in Jamaica and will not have to leave your vehicle.
Wear your seatbelt. Okay I know it’s hot and uncomfortable, but it could be the difference between life and death in an accident. Plus, you WILL get stopped by the Police if they see you and you could get a mandatory JA$500 fine.
Observe the speed limits. Some roads in Jamaica have deep corners and multiple blind corners, drive with caution! The Police set up ‘speed traps’ and will pull you over if you are exceeding the limit and you could get a fine.
Look out for road signs and do as they say! You will get a ticket if you park in a restricted area and could even be towed away.
Be aware as people overtake at high-speed and drive incredibly close to your vehicle.
Be aware of animals in or near the road, especially in the country areas. If you see a young animal in, or near the road, it is often best to let it run to its mother before proceeding as they are flighty and could run into your path.
BLOW YOUR HORN! Jamaicans expect it if overtaking (on a minor road) or coming round a blind corner. If a vehicle has pulled up right in front of you, BLOW YOUR HORN to let them know you are passing them.
Double check before over taking. The drivers coming in the opposite direction also have plans to use the middle of the road as a new lane.
Visit a gas / petrol station if you are having problems with the vehicle as they not only pump the gas for you, they can also help with other basic problems and will wash the windscreen, they stock oils, fluids and so on.
Lock your vehicle doors and boot (trunk) of the vehicle when leaving it unattended.
Wave traffic past you when safe to do so on country roads. Route taxi’s (look for the distinctive red number plates), illegal taxi’s and local residents drive very fast on the country roads as they know EVERY twist, turn, corner, gully, pot-hole, cliff and tree they pass on the route. They have a tendency to drive right up behind your vehicle, so just let them pass. If you have the nerve and can drive reasonably close behind them they will guide your way through the maze of pot-holes as they know the road better than the back of their hand!
Look out for pot holes… some can swallow your car, whilst others could give you flat tyre.
Address Police Officer with respect and be compliant. I highly recommend flagrant use of Sir, Mam, or Officer when conversing with them. It shows them respect and that you do not consider them inferior to you, which often means they give you less hassle. Police ‘bribes’ or ‘extortion’ are much less frequent in Jamaica than when I first came here 10 years ago. It does still happen though. Extend caution offering or accepting bribes. If you are a female driver do not be surprised if the officers hit on you and ask for your phone number!
Drive defensively. Always expect the unexpected.
30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica!
When Driving in Jamaica – Do Not…
(19) Play ‘chicken’ with the oncoming traffic. Their nerve will invariably be better than yours!
(20) FORGET TO BLOW YOUR HORN! Jamaicans expect it if overtaking or coming round a blind corner. If a vehicle has pulled up right in front of you, BLOW YOUR HORN to let them know you are passing them. (I have written this in do’s and don’ts because it is very important!)
(21) Drive wide around corners. There are huge trucks on the road and they do not always blow their horn to let you know they are approaching you do not want to meet them on the wrong side of the road. People riding on bicycles and motorbikes are also put at high risk through this practise and many are killed in this way.
(22) Stop in a secluded place late at night. If you are lost try to find a well-lit place, such as a gas / petrol station before stopping.
(23)Drive alone late at night (although I have done this without incident). Always try to travel with a passenger.
(24) Set out late in the day if you have problems driving at night. The roads do not always have street lights or ‘cats eyes’ and the oncoming headlights can be blinding as everyone puts on their high beam.
(25) Set out on a new journey without a map (again, I have done this many times without incident) if you are not confident. Have an idea of where you are going unless you are pretty easy-going and don’t have a destination per se. Most Jamaicans are very helpful if you are lost or having difficulties, but remember to address the person formally and calmly when you pull the vehicle to the side of the road. They will probably know how to reach at least the next town on the route, where you may have to repeat the process until you reach your destination. You will love the way some Jamaicans give directions!
(26) Leave your vehicle engine running or the keys in the vehicle when unattended.
(27) Leave valuables on show in the vehicle when unattended, discreetly lock them in the boot / trunk or glove box.
(28) Pick up strangers or hitch-hikers.
(29) Panic if an oncoming vehicle flashes you twice in quick succession. It is generally to warn you that there is a Police Check Point or Speed Trap up ahead and not necessarily because you have done something wrong.
(30) Park too near to the sea, beach or river, changing tides can come and go before you return to your vehicle.
I hope you enjoy driving in Jamaica. Be safe and get out there and ‘do road’!