Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Aggressive Politeness

One thing that I have learned from moving to live in Jamaica is the importance of being what I call "aggressively polite."

It's a bit difficult to explain, except by contrast.

In the U.S., people assume that they are strangers, and that they have little in common, and that they need to keep to themselves and out of other people's affairs. (Unless they are famous, in which case the very opposite rule applies.)

By and large, people ignore each other.

Here in Jamaica, sometimes ignoring someone can be seen as disrespect. On the other hand, actively greeting someone, and assertively being polite is a practice that is welcomed, and is usually very warmly returned.

"Good Mornings" and the introductory chit-chat that is often just skipped in the U.S. are essential here, and people are taken aback when this small respect is not accorded in day-to-day conversation. The easy informality and geniality of Americans is seen as typical tourist behaviour when a foreigner oversteps their bounds in a conversation, and tries to get too friendly too quickly.

For anyone coming to Jamaica, these pleasantries have to be learned (or re-learned) as they can turn a simple conversation into a suspicious or even hostile one without warning.

Here in Jamaica, there are few virtues that are more prized than having a sense of humility and of respect shown to others, and these practices go a long way in helping to create it.

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