Please, please, DON’T ask Caribbean people these questions…
Whenever people travel or move permanently from one country to another, there’s always going to be a bit of “culture shock”. Every nation does things a bit differently.
And yes, while traveling to the Caribbean, you might be surprised by some of the things you see and hear. It’s even ok to ask questions. After all, getting to know the locals can be a lot more fun than just sitting on the beach all day.
However, when you do ask Caribbean people questions, there are a few that you should avoid. That’s because they stem from rather ignorant misconceptions that have mostly been ingrained in our minds thanks to the way Hollywood portrays Caribbean people in movies.
So, do yourself a favor, and avoid asking the following questions while traveling in the Caribbean (or while getting to know a Caribbean person in your own country). Trust us, you’ll save yourself plenty of sideways looks by erasing these from your conversation book.
1. Where did you learn English?
This question is oh, so wrong, in so many ways. First of all, it assumes that the Caribbean person had to learn English as their second language. While this may be true, it may also be the person’s first language, and their accent is simply different from yours.
If you hadn’t heard of such a thing as “Caribbean English”, you have now. English varies by country (for example, American English isn’t the same as British English). There’s Bajan English, Jamaican English, Trinidadian and Tobagonian English, and many more.
2. You’re sooooo laid back, right?
Not everyone in the Caribbean is “laid back” or fits your definition of a “chill” person. It’s best not to assume that all people in the region share this characteristic.
No one seems to know where this stereotype came from, but don’t assume that every person from the region is easy going, lazy, or will show up late to everything, just because you know one or two Caribbean people who have those traits.
3. You’re from (country name)? Oh, what country is that in?
Can we just stop for a moment to say a silent prayer for all the geographically-challenged people in the world? Hey, we’re not expecting you to know exactly where Puerto Rico, Curacao, or Suriname are located. But at least knowing that they are countries and not cities or states would be nice.
4. Do you wash your hair?
Caribbean people have all kinds of hair types, because the region is a melting pot of many ethnicities. When you see a person sporting dreadlocks or braids, don’t assume this means they don’t wash their hair. The misconception that dreads are “dirty” came about when alternative groups in the US began to use them, evidently associating the “unwashed” hippy culture with this hairstyle.
So let’s just clear this up once and for all– the awesome hairstyles you’ll see many Caribbean people wear are part of their culture, and how many times they wash their locks are nobody’s business.
5. Are you Jamaican?
When Caribbean people move to other countries, their appearance or accents often cause people to mistakenly assume that they are Jamaican.
News flash: there are MANY Caribbean countries besides Jamaica. Instead of asking “are you Jamaican?”, why not just ask “Where are you from?”
6. Isn’t Dominica the same as the Dominican Republic?
Nope. It’s not. They are two very different countries. Again, it seems as though plenty of people need to brush up on their geography.
Same goes for confusing Barbados, Bermuda, and the Bahamas. They are separate countries. However, Trinidad & Tobago is ONE country. Turks & Caicos is one country as well.
Of course, no one is expecting you to have all the Caribbean countries and their capitals memorized. We’re just suggesting you know some very basic geography in order to save a Caribbean person from being asked this question for the forty-first time.
7. Ohhh… I bet you love spicy food!
Contrary to popular belief, super spicy food isn’t really a staple of Caribbean cuisine. Sure, there are some spicy dishes, and some of the hottest peppers in the world grow in the Caribbean. However, eating hot food daily just isn’t the norm.
8. Can ya make me some jerk chicken?
While we’re on the topic of food, let’s just clarify that jerk chicken is JAMAICAN. Not every Caribbean person is Jamaican! So, “no mon, I can’t make ya jerk chicken” is the irate answer you might receive if you unwittingly ask this question.
9. Do you know how to use a voodoo doll?
Thanks to voodoo dolls being turned into some sort of cutesy magical game, many people figure that they’re commonplace in the Caribbean and are used by many. This couldn’t be far from the truth. These dolls are not a common household item in Caribbean homes, nor is voodoo the official religion of the Caribbean. Many other religions are prevalent– Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism to name a few. Catholics and Christians currently make up the majority of the Caribbean population.
In fact, you may be surprised to know that voodoo dolls originated in Europe, not Africa or the Americas. The use of human effigies was linked to the Voodoo religion via books and films in popular Western culture.
10. Why do you have a European surname if you’re Caribbean?
Let us now switch from a geography lesson to one on history. Many people in the Caribbean have “European” sounding surnames because of colonialism and slavery. Unfortunately, many slaves were stripped of their traditional last names and were given those of their owners. This is why even today, common Caribbean surnames have English, Dutch, French, and Spanish origins.
Sure, it’s not a part of history that most people like to remember. But it’s the truth! However, there’s really no need to bring it up constantly.
Can you think of any more questions Caribbean people hate being asked? Let us know in the comment section below!
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