How to spot a Jamaican


It seems clear to me that Jamaicans are such a distinctive breed that one should be able to spot them anywhere.  Though we may resemble other persons of African descent, Jamaicans (Jamaicanus Cantankerous is the Latin name for the species) are easy to pick out if you know what to look for. But if you have a particular interest in Jamaicans and are finding it difficult to spot them outside of their “natural habitat” (Jamaica) here are a few pointers for spotting Jamaicans in the “wild”.

The first thing to do is to look for the obvious clues.  If you’re on a New York subway going out for a late-evening drink, it should be obvious that the Jamaican in the crowd is the young lady with the low cut blouse who has covered her entire chest, from cleavage to neck, with baby powder.

And if you’re on a street in Brixton and spot a lad strolling confidently down the street in a knee-length, red, green and gold mesh marina, with nothing but his scrawny, bare chest under it, then this gentleman is quite likely a Jamaican. Similarly, if you spot a man, anywhere in the world, with a white rag wrapped up and stuffed into his back pocket (where a person of any other nationality would have placed a handkerchief) then this person is a Jamaican. No question.

But these are the obvious physical clues.  To conclusively identify a Jamaican one needs to be acquainted with the more common behavioural traits of the species.

But before we discuss these behavioural traits, a few words of advice. If you are going “Jamaican-spotting” please do so from a distance. Jamaicans do not like being followed or being stared at. Please also note that you risk a violent confrontation if you approach a Jamaican suddenly. We don’t like being surprised. As far as we are concerned, only a duppy or a gunman would approach an innocent person without warning. Finally, we would be grateful if you avoid sharing these tips on Jamaican-spotting with members of the FBI, DEA or US Customs/Immigration. Jamaicans living abroad have enough problems as it is.

Now we can return to our discussion of those peculiar habits and behaviours that set Jamaicans apart…

If you spot an elderly lady at the Airport check-in counter in Cayman, with a suitcase the size of a fridge, which she has just “discovered” is 40 pounds overweight, then it’s possible that this lady is Jamaican. If she opens the suitcase to reveal large quantities of cornflakes, cooking oil and flour then she is most likely a Jamaican.  If she tries to persuade you to carry her excess baggage to Jamaica in your luggage then she is definitely Jamaican.

If you’re sitting in a pub in London a few weeks before Christmas and you spot a middle-aged gentleman standing in front of a television camera sending “greetings” to Aunt Maude and Uncle Ferdie in Chalky Hill, then the good gentleman is doubtlessly a Jamaican.  Please buy him a white rum when he’s through.

Another easy way to identify a Jamaican is to observe the person when they are angry. (Now, let’s be clear here. We suggest you watch them when they are angry.  We don’t suggest that you make them angry.) A Jamaican, when angered, will invariably launch into an extended verbal tirade. Such tirades have been known to last for as long as 45 minutes, during which time the Jamaican will not pause to take a breath, will not let you respond and every other word will end with “claat”. (There are approximately 317 versions of “claat” so don’t be surprised if he never repeats himself even once). This outburst may also be accompanied by frequent beating of the chest, “lapping of the frocktail” and frequent requests that onlookers “hol’ mi back before mi do ‘im supm”. (i.e. Restrain me before I do some serious bodily harm)

Please also note that it is not unknown for Jamaicans, when irate, to resort to violence. So, as fascinating as it may be to watch, we don’t suggest that you stay to observe the outburst. Having established that your subject is Jamaican we suggest that you leave the scene with as much haste as you can possibly manage. Collateral damage is not an uncommon occurrence when a Jamaican “kick-off” with somebody.

Another approach to Jamaican-spotting is to observe the habitat of the individual you suspect to be Jamaican.  If you are lucky enough to gain access to the home of a Jamaican (known as his “ends” or “yaad”) you may find that the furniture (five years after it was purchased) is still covered in plastic. Similarly, the carpet on the floor may be covered by plastic walkways and there may well be a cabinet or “break-front” filled with enough cheap crystal, bric-a-brac and china to completely outfit a duty-free store in Montego Bay. If this is the case, you could very well be standing in the dwelling of a bona fide Jamaican. Congratulations.

But how can we be sure that this is the home of a real Jamaican? If you notice that the home has a backyard the size of a welcome mat, despite which, every inch of same has been planted with callaloo, yam, banana and gungo peas then this could be the home of a Jamaican. It might be noted that an authentic Jamaican, being of a naturally hospitable and friendly disposition, will very likely invite any visitor to his home to stay for dinner so that he can taste the produce of the “farm”.  That visitor should make very sure his stomach is empty. His Jamaican host will ply him with large quantities of rice and peas, fricasseed chicken, and boiled ground provisions and will deeply offended if his guest doesn’t eat every morsel thereof. That guest need not be ashamed to ask for seconds. For a Jamaican this is just proof of the quality of the meal and will certainly bring a smile to his face. On the departure of the guest, you may notice that his host will insist that he take a little callaloo, a few pounds of yam and a hand of bananas with him. If you observe this happening then you have definitely found the genuine article – a “real-real” Jamaican.

As you continue to observe your Jamaican you will discover other traits. Jamaicans are the kind of people who, after living in a foreign country for only three weeks, can tell you exactly where to buy a tin of Milo, a bottle of Grace Tomato ketchup and a good draw of weed; all within three blocks of the spot on which you are standing. That same fellow will live in “farin” for the next 60 years and, having reached the age of 92 and having raised his children and grandchildren there, will tell you with absolute sincerity that he is going back home “next year”. And when he gets home he plans to retire to a little cottage in Clarendon in the backyard of which he plans to grow… You guessed it… callaloo, yam, banana and gungo peas.