I’ve had the privilege of working in depth in the 3 major English speaking Caribbean countries. When I say “in-depth” I mean to say that I’ve led personal transformation courses in companies in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados.
Before leading those courses, however, travelling to Trinidad and Barbados taught me a great deal about myself, and about the people from my own country — Jamaica. As a Yardie, I’ve learned a lot from visiting and working with these cultures that are somewhat like my own, but not exactly the same (more than I’ve learned from working for years in the U.S.)
From Bajans and Trinis I’ve learned that we Jamaicans are an aggressive, assertive bunch of people. We speak out much more, we put up with very little, we argue, fight, create conflict, curse, shout and resist at every opportunity. They look at us in amazement… where did we get all that “fight” from?
Our industrial relations and politics look to them like all out war, and our crime levels look nothing short of barbaric. They shake their head in amazement, and fascination, because they love our culture… our music, our nerve, our rastafarianism — a religion that did not exist before the 1920’s.
In the workplace, Jamaicans are either the rebels (the type who always get elected to union leadership) or the innovators (the ones who head up the creative teams that have the courage to think really big.)
To Bajans (Barbadians), we look something like them, and nothing like them — at the same time. I remember travelling to Barbados for the first time, and asking a colleague of mine how often Bajans have strikes. He told me that the last time they had a strike was in 1960 something.
By contrast, in Jamaica, we have (it seems) weekly industrial strikes, and a full-blown riot every 2-3 years or so (which have an annoying way of making international headlines that strike Jamaicans as a case of exaggerated news coverage.)
As a Jamaican visiting Barbados I’m shocked at how civilized the place is, and the people are. Politeness is the order of the day. In Barbados, when there’s an accident, the cars stop in the middle of the road, in situ. The cars remain in place until the police arrive.
In Jamaica, the same behaviour would elicit very, very loud cursing, aimed at the drivers of the cars in the accident, who would be told about their body parts, clothing, sexual preferences and types of behaviour they should be engaging in instead of driving.
Why the difference? That’s for another time, and another discussion.
Bajans are very, very well educated. Much more than Jamaicans. In fact, they are so well educated that they know better than to speak up in group settings… or at least, they know how to follow what they’ve been trained to do, which is to keep quiet in public settings, and they know when other Bajans expect them to be polite.
We Jamaicans seem to revel in being rebels, by contrast.
When I lead transformation courses, it was not an unusual thing to ask a question of a group of Bajans only to be met with a quiet, but thoughtful, silence. I could wait 5 minutes in silence easily before having someone answer… Courses were invariably conducted in a kind of quiet, classroom atmosphere.
The exact same courses conducted in Jamaica, were noisy affairs, with a constant effort needed to cut side conversations, and to ask participants to respect each other’s contributions. It was a little like trying to speak to teenagers brimming with energy — an energy that could either be expressed as action, or disruption.
Bajans and Jamaicans share some important features — majority black Christian populations, a long heritage of British colonialism and a certain conservatism found in mostly the rural areas.
To Trinidadians, in particular, Jamaica has some of the love of life that they live for. We seem deadly serious to them — MUCH too serious. We show an anger that is not just acting or what they call “mama-guy.”
Whereas it seems to me that we Jamaicans know how to enjoy life by doing interesting things and going to interesting places, Trinis know how to enjoy each other… i.e. to lime. In Jamaica, the word “lime” doesn’t exist for those of us who don’t have extensive exposure to Trinis. (Or is it “lyme?”)
Trinis are the real socialites — they know how to stir things up to get a laugh, and then how to bring them back down so that all the tension can go away when “we go out and have some drinks later.” The danger, from a Jamaican point of view, is that nothing gets taken seriously, and everything is just too easily… negotiable with a smile and a laugh.
In courses with Trinis, there are more jokes-per-hour than anywhere else, and more humor and general good feelings, and a real sense of comaraderie. That humor can also be used to undermine as only cutting humour can.
In the workplace, Trinis are the easiest to be around and to be on teams with.
A CEO of a cross-Caribbean conglomerate said the following:
If you want the idea and the vision for a new business, ask a Jamaican. If you want someone to work with a team to take the vision from just words into something the team would call a success after working hard for months or years, ask a Trini. If you want someone to run the company after it becomes stable, ask a Bajan.
There’s some truth to that…
P.S. This 2005 point of view was updated with two studies we have performed since then: The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica (2007) and The Jamaican Professional in Trinidad (2016) were published after a series of interviews and surveys, plus personal experiences in both countries.