People and Culture in Jamaica

Jamaica has long been a jewel in the Caribbean tourism industry crown, but there’s far more to discover than just beaches and all-inclusive resorts.

Read more

Remember how your parents used to tell you to keep your elbows off the table during meals? Or that it’s rude to slurp your soup? Well there’s good news guys, these American cultures and customs don’t always translate to other countries! While the local people you meet won’t expect you to be fluent in their language, culture and customs, it is important to familiarize yourself with them. Curious what good manners and habits of ours may be considered rude in other countries? Read this article!

Here is some basic information about Jamaican customs and traditions to get you started!

jamaican flag

The Jamaican National Flag was first raised on Independence Day, August 6, 1962, and signifies the birth of the independent nation. The colours of the flag symbolize the shining of the sun (yellow), the lushness of the land (green), and the strength and creativity of the people (black).

English is the official language of Jamaica. However, Patois (Creole), a combination of English and some African languages, is spoken island-wide. Most Jamaicans can speak or understand Patois. Jamaican speech has a distinctive rhythmic and melodic characteristic.  Watch the video below for a Jamaican Patois 101 introduction!

“You don’t speak Jamaican. What you do is speak Jamaican Patois, or with a Jamaican accent!” 

Think you can master some basic Jamaican Patois greetings?

Greetings & Communication in Jamaica:
  • People are addressed by their honorific title (Mr., Mrs., or Miss) and their surname until a personal relationship has developed. It’s recommended that you use titles when addressing people that you don’t know or don’t know well.
  • The most common greeting is the handshake with direct eye contact, and a warm smile.
  • “Good morning”, “good afternoon”, or “good evening” are the most appropriate salutations for the relevant time of day.
  • Once a friendship has been established, women may hug and kiss on each cheek.
  • Men often pat each other’s shoulder or arm during the greeting process or while conversing. Some greet with their fists (called a “ding”) or elbows. A “half-hug” is sometimes seen.
  • An invitation must be extended before using someone’s first name.
  • As your friendship deepens, you may be asked to call the person by a nickname.

Read more about cultural norms for making conversation here! While this article compares intercultural communication between Canadians and Jamaicans, you’ll be able to find similarities that relate to the U.S.


Religion is fundamental to Jamaican life, which can be seen in the references to Biblical events in everyday speech. The island has the highest number of churches per capita in the world and more than 100 different Christian denominations! Most Jamaicans are Christians, and the largest denominations are the Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Brethren and Roman Catholics.

Rastafarians believe they are one of the lost tribes of Israel who were sold into slavery and taken to Babylon (Jamaica) and that they must return to Zion, which they hold to be Ethiopia. The movement does not have organized congregations, it does not have a paid clergy, and it doesn’t have a written doctrine.

Sense of Time

One of the most importants facts about Jamaica is the concept of time. Culturally, Jamaica tends to be a place where punctuality is notoriously laid back.  This can mean a delay for events, appointments and life in general! You may hear the term, “Jamaica Time”, which means anything from 10 to 50 minutes or so after the appointed time (within 10 minutes is considered punctual).

All in all, the most important thing to remember while you’re abroad is that things will be different. But, different doesn’t mean wrong. Be open, be curious, and read more about the culture you will be stepping into. Get excited about LIVING the culture of your destination, and what you’ve only read about until now!