When I first moved to the US, I noticed that many place names and map markings were British. They would often pop up in unexpected places, often with characters in stark contrast to the British places that I knew by the same name. Here in Jamaica its been a similar history lesson, not only of place names but also the appearance of British customs and language in day-to-day interactions. Jamaica was a British colony for over 300 years, so this is hardly surprising, but there are not many other remnants of British colonization, aside from old churches, ruins of old sugar mills and some former plantations. Most new construction developments are more American in style and Jamaica’s close proximity to the States means that much American culture has been absorbed in recent years. However pockets of British culture still preside. Here are a few I see:
British terminology: One our first day in Kingston a taxi cab that pulled up next to us: “licensed Hackney Cab,” it said. The low-riding, beaten up sedan was a far cry from the original Hackney Cabs that I knew from history class, which were Victorian horse-drawn cabs, but its easy to see why the name remains. Little British expressions like this crop up unexpectedly all the time.
Politeness: Driving on Jamaican streets can be pretty aggressive and there are plenty of bad drivers, especially the aforementioned, dreaded taxi cabs who we plan on avoiding by spotting their red licence plates from afar. But there is also an equal amount of generous, polite drivers who wait to let you out of a tricky intersection with a smile and a friendly wave forward. Graciousness counts here….as does formal politeness. Titles such as Mr. and Mrs. are still used frequently, and its considered very bad form to communicate without saying “Good Morning” and “How are you?” first.
The Royals: The Royal family have made frequent trips to Jamaica over the years, and nostalgic black and white photographs pop up around the island. There are churches, buildings and a few streets that bear their names, and most Jamaicans seem to generally feel positive about the Queen and Jamaica’s membership of the Commonwealth, now that she is no longer their patriarch.
All of this, of course, does not address so many terms and place names that are uniquely Jamaican: Burnt Ground, Grateful Hill, Lucky Valley, Sooky Gal, Retreat Beach and Bloody Bay, to name a few. What stories they must hold?!