This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week three: Cultural Differences.
The thing that stood out the most for me is the clothes in Jamaica. Not that they are different than most American clothing, they are much the same. It is how it is perceived. We buy clothes because they look cute, some of us even buy used clothing or vintage clothes. We buy things often based on look or utility. Take for example Khaki pants, many of us in America love them. They have wonderful variety of pockets, they are typically loose but not sagging. They are durable yet lightweight. As a general rule, I have not seen many Jamaicans in Khaki pants here, unless it was part of a uniform. I also have not seen them running around in workout clothing or yoga pants. Rarely have I seen a Jamaican outside the beach in a bathing suit.
In America, at least where I am from, people would stop off at the grocery store, the pub or a restaurant after work in the same clothing they worked in. They commute home in their work clothes. Some even go out in public in Pajamas (a weird and very American thing)! No Jamaican does this. They have work clothes, yaad clothes, church clothes and road clothes. These very often do not overlap. Oh and the pickney or children (do not refer to their offspring as kids, that means goat here) have school uniforms. All but the yaad clothes (yard clothes) are always clean, tidy and pressed to perfection. The shoes are scrubbed and polished. You do not go on the road in yaad clothes, they are meant to clean the house and farm, not be seen in.
In many cases a specific uniform is expected of employees. Most banks, offices, and security companies have specific dress codes. As a consumer some governmental offices cannot be entered if you are not appropriately dressed. Sleeveless on women is unacceptable and they will not allow you to be inside the buildings. Even foreigners must adhere to these rules. Children can be sent home from school for not wearing an appropriately cleaned and pressed uniform and even grocery stores have a strict standard. At the lab there is a standard, but mostly on days when guests are expected. I had to buy shirts to do a couple of projects in the coming months to represent the lab.
Jamaicans as a general rule take pride in their appearance. They often leave labels and tags on their shoes, hats and clothing. Things I personally would find annoying and in the way, they value. Belts are also huge here. We wear them at home as well, but almost any pants that have belt loops here are going to have some type of belt attached. I used to find it odd that a vendor would come through the bus parks selling belts, they would have hundreds of them in their arms. Now I understand. The belts are a fashion accessory, not necessarily functional. On a side note, I can never just take a candid shot. Jamaicans insist on “posing” for every single photo. Unless I am not focusing on the person, I will have to wait for some hair adjusting, prepping and then a pose to take place, and then it might take 4 shots to get it approved. They tend to take the selfie trend to an entirely new level, or maybe I am just old and we did not have selfies back in the day and I can no longer be bothered with such things.
Another thing I found interesting was that men will wear almost any woman’s clothes minus a dress and tights. I have seen men in women’s pants, T-shirts and my favorite, sunhats! To them, apparently clothing are often unisex, or maybe I just misunderstand and they are actually men’s clothing, although I am certain the pink sunhats were intended for women. I have seen a few second-hand stores in Jamaica and several persons selling clothing on the side of the road under a tarp. But these are mostly current styles and in very good condition. I hear many times the ones on the roadside are trying to make money to pay school fees and for school uniforms. (That is just the rumor that I heard, the truth is unknown to me!)
In the end I realize that many of these things do happen in my own culture, but I am older and missed most of these trends. I only see them as an outsider and find them novel, when in fact they exist in a specific age group, or gender or demographic that I fall outside of.
I honestly think when I get home I will adapt a few of these ideas for myself. Things like cleaning my shoes weekly and keeping clothes separate for different activities might boost my spirits when I return. And if ever I miss Jamaica I might just buy some belts to show off!