Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, December 08, 2007


I am back in Jamaica and within moments I am struck again by how a country that is supposedly so poor has a rich vein running through it. Jamaicans are often known to be generous in spirit, and they can be generous in kind. One of our endearing characteristics is for a seller to give something extra to a buyer, what is called "brawta". Webster's online dictionary definites it as "a gift", "above extra", or "bonus". I have played with this notion in Barbados, and found that it's viewed as alien within the business areas that I have encountered. But in Jamaica it is as common as air. Go to the market and you wont be surprised to find some small token added to the basket, whether it's noticeably more than you ordered, or some fruit added to go with the vegetables. But it happens in stores too. The discount is often the brawta, whether this is 5 percent or more. It could also be a bag of sweets for the child accompanying its parents. The point is you get something for spending your money.

Brawta is not the same as the buyer getting something extra from the seller when there is haggling, or bargaining over the price. Brawta comes without any demand being made, but is a sign of appreciating the customer. I have come across it during my time in north and west Africa and I have also seen it in Europe (most notably in rural areas, but it exists in London markets too).

I have come across some form of the notion in Barbados, at least with some workers at the house where I live, who have brought mangoes, limes or starapples and left them in the kitchen, or who have done other jobs not at all related to their real tasks. But in the tourism business in Barbados it does not seem to strike much of a welcome chord.

Whatever brawta does to the bottom line is often more than recovered by the building of customer loyalty and a willingness to recommend a seller (hotel or restaurant). Tourism offers potentially great opportunities for brawta and I am convinced that it could do wonders for business. Boutique hotels or very small restaurants that I have visited in many countries--who have to do something different than just live off volume--have often shown an understanding that a client is likely to be a return visitor because of the way he/she is treated. The little extras are always remembered, whether it is the complimentary drink on arrival, a vase of fresh flowers each day, a bowl of fruit, the turndown service, free coffee, or being greeted by name. But larger hotel chains (eg some of the Marriott chain) have seen that occupancy rates can be kept high by not gouging visitors to pay for every item and offering something for free--breakfast and internet access are two common examples. So far my experiences in Barbados have not shown me that this is a part of the model being promoted.

If everyone likes a little something extra then you would think that it would not be hard to offer that. Maybe I am missing something.


zanne said...

I have experienced what you are describing only a few times here in BB-- but for the most part in unestablished businesses, for example at the vegetable market, and with small vendors. I don't even think that the bartenders here are authorized to buy you a drink! That has never happened to me!In NYC "buy backs" are fairly common, ie., you buy 2 drinks and the house gives you the 3rd.

On a more formalized level we are enrolled in the Carter's reward scheme, and of course the Magna Card-- based on our purchases at Carter's I have been rewarded with quite a few seedlings. Also, not to plug Carter's, but they have been having 10% of storewide with almost no exceptions which is a nice bonus.

A little "Brawta" would go a long way here...you are quite right about that.

Chennette said...

I noticed this practice in Turkey - every place you bought something would give you a little extra souvenir. I thought it was most likely the tourist thing (they even did it in the airport tourist shop) but clearly a regular and fixed practice. We get that in T&T in the markets etc, maybe not as a rule, but for regular customers, visitors, for a nice conversation... And in some stores too, but again, more for regulars and the spontaneity more linked to places where the owner is giving you these gifts.

Lifespan of a Chennette

BarbadosInFocus / PictureInFocus said...

There is an old woman vendor along Roebuck Street as you approach Swan Street in Barbados. I have never argued or bartered the price of her goods. For one, I am surely not going to pick many of the fruit she carries, so why fuss.

Always, she gives me something extra. Maybe it is just with me. Sometimes she has change for me and I often tell her, no change necessary.

Also, in Abergavenny, one of the loveliest places in Wales, I find the market folk are nice and want to give you more for your money.

titilayo (www.gallimaufry.ws) said...

The lady that I buy my fish cutters and coconut punch from taking a couple weeks of holiday for the season. As a Christmas present, she gave me a free lunch today. I immediately thought of this post!

BarbadosInFocus / PictureInFocus said...

Titilayo, now that was kind of her. See, there is always some good somewhere.