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**

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Good behaviour is something that Caribbean people think they invented, soon after Christopher Columbus put his dirty hands on the people in Africa (Europeans never wash their hands, you know) and dragged our ancestors off across the Atlantic, without even as much as a "Hello" or "Good morning." We have a term for it, "broughtupsy", which means good manners indicating that somebody has been brought up well. If it's absent, then you will hear expressions like "She na ha' no broughtupsy." For example, a woman knowing not to walk out in public wearing hair curlers; though we see nowadays that this can be a showing of 'modern' and 'fashionable' lifestyles.

For some people, the things that make up broughtupsy are not learnt but are innate in the gene structure. Bahamians have natural God-given broughtupsy, for instance, from what I have overheard. They know how to behave in every social setting, and the standards they set are actually impossible for other nations to follow. Unfortunately, there are not yet any Olympic events for this. For them, broughtupsy includes things like the number of baths to be taken in a day--no fewer than three (before leaving home, when returning home, and before bedtime). But if the day involves lots of activities, a Bahamian can be seen almost constantly in a bathrobe as he/she (especially females) traipses into the shower again and again to stay clean.

Bajans don't say that they have innate
broughtupsy, from what I have overheard. But if given the opportunity to offer instruction on how life should be led and how a 'decent pusson' should act, many Bajans give a free lesson in broughtupsy that comes with a long, haughty lecture, a Podcast, a brochure with pop-up images of broughtupsy, a three-page test, a haircut, and directions to the airport if you feel all of this is too much and you need to 'go back to whe' yu did come from'.

The story below, which I read on the Internet today, is a perfect example of how people elsewhere in the Caribbean regard good public behaviour:

We were at a restaurant in St. Lucia called the "Nut hut" and the gentleman sitting at the next table let out some body gas. Needless to say, my wife didn't like it and we demanded our meal for free. Unfortunately the manager of the restaurant was not willing to comply, so we left without eating.

To the writer, that was of course the obviously correct reaction. Really! Some people are just disgusting.

Caribbean people think that almost all English people are dirty and have no broughtupsy, and feel vindicated when they observe the often offensive behaviour of the Brit on the loose as a tourist. This is one of the reasons why once the Brits taught West Indians cricket they were doomed to fall to us as we knew how to be gentlemen, whereas they thought that it was enough to just talk properly. Australians have broughtupsy in reverse, especially on the sports field, which is why having been taught cricket by the English they then added their own downunder-with-beer splash to it and are often regarded as boorish on the cricket field.

When I was growing up as boy in Jamaica I remember visiting 'country' (rural areas). There, broughtupsy meant a man helping his lady onto the donkey before he got on it, and then putting the sugar cane and other farming tools in front with him, not in her lap. It meant a woman knowing when to wear a hat: a man cannot figure that out on his own so he always wore one to be safe. It meant knowing that for any event other than a day in the field you had to wear a suit, white shirt, and tie, with shiny shoes (that stayed that way, no matter how far you had to walk). It meant knowing not to pick our teeth at the dining table. It meant knowing at night time to not pee directly into the 'po' (the metal pail), but to put some water in it first, so that the noise was lessened, and also to put it back under the bed, not leave it in the middle of the floor for others to fall over. A lot of stuff. Back then, children did not have time to be bored because Nintendo had not been invented; they had to brush up on their manners constantly.

In later life, lessons in broughtupsy came in different forms. If you are like me, a father of a girl, who does not know how to plait hair, you might have had a few lessons in broughtupsy right there in the supermarket, for instance. Someone (a black woman) saw your daughter's hair, brushed back (as you would like to call it), with a few poorly tied ribbons and mismatching hair grips that looked cute (to you maybe). With barely a breath, the child was probably whisked away into a corner with a "Good God, man! You no' know how fi do gal pickney hair?" Then with the speed of a magician's hands, your daughter's head would be unbraided and replaited while you got on with the grocery shopping. By the time the goods were paid for there was the daughter with a head parted like a field that had been laid out with ruler-like precision, symmetrical plaits, matching ribbons, and not a wisp of hair out of place. As she was deposited back into your care, you got the calling card for the next visit: "You is a real wutless cruff. How you could shame de chil' so? If me eva see dis chil' head so chaka-chaka, mi go' gi' you one hoof inna you behin'." Of course, you said "Thanks, and have a nice day, too."

If you think all of this is a joke, try going to a store in Barbados or Jamaica and getting service if you have not greeted the server, with a "Good day". You will hear sucking of teeth; see eyes rolling and directed to anywhere other than where you are standing; witness nails continuing to be cleaned or painted; lunch will continued to be chewed, including bones sucked hard and spat back into the lunch box. Then, if you realise what is going on and utter a belated "Good morning"--clearly unlikely, but I'll mention it--all will change before your eyes. The rollers will come out of the server's hair and she will fix up her hair good and proper. She will beg your excuse for not seeing you were there waiting so patiently, lick the barbeque sauce off her fingers, and then proceed to check your goods and engage you in the sweetest of sweet talk. You may even get a marriage proposal at the end.

So, manners are really important. Teach your children well.

1 comment:

Jdid said...

boy some a dem store people you could say good morning, good evening and good night and they still gine push up their face like you begging something from them.

i went in a store in a mall in bridgetown in june when i was home, i dont want to name names but i was looking for a particular item an the girl sitting there slurping a drink behind de counter. i say excuse me do you carry such an such an item. use me best english too. the woman look at me an laugh and make a joke off me. serious question i ask ya kno, i looking for this item for a serious purpose an de woman juss laff at me and carry on she business.

no broughtupsy at all!