Imagine walking into a meeting and co-workers greet you with a hearty “Good morning”. On the breakfast menu there is a “bread and two” option to go with your Bajan cherry juice and the window panels are drawn exposing a perfect blue sky and sunshine. Welcome to Barbados!
Barbados is a distinctive society with a strong national heritage. Popularly known for its easy-paced lifestyle and educated population, the cultural synthesis of the island is reflected in its food, festivals, music, language and unique people. The delicate habits of the country are influenced by West African and British cultures that were dominant more than two centuries ago and remain a part of the social fabric. The country is also a predominantly Christian society, rooted in Anglicanism and religion still has a prominent place in the country’s social development.
However, Barbadians (affectionately known as Bajans) have swapped some conservative English practices, including music and dress, for the more flamboyant North American genres and styles.
Global mobility is an undeniable reality and studies show that expatriates with a higher level of cultural intelligence are more likely to adjust successfully to a new culture.
Visiting Barbados as a tourist is very different from living on the island for an extended period. Here are some guidelines to aid an effective transition into the Barbadian culture – in business and in general life.
Understand your environment
Barbadians are known for being civil and well-mannered. Salutations such as “Good morning” or “Good evening” upon entering a space are expected. The opposite action may cause one to be branded as rude or disrespectful.
In a business environment, it is also important to pay attention to your tone of voice and eye contact. In your home country is it normal to speak loudly in the office? Most Barbadians respond positively to a more neutral, quieter approach. Loud speaking, while unintentional, may be received as embarrassing or harsh.
In Barbados, it is joked that there is “the set time” and then there is “Bajan time”. The latter assumes there is flexibility in the scheduled time to be less punctual and tend to be brushed aside as a natural way of life for Barbadians. Therefore, be very clear in your communication from the onset to avoid misunderstanding.
Meet new friends/network
Building a strong social network is highly valuable in a foreign country. It is said that while Barbadians are friendly, it is hard to connect or truly get to know them. This may cause expats to gravitate toward other expats or seclude themselves, which lead to loneliness or homesickness.
At the onset, locals can seem shy and not forthcoming with persons they don’t know. However, this is only until an element of trust has been established and they feel comfortable enough to share.
In order to reach that stage, first greet in the appropriate manner and be mindful of personal space while interacting. If approaching a Bajan for the first time, a handshake is an appropriate greeting for both sexes. Greetings such as kissing and hugging are normally saved for friends and family. Once social bonds have been formed, be bold in suggesting activities. Weekends are usually busy socially as locals tend to work hard during the week and enter into party moods from Friday night.
Get to know the differences in language
“Wha gine on?” in Bajan Dialect means “What are you doing/How are you?” This is a greeting often used by Bajans among friends. In relaxed settings, many Bajans speak the local dialect – a combination of British English and many West African tongues. However, at the office, Standard English is most appropriate.
At first it may be difficult to understand or feel overwhelming because of the Barbadian clipped tongue but as you embrace this part of the culture, it will become easier.
Embrace the adventure
Balance is essential when an expatriate has moved to a new country. Keeping in contact with persons back home and even maintaining some old traditions will be important. Nevertheless, you are on an adventure. This means creating new experiences and traditions so that the environment feels more like home.
Attending cultural events like Crop Over and Holetown Festival, and immersing in local activities will create fresh memories with new people. There is nothing like a dose of calypso and a shot of local rum with good company to put people in a good mood.
Joining groups and organisations where you are exposed to processes and varied environments also afford you the opportunity to learn something interesting, yet experience a sense of togetherness and shared goals.
Adjusting to a new culture, even in gorgeous Barbados, takes some time and effort but it can be the adventure of a lifetime. It isn’t necessary to adopt all the attitudes of the culture as balance with your own personal heritage is important. Nevertheless, the main keys to successful integration are being open-minded to new experiences, respecting the differences in the people and being sensitive to the country’s diverse culture.
Relocating to Barbados can prove to be one of your wisest decisions!