The mixture of African, East Indian, French and British influences has left an interesting mixture seen in the folklore, dialect, music and general way of life.
Agriculture and industry
The majority of Grenadians are employed in agriculture whether as small farmers or estate workers. The main export crops are cocoa, nutmeg and mace. The banana industry has ground to a halt due to outside pressures. Since hurricanes Ivan and Emily, more hurricane resistant nutmeg trees have been introduced. A solar-powered chocolate factory has been developed and is in operation in the north of the island. There have been moves to diversify into other kinds of fruit and vegetables and tropical flowers. Genetically-engineered crops have been introduced in the last few years by the U.S. and China, but most people still plant in the traditional way. There have been some encouraging strides in agro-processing and production of juices and health products, which was originally started in the Revolution but was dismantled immediately after. There is very little industry in Grenada, however, there is some assembly work, data processing and garment manufacture. The government is keen to improve the nation’s skills in computer literacy and information technology.
Tourism as an industry is growing more and more. The majority of the hotels are small-scale and locally-owned but now there are a few larger hotels and there are many more projects being planned, especially all-inclusive resorts. Many of these are foreign-owned. Carriacou has mainly small guest houses and secluded intimate resorts and Petite Martinique has been barely touched by tourism.
Dialect and Folklore
Grenadian people speak Standard English, Grenadian English and a French African patois. Only the older people speak French patios and it has nearly died out. You are most likely to come across it in the rural areas. Grenadian dialect also has many French words. Puzzled by some grammar? If you know any French and you translate it directly then you might be able to understand it better. Some of the pronounciation of French words is from 200 years ago and even some of the English dates from Shakespearian times. Some of our hosts also speak foreign languages.
Grenadian people speak a particular dialect of English, which differs from Standard English in both grammar and vocabulary. Because of the historical background of the country, many of the differences are due to the influence of the French language. There are French and French-derived words and phrases that pepper the dialect, often with words pronounced in the way there were hundreds of years ago. There are old English words still used that have since changed their meaning in other English-speaking areas, such as the use of ‘hand’ and ‘foot’ for the whole of the arm or leg. You may even hear words from Shakespearian times, like ‘sot’! There are a few words and grammatical structures that remain from the different African languages that were spoken, such as Twi. Often there will be three verbs in one sentence, and singular nouns are used in place of plurals. Dialect varies according to social class, age, and geographical location.
Most people also speak Standard English, and will most likely use it to address you as a foreigner. When speaking with each other, they will use dialect, which may have you feeling a little lost until you tune in! Because of this, when people read Standard English from a book, they may sound a little stilted, as the words do not reflect their natural cadence. Although the general level of literacy is high, be aware that not everyone is fully or confidently literate, so be sensitive to any reluctance or hesitation, if you are giving them written information, or asking them to write something down for you. The most common learning style is imitation in a holistic manner, rather than breaking everything down to its elements in order to build it back up again. The Caribbean countries inherited a strong oral tradition, where history is handed down from generation to generation. Storytelling is an art form, shown in the drama inherent in passing on a piece of gossip!
Grenada, and especially Carriacou is full of folklore. Many of the traditional customs are dying out, thanks to TV and more recently Cable TV but if you are lucky you may catch a moonlit cook-up with storytelling of Anancy the spider trickster (from West Africa) and tales of the ‘La Diablesse’ (devil-woman), Ligaroo (Loupgaroux means werewolf in French) and many other supernatural events and characters.
- Greetings – Grenadian people like their greetings. You will get a much better response if you preface an initial enquiry with a cheerful and polite “Good morning”, “Good day”, etc. When you pass someone on the street, it is considered polite to greet them, or at least nod your head in recognition. You may find some people saying “Okay”, “Alright” or simply “Yeah”, in way of acknowledgement. If you are about to enter someone’s home, you are expected to call out their name or simply “Hello” or “Good morning” etc., when you are within earshot. If someone has a gate, it would normally be considerate to wait outside the gate and call and then be asked inside. There are no doorbells in Grenada!
- Courtesy – “Please” and “Thank you” are always appreciated.
- Diplomacy – People are quite open and frank about certain matters, and very diplomatic and discreet about others. There is a certain reticence about sharing personal matters with a stranger, and questions about someone’s profession or family life are not generally used as ice breakers in a social setting. You are better off asking questions about more impersonal topics. If someone wants to look as if they are paying you proper attention they will have a serious face rather than a smile. On the other hand, Caribbean people use humour to rise above difficult and sad times.
- Photographs – Do not take photographs of people because you think they look interesting, with no regard for whether the person would like to end up in your photo album. You should always ask permission, and let people know if you intend to use their images on the internet.
- Clothing – Revealing clothing, like very short ‘hot pants’ and swimwear is not tolerated in public areas like shops and banks. Local people appreciate neatness and cleanliness when it comes to dressing, and you will be respected more if your clothes are clean and ironed neatly. Before entering someone’s home, notice if shoes are taken off before entering or worn inside the house. It is best to copy the example left for you, though if the person is being especially polite, they will tell you not to bother. Grenadian people have two wardrobes, ‘home clothes’ and ‘going out clothes’. Church goers wear suits and ties and glamorous dresses. Pre-teen and teenage girls are encouraged to dress modestly – hence the three quarter length school skirts. There are no nude beaches, and topless bathing is frowned upon.
- Cleanliness- As they say here ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness.’ The passion for good hygiene extends to good bodily hygiene and the regular washing of hands. You would be looked at rather askew if you did not wash your hands before picking up a baby, or taking something to eat. In the same vein, do not be offended if a local person does not accept your gift of food or drink, especially if it is home-cooked. They would have to know you fairly well to feel comfortable doing this. If someone says they are ‘good’, or ‘alright’ that means they have had enough or they don’t want any. There is a high premium placed on perfectly washed dishes! When you have finished drinking from a glass, your host will take your glass from you, or you can offer it up to them to take away, rather than placing it down on a floor.
- Touching – Shaking hands is acceptable. Unless you know someone very well, slapping or patting them on the back or shoulder is not taken for the friendly message that it might be intended to be. Parents will not appreciate you patting their children on the head or touching them in any way, unless you have got to know them fairly well. Men and women do not normally kiss when meeting, and public displays of affection are uncommon. Men and women often voluntarily segregate in social settings. Homosexuality is still illegal and not generally accepted, so obvious displays of affection between same-sex couples are not suggested.
Health – One enduring attitude to the prevention of ailments refers to the careful sequencing of touching hot and cold objects. If someone has been ironing or cooking for instance, they are loath to place their hands in a fridge or cold water immediately after. Tasks are deliberately sequenced or spaced to avoid this. There is a vast repository of knowledge pertaining to what is locally referred to as ‘bush’ or herbal medicine. Especially in rural areas and amongst the older generation, herbal medicine is the first choice of those with minor ailments.
Psychology – Although no longer a coherent system constituting a religion, strands of West African religious thought and practice have remained, and this means that the cause of a misfortune or illness is sometimes perceived to result from the malevolence of a victim’s enemy.
Preventing the embarrassment of others
Concepts of time and ‘saving face’ – “Anytime” is “Caribbean time”. People have a flexible attitude to time. Someone might tell you they are going to be there at 2 o’clock, and that could easily become 4 o’clock. To prevent impatience and a certain sense of bewilderment, you are advised not to worry if someone says they are coming, and they don’t show up at all. Sometimes the person has genuinely been held up or called away, and will spontaneously turn up at another time. At times, however, when the arrangement was made, the other party may have enthusiastically agreed, but had no intention of coming. They may have felt embarrassed or awkward to be seen to saying no to a request, and to save face, they may have agreed with no intention of following through.
Keeping confidences and ‘people’s business’ – If you inspire a certain level of trust, people may share confidential information about their personal affairs with you. They may consider certain pieces of information fairly private, and would be upset to hear you sharing that information with others in their community. This could be something that you would expect them to have already shared with others, but this may not be the case. People are especially private about their financial affairs.
Clothes – Generally people do not like to be seen accepting second-hand objects, especially clothes. If you make a donation of second-hand clothes, the more discreet you are in the distribution, the better. It is not common practice for people to borrow clothes from one another.
Bags – Grenadian people do not carry objects, like groceries, in their hands. Be aware that most people are private about what they buy, and prefer to put purchases or gifts in opaque bags, away from inquisitive eyes. When giving someone a gift, it is appreciated if you give it to them in a clean, opaque bag.
Arguing- Diplomacy aside, raised voices are not uncommon. People are fairly uninhibited in many ways, including expressing feelings in a discussion or misunderstanding. You may observe people shouting loudly at each other, but it often seems much worse than it actually is. The dispute often dies down pretty quickly and once people have got things off their chest, they continue as before. Conversely, there is a strong tradition of ‘the silent treatment’ of a person who is considered to have treated you badly or unfairly. This may be resolved, or may run into the next generation!
Attitude to animals – Compared to what you may be used to, you may find that the attitude to animals is harsh and uncaring. Dogs are often used as guard dogs, rather than pets, which means that they may be chained up most of the time. The majority of dogs and cats are unspayed, with the resulting problem of numerous stray animals eking out a meagre existence. If you want to make any inroads here in terms of education, efforts must always be made in a respectful and calm manner, without creating embarrassment. There is a great fear of snakes, but there are no poisonous snakes in Grenada. The hunting of ‘wild meat’ is common, such as iguanas and manicou (opposums), even though some of these animals are endangered.
Children and the Family – Grenada has a very youthful population. Children are generally cherished and welcome in most social events. However, children in a family are expected to pull their weight and help with the household chores, light shopping etc. They are expected to be polite and obedient to their elders, and disciplining of children is considered to be a community, not just a family, affair. Discipline is authoritarian and often involves the use of corporal punishment, both at school and at home. The extended family structure is still the norm, often with female headed households, due to absent fathers. Most young people live at home with their parents for a long time, whether they have children or their own or not.
Women – it is fairly unusual to see women smoking or drinking large quantities of alcohol. Women entering a rum shop should be aware that this is traditionally a men’s preserve, although the owner may be a woman. You may see women of the older generation with a pipe. Men call out to women on the street with various epithets of affection. This is not meant to offend, but you would be advised to ignore it if you don’t want to attract further attention. Men make a hissing noise, called ‘soupsing’, which is another way of expressing interest, and trying to attract attention! People of the opposite sex do not converse as much as in other countries, and you will find that women are generally expected to spend time in other women’s company, and the same for men.