Tag Archives: culture

Long term cultural differences and anticipating the assumed obvious

17 May

After three years (what the hell when did that happen?!) in Guadeloupe, I’ve become accustomed to many things I was definitely struggling with in the beginning.  There are some mannerisms woven into the culture here that I’ll just never get used to. When I was little, there was this ‘joke’ we all thought was sooo funny. Why? We were kids, so of course we thought it was funny because it was annoying.  It goes like this:

I ask you, “Do you know what time it is?”

You answer, “Yes.”

I am obliged to say, “Can you tell me what time it is?”

You answer, “Yes.”

I have to think a little and then ask you, “Will you tell me what time it is please?”

Then you tell me.

That feeling of exasperation in anticipation of what you think is the obvious is something I can’t shake here, in terms of certain interactions. I go to the bank because my ATM card is expired. I say that I have not received my new one in the mail. (As everyone assured me I would, and that mon dieu there must be a problem and il faut le regler tout de suite.)

The nice young lady says, “Oh? When did it expire?”

I am thinking: Does that matter? It’s expired. Shit. Maybe I did that thing where I read the dates backwards because the French write them day first, or is it month first. Shit. Maybe I’m wrong.

I say,”Fin Avril 2012″.

She takes my card. She reads it. She keeps an absolutely blank expression. Stone. She says, “It’s here, your card.”

I say, “Does it normally get mailed to the home address?”

She answers, “No, no it’s here. Your card is here.”

Me: “Oui, that’s very good, mais normalement is it sent to my house, or do I just know to come get it here next time?”

Her: “Oui, Oui, it’s here.”


I take my card and thank her, and ask how I activate it, because I know she won’t tell me. That’s something I would expect elsewhere, but not here. If you want to know, you need to ask. Especially when you think you shouldn’t have to ask, you’d better frickin’ ask.

“You need to use it in a distributeur and enter your code or it won’t work. Don’t try and go use it in a store if you haven’t done that because it won’t work.”

I go right outside the bank to the distributeur, which is, of course, broken. I go back inside. Does she have a list of distributeurs that I could look at since this one is broken, and was also broken one week ago when I came by and nobody including myself noticed that my card was expired and that was why it had been denied in a number of stores making my day very difficult?

“Uh…there’s one in Le Moule (far) and in Grand Camp (so much traffic, such a small place, dense, confusing) and uh…”

Will the distributeur here be fixed soon?

“….ouehhhhh…..bien sure…….j’imagine…..”

Sigh. I forgot to ask if she couldn’t just activate it using her handy computer. That’s the thing. It’s probably entirely possible. Even easy to do. But if I don’t ask, I’ll never, ever know.


Ignore that last ‘Doh!’ of a post (new features confuse me)….How to Communicate in Guadeloupe without speaking French or Creole

28 Dec

I recently read this great post about non-verbal communication by an ExPat named Russel V J Ward.  This sparked my memory regarding some local communication skills I’ve noticed. Some I’ve mastered. Others, not so much. For quite some time I’ve thought I should try to explain them and that piece was just the kick in the pants I needed to get moving. Thanks, Russel.

There is no way to cover all of the non verbal communication in one post. You’ll likely be bearing more about it. I’ll start with a few of the things I notice most often…

Non verbal communication in Guadeloupe, type: Movements used to get around – crossing the street.  A full description of this would be: Crossing the street in such a way that you seem to be entirely unafraid of being hit by the cars that you see, and yet oblivious to the cars at the same time.

How to do it: Stand at the side of a busy road. Do not look into oncoming traffic. Look across the road, at something interesting, or pretend there is something interesting.  Step without hesitating into the road, making the distance between you and the passing traffic very small. Scary small. At the same time, hold out your left hand in a position we Americans fondly know as the ‘talk to the hand’. Keep it cool though, low, never above the waist, although flat, like talk to the hand. Good. With your other hand you may a)talk on your phone, b)hold a small child (please note this does not necessarily increase your chances of crossing safely) or c) casually rub your nose or other part of your face to seem casual. Now, just cross. It’s all in the hand motion combined with the casualness/oblivious that you project. Everyone will know what you are talking about.

Non verbal communication in Guadeloupe, type: movements to show your driving style – hand out the window.

I have noticed, and I beg anyone to differ, that the amount of arm hanging out of a car window directly correlates to the slowness of the driver. If I am driving behind someone with their hand out the window, it’s a slight warning. They may wave to people as they pass. I don’t believe they really know these people, but it’s more of a local past time. If I am behind someone with an entire arm out the window, this is trouble. The entire arm out the window signifies a few things. For one, you’re local, so you probably do know everyone you pass on the road. For another, you have all the time in the world to get where you are going and you will not only wave at people but stop your car in the middle of the road during the busiest time of the day to have five to seven minute conversations with drivers on the other side of the road who are also hanging their entire arm out the window. You, my good sir, make the Boston in me come out. The no R Boston who uses lots of swear words. You bother me. In any case, that’s the arm move. If you want people behind you on the road to know what to expect, choose your length of exposed arm wisely.

Those are some handy ones. We’ll move onto eye contact at a later date because that one’s a subtle one. Not for beginners. It will be about the art of looking just past someone. You’ll get there, grasshopper.



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