By Onz Chery
CAP-HAITIEN — First Black Republic, griyo, soup joumou on January First, even political instability are among the first thoughts that come to mind when Haitians abroad think of the homeland. But as ongoing crises have led to a decline in travel to Haiti in recent years, certain social mores common in Haiti might cause some Haitians living abroad to do a double-take.
As part of The Haitian Times’ special coverage of 2022 Haitian Heritage Month, here’s a list of such notable sights seen in day-to-day life from an observer, yours truly, on a walk in Cap-Haitien. Some are quirky, others ingenious. All are sure to surprise, if not shock, some compatriots outside of Haiti.
Men holding hands while talking
After sharing a handshake, some men in Haiti are in the habit of holding on to the other person’s hand. These men, usually from rural areas, comfortably go on to have a conversation with the other person, hand in hand.
Men calling their women ‘Manmi’
A woman calling her man “daddy” as an endearment isn’t out of the ordinary. In Haiti, some men have taken to returning the favor, calling their girlfriends or wives ‘manmi,’ or mommy. It’s enough to confuse a newcomer or returning Haitian during certain conversations, so beware.
Sitting and chatting on high surfaces
Many younger Haitians, mostly men, easily plop onto high surfaces to sit, such as atop a brick wall and have a conversation like they’re at a coffee chat. Could this habit be the result of childhood lessons, when little ones run, jog and skip around on rooftops or in the woods?
SAVOIR-VIVRE & PERSONAL SPACE
Relieving self in public
In conversing with a man, don’t be surprised if he walks toward a wall, whips it out and just starts relieving himself. White-collar, blue-collar, it doesn’t matter – a lot of men seem to have no qualms about it. Some women do it too, but not as nearly as often.
Missing chivalry or plain rude?
In the U.S., seeing a man asking a woman to help carry her heavy items is common enough as a social courtesy. Even though some might slam the practice as sexist, it hasn’t gone away. Here, that part of chivalry seems dead and buried. Rarely does anyone offer to help, and that is just plain rude anywhere.
Pedestrians and moving vehicles
Many in Haiti are not intimidated by moving vehicles, let alone car honks. Sometimes, pedestrians walk so close, the side-view mirrors can hit them and they’ll just keep walking. One reason is the narrow streets weren’t made for so much foot traffic, so people spill out onto the roadway from the congestion.
Keeping a tab at local stores
If you don’t have cash on you or enough of it to purchase an item, fear not. Many sellers allow a shopper to take the item with a promise to pay later. The practice is so common that some stores put up signs notifying customers they do not sell on credit.
Winter beanies in the Haitian heat
Although Haiti’s temperature rarely drops below 73 F, winter hats – especially woolen beanies – seem to be a must-have fashion item. Some people even go so far as to sport a winter hat to match a piece of clothing.
Dogs walk themselves
Among Haitian families that own dogs, which serve more as guardians than pets, rarely do anyone walk their dogs. In Haiti, dogs spend most of the time in the front yard or backyard, tied to a fixed post if they’re dangerous. Some dogs wander outside their owners’ property and are trusted to return.