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Local Do's and Taboos

Customs of the Country

Humor is a wonderful way to relate to the islanders, but don't force it. Don't try to talk their dialect unless you are adept at it. Though most Bahamians are too polite to show it, you may offend them if you make a bad attempt at local lingo. Church is central in the lives of the Bahamians. They dress up in their fanciest finery; it's a sight to behold on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. To show respect, dress accordingly if you plan to attend religious ceremonies. No doubt you'll be outdone, but do dress up regardless.

Greetings

Bahamians greet people with a proper British "good morning," "good afternoon," or "good evening." When approaching an islander to ask directions or information, preface your request with such a greeting, and ask "how are you?" Smile, and don't rush into a conversation, even if you're running late.

Language

Islanders speak English with a lilt influenced by their British and/or African ancestry. When locals talk among themselves in local dialect, it's virtually impossible for the unaccustomed to understand them. They take all sorts of shortcuts and pepper the language with words all their own. When islanders speak to visitors, they will use standard English.

Out on the Town

When you hail a waiter, say Sir or Miss. Your check usually will not be brought until you ask for it. Bahamians do not like drunkenness, and, regrettably, frequently have to put up with drunken Americans. Bahamians generally are not smokers, so smokers should choose outdoor cafés and terraces at restaurants. And all you honeymooners, save the displays of affection for the hotel. PDAs are not accepted here—although Americans will blush at the way Bahamians dance, even the middle-aged, which is pelvis to pelvis. Bahamians love to dress up and will wear Sunday suits and dresses to dinner at nice restaurants and clubs.

Sightseeing

Visitors should dress conservatively when going to houses of worship. Bahamians love hats, and you will see quite a parade of fancy hats at church even on small islands. You should not wear swimsuits into stores and restaurants, even those on the beach. There are very few homeless Bahamians, and on the few occasions when people ask for money, just shake your head and keep walking. Polite children in school uniforms will often have fund-raisers in tourist areas, and parents and teachers will be there. Donations are greatly appreciated and help local schools. A decade ago, drug dealers frequently approached visitors on Nassau's streets, but police have cracked down, especially in tourist areas. Most likely you'll only be asked if you want your hair braided. It's customary to address people by Mr., Miss, and Mrs. in business situations, and with taxi drivers, concierges, hotel managers, guides, and tour-desk operators. Bahamians are more formal than Americans, and they value good manners; always remember your pleases and thank-yous.

Time

Bahamians tend to have a more casual attitude about time than visitors may be used to, which islanders say is because they’ve long lived a good life in a land where nature provided just about every need for housing, food, and livelihood. Bahamians believe there is always time to worry about the bad things tomorrow. Don’t take it personally; things DO get done, though perhaps not at the rate you’d expect. Asking a Bahamian to hurry, especially if done rudely, however, may just slow things down. Stay polite, keep your humor, and try to slow down yourself—you’ll have a better island experience.

Updated: 2013-12-16

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