Election Campaign 2013 is picking up pace across Barbados, and each day politicians can be seen canvassing across the island, in every nook and cranny. Based on the news stories that are making it into the public domain, the usual issues, poverty, housing, cost of living, the economy, etc, are being raised by voters.
Last Sunday afternoon, while covering canvassing by Christ Church South MP and Minister of Transport and Works, John Boyce, a most interesting issue was raised by a resident, that bore no relation to the traditional matters residents raise with their candidates at this time. The constituent, a businessman, told the minister how gravely concerned he was about how unmannerly Barbadians have become. He spoke about the poor quality service one expects to get in restaurants and similar places, and the general lack of courtesy displayed when Barbadians meet each other on the street. The businessman made the comparison with a recent experience while in St. Lucia for a few days. He noted that he was particular taken aback because it appeared to be the norm for school children there to say “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” when they meet others on the street. In Barbados, he said, his expectation was to be assaulted with the vilest terms by school children — and he provided graphic examples to make his point.
While we do not believe that his assessment of the conduct of our school children can be applied across the board, we can’t help but agree that there is much truth in his assessment. Even if there is no assault of colourful metaphors, if we are honest with ourselves we would all have to admit that particularly in urban and sub-urban Barbados to get a “Good morning” is almost as foreign as a conversation in Latin. In many ways Barbados’ development has been phenomenal, but with it has come a serious erosion of the personality that could be called Bajan. In too many instances a greeting is now greeted with an initial puzzled look as if the person receiving the greeting wants to ask: “So what you want now?” It is that growing absence of personal
friendliness that manifests itself in coldness and lack of courtesy so often displayed in the services sector in particular. We should all take note of the implicit message contained in letters to the editor, comments on radio call-in programmes and other public displays, when Barbadians gush with excitement when they patronise a place of business and receive exceptional service. Patrons of our businesses are made to feel so often like impositions on the valuable time of workers, including managers, that good service becomes something to write home about. Quite frankly, we may have gotten away with it so far because many of our guests from overseas inhabit or patronise metropolitan areas, where the pace of business is so fast few pause for the niceties and exchange of courtesies that are so much part of the Caribbean DNA.
We acknowledge that technology and easy travel are making the global village smaller and smaller and we are likely to inculcate habits peculiar to our region. Still, those qualities that identify us — that once set us apart — should always be held as sacred, especially since in the past many of our visitors have returned, not so much for the sea, sand and sun, but the friendliness that was so much a part of our culture.