“Good morning!” I say cheerily as I pass anyone. Or good afternoon, or good evening. Bajans will always greet as they go by, and even a teen wearing earbuds and attitude will reply in reflex.
“Alright, alright.” Or, “Mornin, mornin.”
Once I was walking alongside an older woman whom I recognized from other trips along the road to Oistins. After the initial greetings she continued:
“Yuh body good?”
“Good!” I replied, knowing that she was not specifically asking about the state of my body, but just generally inquiring into how I was doing. “And you?”
When we first considered coming to Barbados, almost a year ago, when we were still sometimes mixing it up with the other “B” countries, we puzzled over “Bajan.” We knew it meant Barbadian, but how did you say it? Bah-han? Baa-jan? We watched a YouTube video, and practiced: Bay-Jun.
The Bajan dialect is, according to some, “Standard English that’s been left in lime and salt overnight.” Word are clipped and shortened, but often repeated, giving a percussive flavour that is instantly recognizable, even when I don’t understand what’s being said.
I’m getting better. A group of Bajans in high speed discussion will leave me only picking out a few words, but I can understand a phrase or two in context. “Truff dat,” from a fellow surfer means he’s agreeing with my comment, “I gin be done dis in two twos,” means I don’t have long to wait.
Of course, Bajans always understand me. Barbados has an excellent education system, high literacy, and most can easily switch to the “Queen’s English” that they learned in school, even if they normally speak Bajan at home.
Even standard English has a particular flavour here. “Yes” is always followed by “please,” no matter the context.
“Do you have any envelopes?”
“Yes, please.” (I have also heard “No, please.”)
If you want to know more than the brief listing of colourful expressions you find on tourist websites, look for #Bajanisms, a recently published book by Mahalia Cummins. I bought my copy in a local bookstore, but if you are not lucky enough to be here, follow the hashtag on Instagram or visit her website https://bajanisms.com/
Last week I was chatting with the farmer who keeps his cows behind our townhouse, explaining that I was searching the field for my bag, recently stolen.
“Cheese on bread!” he exclaimed.
I was grinning for hours after. After 9 months in Barbados, I had finally, truly arrived.