Top 5 lessons I learned from my Haitian mother

Samburu mother and kid - KenyaI always complain about how strict my parents were when I was growing up, but I really wouldn’t change a thing. I now feel that the limits worked for me and kept me from doing things I wasn’t ready to do anyway. Obviously since I’m of a different generation than my mother (and my children are of a different generation than me), there are things that I will change this time around. Before I write about all the changes, I wanted to give due diligence to some of the things that were right, and I therefore plan to pass on to my children. They are, in no particular order:

1) Speak when you’re spoken to: I know this sounds old school or downright cruel, but it’s an important skill to have as an adult. This in no way means that you aren’t allowed to have your own thoughts and opinions, but you don’t need to offer them to people without solicitation. I think this applies to just about any situation or relationship. Basically, have some self-control over when words come out of your mouth.

2) Always treat your guests like royalty: This means serving them in your best dishes on your nicest platter. I distinctly remember getting in trouble for bringing out water to a guest without any coaster in a regular plastic cup. I had to go back to the kitchen and get an appropriate glass with the necessary accessories. As an adult, I think this lesson helps a lot with making people feel comfortable in a foreign environment (whether it’s in my house or office). People like to feel special and welcomed, so it doesn’t hurt if making them feel that way comes natural to you.

3) Always greet people (uniformly) upon entering a room: It sounds simple enough, but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with who just walk into the office without saying “good morning”. I think it’s such a bad reflection on your manners – but that may be my Haitian side talking. The “uniformly” simply means if you’re going to give a hug to one person, you better give a hug to everybody. That way nobody feels awkward. This can be more of an issue in cultures that greet with kisses, however, if you’re a man and you want to shake hands with the men and give kisses to the women, that’s acceptable.

4) Know how to take care of a home: I think everyone should know how to manage a household (e.g. cook, clean, iron, fix a hem, pay bills, etc.). These things make life a lot easier; especially if you’re living alone. Since you never know where life will take you, don’t let the lack of these basic skills keep you from venturing off on your own.

5) Always respect your elders: This doesn’t mean it’s okay to disrespect peers or those younger than you, but elders hold a special place. These are people who have been around longer than you and even if you don’t agree with what they say, you must still show respect. I’ve seen teenagers cussing out an elderly lady because she asked them to keep the noise down and it was NOT pretty. Also, I think if you are taught when you are little to always respect elders (which is pretty much everybody around you at that point), being respectful becomes a way of life.

These lessons were the ones I felt were most typical of the Haitian culture, but of course I learned a lot more. If any of you Haitian readers have others to add, please do so. For you non-Haitians, do you have any cultural lessons that have helped you with the culture in which you currently live?

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