Volkswagon and that ‘Jamaican’ Commercial

The Jamaican dialect, called patois, (including elements of Rasta lingua) and spoken by the entire native population, was given a major thumbs up in early 2013, when German car manufacturer, Volkswagon (VW)  featured the dialect in their new commercial. This 2013 Volkswagen Game Day commercial is set in a typical office with a “case of the Mondays.” Enter Dave and his new found sunny disposition (that manifests itself in a curious way), all thanks to the his new 2013 Volkswagen Beetle.

For those who missed it, click on this link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H0xPWAtaa8

That the dialogue in the commercial begins with a ‘No Worries” version of the Jamaican expression of ‘no problem mon’ which is the typical usage is a bit unsettling for me personally. No worries is more typically used in Australia and New Zealand. I would have much preferred the more accurate and time-honoured phrase- ‘no problem mon’.

Rasta_logoYet what impressed me the most was the incorporation of colloquial expressions such as ‘respec’ and ‘chill’ and the Rasta inversion of  the pronoun ‘me’ for ‘I’. The commercial not only recognised the Jamaican way of speaking locally but gave prominence to Rastafari’s influence in the dynamic language of the country. For a sect that has traditionally been oppressed and struggled to find space in the social-cultural and political limitations placed upon them, the commercial returns a sense of power to them.

At the same time, I sincerely hope that this powerful commercial is not used by the local anti-English campaigners as sign that English needs to be done away with, to be replaced strictly by the local language. I insist that our  students/graduates must learn to master the English language if they are to compete in a global economy. Despite the beauty and richness of our local tongue and its massive importance in constructing and celebrating our identity, English is still the language of trade.

VW Commercial and the Jamaican Personality

Yet much more than just about dialect and language, the commercial is really a celebration of the Jamaican personality and culture – a sort of carefree, always happy, ‘no problem mon’ mentality which the nation has mastered for better or worse. The tagline at the end of the commercial expresses the motif of the ad – ‘Get in. Get happy’. We are no doubt a happy people – very laid back, we love a good laugh and we make light of things that many other cultures would find mean or insulting. Indeed, the fact that Jamaicans are ‘chill’ about most things and love to have a laugh is a good thing. I enjoy this aspect of the Jamaican people. Yet, I often wonder if this is the predominant image we should be selling abroad. I wonder if this perception of Jamaica is a good thing in a society which needs to project a more industrious image, a serious work force which places high value on good work ethics, hard work, discipline etc – in order to attract investment.

But is it too late? Have we already embed these visions and views of ourselves? If not, we have to shift the narrative just a tad. We are a more complex and dynamic people.. both happy and hardworking, simultaneously chill and conscious….

For now, we applaud VW for choosing us… to thrust our language and personality centre-stage. Its the power of German engineering…. I guess.


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