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Haiti is an In the Streets Culture

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti- Haiti is an in the streets culture. An “in the streets” culture is one where the people play out a large portion of their days in the public sector, simply put: in the streets. Most of these people have homes to go to, but they seem to prefer just hanging out in chairs in front of shops, in their doorways, on street corners, and in parks — talking, and watching the world pass by. There are people everywhere in a Haitian city.

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti- Haiti is an in the streets culture. An “in the streets” culture is one where the people play out a large portion of their days in the public sector, simply put: in the streets. Most of these people have homes to go to, but they seem to prefer just hanging out in chairs in front of shops, in their doorways, on street corners, and in parks — talking, and watching the world pass by. There are people everywhere in a Haitian city.

Because of this, Haiti seemed to me a very safe country to travel in.

Haitien boys playing dominoes in the streets like their fathers

I don’t cringe when I step into a foreign city that appears chaotic, crowded, out of control, as I know that if I ever needed anything all I would need to do is peak in the nearest doorway and request assistance from the people who will invariably be sitting there. Aggressive crime — unless you are being mobbed — tends to happen in the shadows, and if a city’s streets are full of people there are far less dark, deserted places. A main attribute of an in the streets culture is that the people all tend to know each other, there is often a strong sense of community, and crime is dealt with by lynch mobs.

Streets that are full of people, are often streets that are ruled by the people. In such places, the police often have little to do.

In this way, Haiti seems safer than many urban areas that I have been to in the USA or Europe — places where even the streets of otherwise bustling cities are often devoid of pedestrians, cities where people live behind closed doors.

There are “in the streets cultures” and “behind closed doors cultures,” most countries fall into one of these categories. This is not only a demarcating factor in living strategy but also one of psychology as well. When I walk down the streets of Haiti or the Dominican Republic, India, China, Albania, Eastern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, the people look me in the eye, they open themselves up for an exchange of greeting, for some form of interaction (entertainment perhaps?) — their doors are open. When I walk down the streets of Western Europe, the USA, Japan, the people I pass tend to look straight ahead, as though no other person exists in the world — their doors are closed.

Haiti streets are full of people

It is interesting when these two cultures mix. In the Dominican Republic, it is almost like going over a speed bump when I walk past a foreigner outside of the town center. The Dominicans usually look at me and nod or say hello as we pass each other in the streets. This becomes a habit, one that feels really odd to break when passing one of my fellow countrymen or someone from Europe: they tend towards avoiding eye contact, they seldom say hello. I stare at them and they look straight ahead like a chameleon trying to blend invisibly into the background. It throws off my rhythm. Walking passed these people is like driving over rumble strips on the side of a USA interstate — it shakes you up.

USA and Europe cultures don’t know how to be in the streets. While the Haitians and Dominicans are pros. It is interesting how social skills, senses, and sensibility erode in proportion to how developed a country is. People from the villages of the world know how to talk to each other, they know how to make each other laugh, they seem to talk to more people in a single day that the average American does in a month. They know people, they know how to talk, get what they want — they still have a basic sense of social intelligence and fluidity that many people from the highly developed countries have lost.

Soccer in the streets of Cap-Haitien

It is my impression that before people watched television, they watched people: they sat in the doorways of their homes, they hung out the windows of their houses, looking out into the streets to see what was going on. The streets was where the action took place, watching them was recreation. The early television sets even looked like windows — they had thick wooden frames that enclosed the screen, just as windows are enclosed by their panes. Staring into a television set is just the modern equivalent of looking out of a window upon a street full of action, a street full of people.

Open doors often indicate an open culture: people who are willing to meet a stranger, sit down, and talk, ask questions, inquire, teach, and learn. From mid-morning on towards night, the doors of Haiti are open wide.

Haiti men hanging out talking

Smile and say hello travel tip — People look at you travel tip — Be a Big Man Travel Tip — World Culture — Haiti Travelogue Entries — Haiti Travel Guide

Filed under: Caribbean, Culture and Society, Haiti

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3413 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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10 comments… add one

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  • Mike Crosby March 13, 2010, 9:58 am

    Interesting article Wade. The pictures of the Haitians makes me realize we’re all just normal people. They seem like they have a ready smile and just get on with life.

    The very little travel that I’ve done has been met with fear. I wish that wasn’t the case, but that’s my natural sense. The children in the picture appear as everyday just great kids.

    Wade, here’s a stupid question, but it’s one that I’ve been thinking about lately. What do most cultures do with older people, especially when sick and toward the end of life?

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 13, 2010, 10:38 am

      Hello Mike,

      Thanks for the feedback!

      My response to your question has been moved to another page, as it provoked a good discussion. It is at Medical Care for the Dying Around the World.

      About fear:

      Everyone has fear when it comes to traveling, that is part of the fun of it. The trick is to use fear to provoke you to do what it is you want to do. The feeling of fear is often a good indicator of what you really desire. Go for it.

      Thanks,

      Wade

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  • Hanu March 13, 2010, 4:11 pm

    Wade, I don’t have anything substantial to say for now. However, I just wanted to congratulate you and let you know that with the last posts you got a Romanian reader who will follow you from now on. Hobo’s interview did the job of getting you interesting into the eyes of some other readers.

    The last two posts have been EXCELLENT – the kind of things some people expect to be written on a travel blog.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 14, 2010, 9:01 am

      Thanks Hanu,

      It is great to have you along! Hopefully we will meet in Romania someday.

      Thanks,

      Wade

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  • Bob L March 13, 2010, 5:57 pm

    Due to an incredible response, this discussion that was started by Mike has been moved to Medical Care for the Dying Around the World.

    Thanks,

    Wade

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  • Bob L March 13, 2010, 7:06 pm

    *When I walk down the streets of Western Europe, the USA, Japan, the people I pass tend to look straight ahead, as though no other person exists in the world — their doors are closed.*

    Closed, but not all locked. As you have said in other articles, if you are open and say hello, almost anywhere you go, people open up. And lets face it, you don’t, on first glance, look like the kind of person that the average nervous Nellie wants to encourage. But I would think it would only take a word or two from you to ease their fears. (As a tall biker, I am used to this).

    What’s your take on reading these environments? You have 100’s of times more experience than I. A few times I have been to places that are like you describe, then, at some hour, the streets are deserted. Makes me nervous. You? You often say that a traveler needs to pay attention to their surroundings. In a case like this, you would expect people to be in bed. Maybe this is when the bad people come out?

    *People from the villages of the world know how to talk to each other, they know how to make each other laugh, they seem to talk to more people in a single day that the average American does in a month.*

    How true, sometimes I think that the internet has renewed peoples interest in communication. Not very personal, but a start.

    *social intelligence *

    Cool term. I have heard people talk about some cultures/people as being stupid. The people they are referring to are probably ten times better at reading people, ten times better at dealing with lifes realities, ten times better at making do with what they have, ten times better at dealing with almost anything. Education, money and an easy life do not exactly make a person more intelligent.

    And yes, still caffeinated.

    Bob L

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    • Mike Crosby March 13, 2010, 7:56 pm

      “And lets face it, you don’t, on first glance, look like the kind of person that the average nervous Nellie wants to encourage.”

      Hi Wade, not to be mean, but he has a point:-) And without knowing you, I may be one of those Nervous Nellies. But knowing you through your blog, I have the feeling that if I did meet you, I’d give you a bear hug.

      Here in LA, CA you’d fit in just fine, but in my conservative Orange County, my friend, oh God.

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      • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 14, 2010, 8:59 am

        Hello Mike,

        Yes, you are correct, but the same goes for my wife, who is pretty as a pea and looks nice haha.

        Wade

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 14, 2010, 8:57 am

      Good observation, Bob,

      There are lots of places that are hopping during the day and then go immediately dark and quiet at some specified point in the evening. It is my impression that it is usually safest to live how the local people live in a place. If they go home and close there doors, then there may be a reason for it, and perhaps I should too. Latin America is often like this.

      Though a lot of in the streets cultures go strong all night long. Morocco is one — I think half the people are awake during the day and the other half at night haha — and I think Haiti falls into this category as well.

      I also agree with you about how the internet is beginning to make people live in social networks again. Social networks have always existed — people bounce from one group, talk for a while, then go to another, talk for a while and on and on. This is something that had been absent, more or less, from American culture for a couple generations. But I do feel that there is an inherent urge for people to be in contact with people throughout the day, and it seems as if these social networking sites are creating more expedient, though slightly less personal, ways of doing this.

      I mean, when you need to drive twenty minutes to visit one friend in the suburbs and then go a half hour to visit another, you are not really going to make your social rounds very often. The “drop in and chat” strategy for getting news, information, and building social communication is something that is being revived by the internet. In the USA, the living strategies of the people make it difficult to communicate as people do in Haiti — the pure spacial relations of our “communities” are too vast — but people are now communicating in an “old” way through new technology.

      I think that most societies would like to have the constant social networks and bonds that the people in Haiti seem to have, but the structure of living in a lot of places makes it difficult. Sites like Facebook are giving new birth to these social urges in a sort of strange new form.

      Thanks,

      Wade

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  • Mal Te September 5, 2012, 9:38 am

    I can only agree with Hanu: really excellent! I started readying the border-crossing to haiti and I couldn’t stop reading your articles. I’m really looking forward to continue reading your blog! 😀
    I had the very same idea about watching television/people, seeing the people in the Dominican Republic (I spent more time there than in Haiti) sitting all day long on their chair in front of their house, greeting everyone who passes by and chatting with those who stop.

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