10 Things You Didn’t Know about Haitian Culture

Most people know Haiti as an island in the Caribbean, but how much of Haitian culture is known? Today, I’m sharing 10 facts on the culture as it pertains to my life!

As some of you already know, I was born in Haiti, but grew up in the United States. Even though I grew up in the U.S., I still was raised in a Haitian household, and that came with its own challenges. It might have been as simple as not understanding the popular game of football, or as serious as having to help parents translate everything. Often, I have to give out friendly reminders that my culture is a bit different than the standard ‘American’ lifestyle. As I’m sure some people are unfamiliar with Haitian culture, I’m sharing ten things you don’t know about it. Maybe you’ll know all of them already, or maybe you’ll learn something new 🙂

  1. Haiti has two official languages. We speak Creole, not Haitian. We also speak French. They are similar in many ways, but also drastically different. Creole is the general language spoken, while French is used for official business, such as school or transactions. At my house, we speak a mixture of Creole and English. We usually only speak French if my sister or I want to practice.
  2. If you asked a group of Haitians to write something down in Creole, not everyone’s would be written the same. Creole is more of a spoken language, than a written language. I never learned how to read or write Creole; however, I can sound out the words and figure out what is being said.
  3. Celebrations are incomplete without Kompa. Kompa is the official music of Haiti. The sounds are upbeat and fun, and usually paired with dancing. Graduation? Birthday? Thanksgiving? Family gathering? You can bet there will be Kompa played at some point!
  4. January 1st is a very important day to Haitians. Not only is it the celebration of the New Year, but it’s also Haiti’s independence day. On this day, a special dish is prepared called “joumou”, which roughly translates to pumpkin soup. It also contains meat and vegetables.
  5. Whistling in front of adults is considered rude. I remember when I was younger, my older brother knew how to whistle and he would try to teach me. My parents would get so angry because I would be practicing all the time, including in front of them and other Haitian guests.
  6. Bisous is very big sign of respect. Bisous is kissing the cheeks of another, in the form of a greeting, or even in farewell. We are expected to bisous when we enter a building, a home, or a room. Can you imagine family gatherings? If we don’t bisous every single person in the room, it’s considered very disrespectful. It doesn’t only look bad on us, but for our parents as well.
  7. Make sure to greet the parents. If you happen to be friends with a Haitian, and you visit their home, make sure you greet their parents. Even if you’re not there for a long time. Even if they’re not visible when you first walk in. Go out of your way to find them and say hi. Trust me…it makes all the difference.
  8. You’ll always find rice in the house. Rice is a staple of the Haitian diet. On any given day, a pot of rice can be found in my house, either in the fridge or on the stove-top. If it’s not already made, we’ll be able to make some without leaving the house, because we have bags of rice on hand.
  9. Sleepovers were a big deal. I don’t know if it was only in my house, but when my sister and I were younger, sleepovers were never seriously discussed. Can you imagine growing up where all your friends are throwing sleepover parties and you never being able to attend? Sure, it’s really not that big of a deal now, but when we were young, it was huge! As we grew up though, our parents grew more lenient, as they realized that was a part of the American culture.
  10. Religion is a very important part of our lives. We grew up with Christianity, specifically Catholicism. As we are in the U.S., we attend an English-speaking church. The masses usually last an hour. I have been to a Haitian church before, and it is seriously an all day affair. It’s definitely an experience!

I hope I was able to share a different perspective on Haitian culture, and that you learned something new. Which one of these did you already know, or haven’t heard before? Please let me know in the comments! Feel free to share this post to spread the knowledge 🙂

34 thoughts on “10 Things You Didn’t Know about Haitian Culture”

  1. I am amazed by the writting. We in switzerland do not own a writing grammar as well. So we write how we talk… and our words are like finger prints too. Everyone talks a bit differently than the person next to them. I love to hear that we are not the only people out there!
    I enjoyed this article!

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  2. Thank you for sharing! I didn’t know much about Haitian culture, and I think it’s nice to learn. Do you know why whistling is rude? That is interesting to me, so I’m curious!

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    1. Thanks for reading! I don’t actually know WHY it’s rude, I just know that it is. I’ll have to ask my parents the logic behind that one, and get back to you! Now I’m curious too!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this, seriously so interesting. We as a family are really trying to go out of our way to learn more about different cultures, going to various festivals and things to be exposed to the food, music, celebrations, and so on. I would love to experience more Haitian. We will definitely put in on the list to explore. I do have a friend who can whip us up a meal, so that’s probably the good place to start. 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much! I think that’s so cool that your family does that. I bet you guys learn cool and interesting facts all the time! And I’m a sucker for a good Haitian meal, but I may be a bit biased 😉

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    1. I didn’t realize it was a mostly spoken language either, until I actually saw it written out and realized I didn’t ever learn to read it. That’s when I had a conversation with my mom and discovered it was mostly spoken!

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    1. To be honest, I don’t quite know the answer to this. I would have to guess yes, but I mostly just talk with my family and family friends. I know that’s not really the answer you’re looking for, but I hoped it helped even a little!

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      1. Yeah we are sort of thinking its like our mangled local English in the red dot. We do speak “proper” English if you will, but when amongst ourselves (locals that is), we speak in Singlish! That might be our local creole

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  4. i was born and raised in the states but grew up in a traditional filipino household. rice, kissing, religion, and greeting parents was incredibly important!
    I had Haitian neighbors growing up and we shared a lot of the same values! That Kompa is NO. JOKE. every celebration had lots of music and LOOOOOTS of food!

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    1. Hahaha yessss! You understand!! If said friend doesn’t greet your parents, you might as well consider that friendship terminated. There is no coming back from that! And Kompa makes every celebration, as well as the food of course! I hope you’ve had the pleasure of trying pate! Oh so good!

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  5. I’m not very familiar with Haitian culture, so this was a real treat to read! Thank you for putting this list together. I’m Puerto Rican and some of our cultural traditions are the same: kissing relatives upon entering and leaving get-togethers, rice, and bilingualism. I’d love to know if you ever found out why whistling is so rude in front of adults.

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    1. Thank you for reading!! I never considered why whistling was rude, I just accepted it as a fact. I’m planning to ask my parents soon, because now I’m curious as well. I’ll be sure to come back and let you know what they say!

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  6. I used to have many Haitian clients and worked with a wonderful Haitian man in my office. I also never knew that Creole was mainly spoken and not written!

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    1. Thank you! I also agree with you…it’s definitely interesting about the spoken vs. written portion of the language! And I’m glad to hear Haiti interested you as a country 🙂

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