By Magalie MichaudSpecial to CSMS MagazineIn South Florida, Haitians are becoming a big part of the community. Unfortunately, Many Americans do not fully understand the Haitian culture. Like in every country, Haitian society is divided in different classes. In Haiti, class is not based mainly on money or color; it is also based on social status, family history, the location one lives, the language one speaks, and other similar factors. As a matter of fact, money and color of one’s skin does not place someone automatically in a given class. If a wealthy man from Finland comes to live in Haiti, he might be rejected by the Upper Class if he does not conform to the norm and standards set by the Haitian elite. In the upper class, one can find people of all races, such as black, white (although very few), or any different shade of mulattos. There is also a major difference between the rural population and the people who have been living in the urban areas for several generations. Haitians from the countryside are the ones I am going to focus on because they are the ones that are most misunderstood in the American classrooms. Most Haitians that come on rafts to the US shores are Haitians that lived in the countryside. Their culture and beliefs are every different from that of the Americans’. For example, they do not believe in giving eye contact, which is considered to be rude. A child learns to respect his or her elders. So looking at someone who is older in the eye is viewed as sign disrespect. A teacher with Haitians students in the classroom should not expect them to look at him/her directly in the eye, especially if the students feel that they are being scolded.In addition, Haitians are taught to be quiet in class, and a girl is taught to speak softly—soft enough that while she talks everyone can also hear a mouse. In the countryside, Haitians view women as lower then men. As a result, she must be soft spoken and never talk bad. Although children are taught to be quiet, adults are supposed to be loud. The loudness of the conversation represents the passion of the speaker. Hand gestures and proximity are widely used. From the outside, one might interpret a conversation as a fight, when in fact it can be two friends talking about a game they have won. So a teacher who has parent-teacher conferences with Haitians parents, should not be alarmed when the parents are extremely loud and use a lot of hand gestures. Haitians originated from the countryside tend to be polite and love to do favors to others; but they also expect others to do them favors that an American would consider to be strange. They believe if they do favors to others, that will bring peace and harmony in the friendship, and it is like putting money in a saving account. They hope to get something positive in return. Although rural Haitians are taught to be quiet, they are every emotional. They tend to be very expressive; even though Creole is the only language spoken by the “uneducated.” It is a language full of tradition, proverbs, jokes and stories. Haitians are able to express themselves with emotions. For example at a funeral, everyone is crying as if it is the end of the world—even people who do not know the deceased person. There are some ladies whose profession is to go to funeral to cry and to make other people cry. In class, Haitian students can be extremely emotional. Furthermore, their way of showing they do not understand something is to smile, sometimes with a humble face. Haitian students tend not to mingle with others. They are quiet, reserved, and very private. They keep their problems to themselves. Haitians are friendly when they talk to each other. One might touch one another throughout the conversation. Girls are most likely to hold hands as a sign of close friendship. Holding hand does not have a sexual connotation. When greeting one another, Haitian girls or women kiss on the cheek while boys and men shake hands. Men tend to give a hug with a pat in the back. Men will not kiss women unless the man is a friend or family member. All children give a kiss to everyone they met. In the Haitian culture, a name is extremely important. The name given is supposed to have a meaning. If a teacher mispronounces the name of the child, he or she will not say anything out of respect, but he will feel awfully hurt. It is important that the teacher tries to pronounce the name correctly and/or ask the student how to say it. Most Haitians have at least three names: a first, middle and last. Each name has a meaning. I think the most important aspect a teacher should know about Haitians students is that they are every personal. Haitians do not like when too many people know about their personal life. A note for teachers: if something is wrong or the child misbehaves, take the child outside to try to motivate him/her, and do not speak loud in a way everyone can hear. The student will take it very personal, whether it is intentional or not. Furthermore, teachers should understand Haitians have a strong pride in their history, their identity and their culture. Many do not understand the concept of African American. Americans born out of Haitian parents see themselves as Haitian-Americans, because Haiti is where their pride and love are. In addition, since Haiti is a black republic, the concept of race and color is very different (almost meaningless) from that of America. A person born in Haiti might have blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin but that person will consider himself or herself to be black. Although, when this person comes to the United States, his conception of himself may eventually change with time. American teachers also frequently misunderstand Haitians children who are from wealthy backgrounds. These children, again regardless of their skin complexion, are from a higher social status in their homeland. They or their parents speak perfect French, had a luxurious lifestyle, and are well versed in Western culture, particularly the European culture. In a way, they are naturally bilingual and bi-cultural. They may easily have parents, relatives, or ancestors who are/were doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, presidents, senators, writers, or national heroes of the War of Independence. Haitian parents of all social groups tend to be very strict with their children. They tend to trust teachers, whom they view as a second mother away from home. Haiti is a country with a rich culture; most of it is different from the American culture. Many Haitians are now residing in America with a big portion in South Florida. Since Haitians are very personal people that like to keep to themselves. Americans teachers should be able to learn and appreciate the Haitian culture the way they should. Teachers that have Haitians in their class MUST acquire some knowledge about the culture in order to be able to handle the students better. Lastly, the most important thing a teacher should know is the importance of name for a Haitian child and the pride he holds for his/her country. I hope within the next few years, Americans will be able to understand and learn more about the Haitian culture. Work Citedhttp://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ha.html#Peoplehttp://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~efhayes/haitian.htmMagalie Michaud is a student at Nova Southeastern University. She write this article to CSMS Magazine.