Monday, January 15, 2007

Reflections of Ghana: Cultural Differences

Our experience in Ghana was unlike any other place we'd been to in a variety of ways. There's the standard of living (the median income in Ghana is $406/year), and the infrastructure challenges (power and water can cut out sproadically). The most significant differences we encountered were cultural. For the most part, Ghanaians are very friendly, extremely polite and very non-confrontational. A couple of stories will illustrate.

One day, my Aunt Gloria told us the tale of this American expat living in Accra. Most Ghanaians wake up relatively early. Some tribes actually have a word for early morning, which for them is between 3:30 and 5:30 AM. This woman however, did not like getting up before noon. After being awoken by her servants at typical Ghanaian times, this woman declared "If I see any of you before noon, you're fired!"

A day soon after, my aunt came by to visit this woman at 11AM. She asked the servant if the woman of the house was in. He responded by nodding silently. She asked if she could stop by. The servant started shivering and stuttering, while shaking his head no. When she asked why, he told her about this rule that had been set. He was upset at not being able to fetch the woman for my aunt, as well as the thought of violating the 12:00 rule. My aunt went upon her way once she realized this.

We ran into this ourselves when we were leaving Ghana. At Kotoko Airport, we were at customs. We expected to quickly hear the three standard questions and be on our way:
1. Have you received a gift or package from anyone?
2. Did you pack your bags?
3. Have your bags been in your possession the whole time?

Instead, we heard a stuttering agent, new on the job, say "Ha- Ha- Have you been the ..uh..owners of you-your bags?" We responded yes, because it seemed like the right answer. The next two questions were filled with pauses as well. "Maybe his English isn't so good" I thought. As soon as he'd finished asking those questions, he rattled off instructions fairly easily. Evidently, asking those types of questions isn't done in Ghana. Decidedly different from New York, where people you don't know feel comfortable asking you all sorts of questions (yes, I've done it myself).

1 comment:

Sasha said...

Hey, so don't forget about me for the next trip :) Looking forward to more stories!