Ghanaian Quirks

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As I adapt to living in Ghana, I discover more and more interesting tidbits about their culture. Here are some examples:

Ghana Man Time (GMT)

In the U.S., we often use the saying “time is money.” Ghanaians don’t seem to agree. It appears to me that Ghanaians have no sense of time at all. Do you have a 9AM meeting scheduled? The person you are meeting with probably won’t show up until 10AM. As an extremely punctual person, I sometimes become frustrated with the lackadaisical approach to time management. I find it understandable why some international companies are wary to do business here. However, GMT has some benefits. Since people are unconcerned about being late, they will often go out of their way to help you. For example, a fellow intern was lost and stopped to ask for directions. She asked a man clearly heading to work, and he walked her to her destination that was in opposite direction of his workplace. I was taking to the CEO of CRAN this week and he actually thanked me for setting a good example for my coworkers (I’m never late to work). So who knows, maybe this trend is changing in the workplace.

Sorry I’m Late. It Was Raining.”

Rain showers in Ghana are generally short. However, when it rains, it pours. Since most of the roads here are unpaved, it can get REALLY muddy. So during these brief rainstorms, everything practically shuts down. People run to the nearest shelter and wait until the rain stops. This means that rain is a valid excuse for being late or not showing up for something. I can’t wait to try this one back at home!

“You are Invited…”

Despite their poverty, Ghanaians are an incredibly generous bunch. It is tradition that when you are eating something and other people are present, you tell them, “You are invited.” By saying this, you are offering to share your food. Most of the time you will be eating something that’s clearly one serving. In this case, invitation is purely out of politeness and people really aren’t expecting you to share. However, if there is plenty to go around, people will practically pressure you into eating something. My coworkers, for example, save me from scurvy by always giving my oranges and bananas. I think this is a really lovely tradition and reminds me on a daily basis to be generous to everyone.

“But we probably won’t eat together”

In most cultures, sitting down to share a meal is very important. This doesn’t seem to be the case in Ghana. Eating seems less of a social activity and more about fulfilling physical needs. I rarely see Ghanaians eating at all. While there are plenty of snacks on the side of the road, people don’t seem to walk and eat. There is no set lunchtime at work. People come and go to the “kitchen” as they please and often eat by themselves. Occasionally everyone will have a “kenkey party” and sit down to eat together.  My homestay is no different. In the almost three months that I’ve been here, I can count on one hand the amount of times that I’ve eaten with my host family. Usually, my auntie serves me by myself and eats later. I’ve never seen Ben, my oldest host brother eat, but occasionally get to eat with Papa Kofi. I am very surprised about the lack of socializing during meals considering how community-oriented Ghanaian culture is. Plus many of the traditional meals are very labor intensive. It just feels strange eating alone after Auntie Alice spent five hours making me banku.

Favorite Colloquial Phrases

Along with using British spelling and terms (Think pants vs. underwear), Ghanaians have developed their own slang. Here are some of the most common:

“I’ll flash you”

No, this isn’t an offer for some indecent exposure, but rather a way to share a cell phone number. “Flashing” consists of calling someone and hanging up after a few rings. That way the person is able to easily add your number to their phone. It can also be used to signal someone that to call you back if you are low on phone credits.

“It is finished.”

This is always the worst thing to hear at a restaurant. It means that whatever you were requesting no longer is available. It can be used for just about anything: food items, Internet, water, electricity, etc.

“I am coming.”

This is probably the most ambiguous phrase of the list. It is usually used when meeting up with someone. The thing is, the person may not actually be coming right away. They could be coming in an hour, or perhaps even the next day! Equally confusing, is that it also used as a goodbye. For example, when my supervisor goes to a meeting or to lunch, she will say, “Marissa, I am coming.” Nope, she’s actually leaving.

Bath vs. Bathe

The verb bathe is not present in Ghanaian vocabulary. Instead, someone will say that they are, “Going to bath.” I find this one really strange. I’ve tried to explain the difference to some people, but it’s not catching on. Say it with me: “BATHE.”

“Dash”

To dash someone is to give them something for free. For example, if the fruit lady dashed me an orange, this means she slipped an extra one in my bag.

“Are you sure?”

This one is my absolute favorite! It means, “I know you are full of crap. I’m giving you one chance to tell the truth.”Pretty much, it’s the socially acceptable way to call someone out on lying.

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One response »

  1. Lol! OMG! So true, especially with the other points. With regards to families eating together, this used to be the case in the 90’s when I was growing up, but its still prevalant in the northern part of Ghana. I guess the stress level in Accra is the cause of this breakdown in tradition. Good Article by the way. #Sunscribed.

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