Monday, April 19, 2010

The Ghana Way

A very low key day here today, so I've got time to write a bit. There are a few things I want to mention for future travelers. Easy to offend here without having any idea why!

1. Towels. Towels are EXPENSIVE here. If you get a towel in your hotel room, that's a win. Two towels? Well, that's luxury. Most hotel rooms will come with one towel that is expected to be shared by all room occupants. No wash clothes. Maybe a hand towel. Since towels are precious, someone may think something bad of you if they see it strewn on the floor or the bed. Or heaven forbid you should use it to soak up a spill! No! You must us a mop for that! Towels are to be kept as clean as possible. They really are expensive here. I priced a towel set over a year ago at over 50 cedis per washrag, hand towel, and bath towel. Good gift ideas for friends!

2. Titles: It's best to address anybody that is older than you as "sire" or "madam" or "uncle" or "auntie." Otherwise, they may think you think you are something special if you just call someone by their first name. Someone about the same age can be "sister" or "brother" or even "master" (said like "massa").

3. Ghanaians do NOT like to hear children crying. They assume that the child is spoiled OR the parents don't know what they are doing. Crying it out is not a culturally appropriate option here. Drives we Americans crazy! My advice? Do it "the Ghana way" until you get home and then go to town teaching your kiddo the American way. Ghanaians may not say anything, but if they see an American family with a Ghanaian kid, allowing the GHanaian kid to cry it out, they are THINKING something, and it probably isn't favorable. We had one Ghanaian who seriously asked why the family didn't just return the child because the child was throwing fits! Eh!

4. If someone offers you a drink--even a very poor person--take it. You will offend if you don't. It's hard for Americans to take a drink that cost the person 2 cedis when you know they didn't have that money to spend, but it hurts the pride of the Ghanaian person if you don't take that drink. Take it. Drink it. Say thank you. Do the same for your Ghanaian friend when they come to see you!

5. Favor culture. It's offensive here if you DON'T ask your friends for favors. By "friends" I'm talking about anybody you have met and spent more than 5 minutes with. You are allowed to ask them to wash your clothes, or help you get somewhere, or hem a pair of paints. There may be offense if you don't ask these things and they find out you have asked a stranger to do it. But it's like an investment game. The game goes, when they ask you for a favor, you are also EXPECTED to help them in whatever way they need help. Problem is, since you are American, the favor you're asked might be bigger than "Can you wash this shirt for me?" Be prepared!

6. When you offend someone, bite the bullet and humble yourself as much as you can. WAY more than you would in America. I mean, belittle yourself like crazy. "I'm just a stupid American. I need you to teach me the Ghana way. Your way is better. I'm just a small girl who didn't know better.", etc... Whatever. You're just here for a short time. Apologies like this help diminish the overriding attitude that some have that we Americans believe we are better than Ghanaians. It helps American-Ghanaian relations and will make your stay here better as well, if you've offended someone!

7. If you have a room with an air conditioner, and that air conditioner cools your room cooler than it would have otherwise been but not nearly as cool as you want it, that air conditioner is NOT broken by Ghanaian standards! It's probably just not powerful enough to cool the room completely.

8. Discuss all costs up front. Don't leave something as "I'll reduce the cost for you" or "We'll talk about it later" when it's a money matter. Know what your cost will be from the beginning. Later, the person might not give you what you expected as a rate.

9. If you ask for something extra in your hotel, know that the hotel might charge you for it, or think they are doing you a real favor! We got a talk today about how each room comes with ONE towel and ONE blanket and anything extra is a favor (or will come at a cost). It's not like America where we can ask for more and more and more towels, blankets, sheets, etc.. Just be aware of this. Might be worth your while to bring extra towels and a sheet so you don't have to mess with it!

10. Above all, remember that we need to dispel the "Ugly Americans" reputation! What is it to us, really, if we have to do things "the Ghana way" for a short while? Not much. But it might leave the Ghanaians you deal with with a better taste in their mouths about Americans. =-)


livingpurereligion 7:39 AM  

SO wish that I had read this post *BEFORE* I went to Ghana the first time! So true... all of it!!!

Jen 7:45 AM  

I had a problem with 8. They said I would get a discount and then when I went to pay, wanted to take it away. They did not see a problem with that at all. I might add that if you get a discount that you pay right away or a little ahead if it is a hotel room to "seal the deal"
Good list.. very true!

Michelle 7:45 AM  

I wish i had known that about the towels....oops! Although We did bring and use our own towels....not out of forethought...but out of luck! I will definitely bring our own towels again if we ever get to travel! haha.

Cora 12:51 PM  

wow those are interesting insights. I think is important to live in the culture while you are there I hope I can do the same someday if I ever find my self in a similar situation.

Life's A Journey_ Ghana Bound 2:52 PM  

This was great to read. We travel for our first time to pick up our daughter at some point. We have been trying to get some "gifts" together. Do you have any other helpful ideas? I want to pack useful things. If you get a chance, could you email me at Thanks so much!

KamPossible 2:31 PM  

#5... so true. And in America there is a limit to how much you can ask a friend for. You can only eat so many meals or stay so many days, or ask for so many favors... then you are obligated to start asking other friends. This is NOT the Ghana way. Asking someone else for assistance will result in good old drama.

I would say that my experience would also lead me to believe that your first contact, or closest contact, or elder contact is really the one you should pass all requests through. If you have a want or need or request of any kind, go to that person for instruction on how to proceed.

Additionally, I believe that the "generation gap" in Ghana will find you interacting with younger folks who seem okay to do it in a way we Americans are more familiar with, in the mean time the elders might see you as direspectful.

My personal goal is to fit in while in Ghana. I am not an American visiting Ghana. I am not looking for them to accomodate me as an American. It's my responsiblity to learn the culture (which is why I love you and your posts, I think you believe the same). In learning the culture I make mistakes. I admit to them, I explain why an American would do it the way I did it, and then I do it their way.

(I do have one exception, I cannot bring myself to ride in a tro-tro. I am not above it, I have done it, but the amount of anxiety riding around in 100 degree weather sitting between several people emitting 98.6 additional degrees of heat makes me weary and dilusional - as long as I pay for my Ghanaian friends' taxi ride am I being respectful?)

Bloggin' Robin 7:23 PM  

Thank you for all of the reminders! When we travel I will re-read this post! I hope your trip in Ghana is wonderful.