Ghanaians pride themselves as “friendly”.
When I first arrived in Ghana, I would have agreed with this self-portrayal. Walk down any road and locals will greet you with a “Good morning” or “Good afternoon”. The illiterates will shout “Obruni!” as if I need to be reminded that I’m a white person. (They consider this to be friendly; most foreigners find it rather annoying.)
Furthermore, if you chance upon someone eating a meal – “Yendidi!” – he will invite you to share it with him. I’ve had a few occasions when I didn’t know what I would do for supper and an unexpected fellow offered to share his stew and rice. It’s quite appreciated.
Is greeting people and offering to share food being polite or friendly? Remember: It’s not premeditated. I’d say both responses are part of the culture. If you don’t greet someone or offer to share your food with someone, it’s considered rude.
Dictionary.com offers several possible definitions of “friendly” including:
My definitions of “friendly” suggests that you are treating someone as a friend. A friend is someone you confide in; someone you socialize with; someone who is one step below your family; someone who you visit and someone you invite into your home.
After more than two years in this country, I can count on one hand the number of times a Ghanaian has invited me to their home for food or to share a drink. Actually, if you exclude all the Ghanaians who have lived abroad, e.g. UK, US, Japan, South Africa, then the number is zero.
I cannot think of one local Ghanaian who has invited me into their home!
Please, someone explain to me why this is so… I have hosted dinner parties but I’ve stopped because the gesture is never reciprocated. In fact, if you host a party, then be prepared for your guests to invite their friends to your party. That’s not appreciated. For instance, you’re expecting 20 guests but 40 people arrive.
Ok, let’s say you don’t think being invited over is particularly important, then understand that developing non-business friendships is especially challenging.
Last year, I began attending Rotary meetings in Accra. After every meeting, there would be a time to socialize. I found it awkward to try to strike up a conversation with local and professional Ghanaians. Everyone at these meetings had at least a university degree — often times, they also had graduate degrees. I found small talk very difficult. Could it be I had nothing in common with them? I didn’t follow local politics, go to church, nor frequent funerals. Similarly, they didn’t seem to be interested in the world outside Ghana.
On the other hand, when I brought a thirty-something female, South African friend to one of these meetings, she was mobbed by men. She explained that she was the new thing that all the guys wanted to get a look at.
If Ghanaians and I are simply inhabiting different worlds, then different definitions should be expected. I’m finding that “friend” means something wholly different here than the rest of the world.
In Ghana, if someone asks if he can be your friend, then you can expect that he wants something from you. On more than one occasion, a man has asked if he could be my friend and his next question was, “Can you help me?” or “Can you give me XX cedi?”
If you’re a foreign woman and a local man asks if he can be your friend, then you can assume he wants to have sex with you.
My conclusion is that Ghanaians are an insular people. Whether it’s due to a lack of exposure to the rest of the world or the culture simply walls off all that is not Ghanaian, then you should be prepared to make an effort to break into local social circles.