“Go up the road to the roundabout, then take the first left…”
Explained the guard at the Mensvic Hotel in East Legon to a “nearby” Thai restaurant. We followed his directions and ended up somewhere without any idea of where we were going. Eventually, we figured out he didn’t know what he was talking about and ended up going the opposite direction until we found the signs for the restaurant.
This episode is but one of many of when I asked a Ghanaian a direct question and got some mumbo jumbo. Someone explained that Ghanaians believe it’s rude to say “no” or “I don’t know” to a question. They think that they are being unhelpful.
Instead of admitting their inability to do something, Ghanaians will give their “best efforts” to help you. Unfortunately, trying and doing are not the same thing.
For instance, a friend of mine is building a home. Before he went abroad for a trip, he told his worker to install three lights in a line on the living room ceiling. When he returned from his trip, he found three lights in a line. The middle light, however, was not halfway between the two other lights — it was one third the way from one.
This may be a stretch but I think this inability to say, “I’m sorry. I can’t do it” or “I don’t understand” also extends to how Ghanaians are ALWAYS LATE. A returnee named Michael wanted to do business with a Ghanaian. They agreed to meet at 2pm at a well-known hotel. The Ghanaian didn’t arrive until 6pm. Michael actually waited for him to arrive!
Our roommate regularly has meetings with his Ghanaian bank coworkers. He was supposed to meet someone at 12pm. As expected, the person he was supposed to meet was late. He called at 1pm explaining that he would be late and arrived at the meeting place at 2pm. It’s very hard to work with people who do not treat time the same way as you.
It’s very common to have a Ghanaian agree to do something – he can imagine the money soon to be lining his pocket – and then try to figure it out afterwards.
Oddly enough, I find this behavior very Japanese. The Japanese are known to be non-confrontational and believe that “face” is very important. Americans are more direct but also try to be sensitive when declining an invitation. They, at least, will give some excuse as to why they cannot do it.
The answer: I’ve learned to try to avoid asking any direct, “yes/no” questions. You must ask open directions and/or make them repeat what you said. Rarely do they write anything down or keep notes. You have to follow up and check that they’re doing what they promised they were going to do. Make sure they have enough phone credit and money for transportation. They will not tell you that they don’t have enough money to even do the task.
You have to know what is a reasonable amount of time to do something because you could be waiting and waiting and waiting.
Re-posted from March 11, 2012 of private blog