If you ever decide to take a trip to Africa, you need to buy and read this book! If you hope to make friends you will keep in touch with, it’s an absolute necessity. In the West, the minute a friend asks for money, things get weird and the friendship probably won’t last long. In Africa, if there is no exchange of money or resources involved, things will get weird and the friendship probably won’t last long. East is east and west is west and there will be no meeting of the minds on the issue of money (and a lot of other customs) without help from someone like David Maranz, a linguist working in Africa since 1975.
I traveled to Uganda twice before I read this book and each page offered at least one aha! moment, as perplexing scenes and situations I had witnessed in Africa were given context and clarity. The style makes for a very enjoyable read and the illustrations by African artists are insightful, amusing and familiar. Even if you have no interest in traveling to Africa, the book is a collection of anecdotes that will keep you riveted for hours.
Reading the book was sometimes uncomfortable as I realized how I had insulted and misunderstood my African friends during my previous visits (though they tell me they understand and knew we were acting out of ignorance). It was also a tragic revelation into the mindset and harmful attitudes of westerners I met, who were living in Africa. For missionaries and Christian workers – next to the Bible, this book is compulsory reading!
The author presents 90 examples illustrating the differences between African and western thinking on:
- Use of Resources
- The Role of Solidarity
- Society and People of Means
- Loans and Debts
- Business Matters
Here is a list of some of the most colorful and crucial examples — I’ve seen most of these first hand and could comment endlessly, but I’ll spare you:
- The financial need that occurs first has the first claim on the available resources
- If something is not being actively used, it is considered to be “available”
- Africans readily share space and things, but are possessive of knowledge
- Precision is to be avoided in accounting as it shows the lack of a generous spirit
- Budgeting, in a formal accounting sense, is not an accepted way of handling personal finances
- A network of friends is a network of resources
- Africans constantly work at maintaining and enlarging their network of friends
- Africans are more hospitable than charitable. Westerners are more charitable than hospitable
- Compliments are frequently given indirectly in the form of requests for gifts or loans and often formulated in questions
- Africans find security in ambiguous arrangements, plans, and speech — Westerners prefer specificity
- Giving preference to the employment of kin over non-kin is a normal expression of family responsibility and solidarity
- The reputation of people of means is enhanced through the frequent personal visits of their clients. Foreigners are typically frustrated and inconvenienced by frequent, uninvited visits of African friends and acquaintances
- Old debts are forgotten and are not expected to be repaid, neither by the debtor nor by the lender
- The value of a development project is not to be measured by its long-term success
- The use of the word loan when requesting money from someone is often a euphemism for gift
- Bargaining for a better deal in any transaction involves important social as well as economic factors — bargaining is encouraged and expected
- When a customer is told that an ordered article or service will be ready on a specified time or date, it is unlikely to be ready at that time
Because I am actually an introvert, this is, by far, my favorite and most personally uncomfortable observation in the entire book:
It is also true that Africans readily share space with others… they are with others almost constantly. They avoid being alone… If an individual has a preference for being alone to a noticeable extent, he or she is considered strange, antisocial, or even to be feared.