Thursday, March 04, 2010

One Blunder A Ghanaian Must Never Ever Commit - And Other Cultures Could Learn From Us.

On this blog we talk a lot about the things Ghanaians do. We've gone through everything from Ghanaian insults, to church songs, through jama songs, and Ghanaian advertising, to the characters we find in our churches, to the way we decorate our living rooms, and even the way our men sometimes lie about having slept with a girl. Great, fun, funny stuff.

But what we haven't done so much of, is talk about the things we don't do.  Yet the things  we don't do because we're Ghanaians is a part of our culture too. Today, I'd like us to look at one of the things Ghanaians don't do.
Ghanaians do not announce, in detail, especially to friends, new found wealth or good fortune of any kind.  If your Mamma never told you this, I'm telling you now. We don't do this.


It's not because people would come for assistance from you. Though they probably would. 
But we don't do this because ɛho nhia. (It is not necessary) There is seldom a good reason to share this information. All it ever does is make the listening friend malcontent. It is not that your friends do not wish you well. They do but they wish well for themselves too, and so anytime you talk specifically about your good fortune, we wonder about ourselves. It is human nature.
We don't do this, because we consider how that might make the listening friend feel. It's not always about us. And especially when we have, it's not the time to rob another of their contentment.
Personally, I never ask my friends how much they make. As long as  my friend has accepted a job and is happy with it, how does it profit me to ask how much she makes? So that if it is higher than what I make, then I would suddenly be discontent ? And if it is less, then what? I also divulge how much I make and sully my friend's celebratory moment? 

A friend told me how when they were in secondary school, there was this girl who always did so well on tests, yet whenever they'd come out of a test, and the rest of the class was complaining, she'd never respond in a way that showed she'd actually found the test rather too koko (easy).

I feel her.

Because afterall, what would it achieve?

Ladies, for this same reason, I ask you, is it at all necessary to ask a newly engaged woman how much her ring cost, or whether it has diamonds, or gold? So what if it's glass? Then what? And if it is diamond, then you'll discuss what carat and then what? Is there ever a good motive for demanding this amount of detail? And if you're the one who got engaged and you got a whatever carat, enjoy it, but is it necessary to tell your friends how much the ring cost, and that it's xxx carat gold? For what? To make yourself feel better?  Because despite all that you claim to have, you need to have this petty conversation to feel good?
Now if you have money or wealth and you want to talk about it, of course you could find friends who're also wealthy and then there wouldn't be a problem right?



It never quite works out that way because no two people will ever have equal everything. Even if you both  have two houses, if you start talking about your houses in detail. It eventually becomes , if you'll excuse my language, a dick measuring contest. And what, if I may ask is the bloody point of that?

See, there's nothing wrong with having. Whether it is money, some other kind of wealth or property. But regardless of what you see in the media, get it clear in your head that what we have is very separate from what/who we are. And when you put down somebody in your overzealousness to showcase what you have, you make it all to apparent you aren't much. What we have includes the privilege to attend schools of high repute. The privilege to have parents who are known, the people who love us, the jobs we have, the places we live, our minds and our beauty. But never forget, that is not who you are. 
If you don't know who  you are, you have to go in search of yourself. But in the meantime, here's a little tip on how a Ghanaian responds in certain situations. As you'll see, with the Ghanaian way, there's  no need to get into the details. So for all y'all who don't know how to live life Ghana style, listen up. Here's how to do it.

When someone asks you, abrabo'm te sɛn? (How is life) The most suitable responses are Nyame adom (By God's grace) or Ye de de mu saa (we're carrying on). Or if they want to be funny, they'll respond, "ete sɛ wo suban" (it's like your character).

Point being...when someone asks you how things are, even if you just won the jackpot, you respond in the manner I've just described. It is never appropriate in a conversation with your friend to tell people how now you have a nice cushy job, and they pay you this much, and this much, and you have so much stashed away. It is not. We don't do this in Ghana. Just saying...,'cos maybe your mamma never told you this one.

What are your thoughts? Do you ever feel tempted to share aspects of your life to make a point? How do you respond to this urge? Does it really make you feel better to show in some way that you're better? Ever?


  1. I'm feeling this one Esi.. I mean, what's the point in bragging about your good fortune? You only end up making enemies for yourself.

    And I'm sure yo Momma told you about superstitious beliefs and how people envy the successful to the extent of visiting fetish priests or juju men to ruin the lives of such successful people who won't keep their mouths shut...

    My mom always tells me " Don't tell many people about your plans till you follow them through cus, not everyone who smiles at u likes u" There is always an enemy that u never thought of.

    Now would a hen go announcing that her chicks are going to hatch soon if she knew the hawk could be nearby?

    I don't think so....

  2. Esi you are on point, nobody ever really does that, even on student level, we don't talk about how much pocket money daddy or mummy is giving you. We jus observe and make our silent analysis.

  3. Esi, I hear you but how am I going to be "stuntastic" when I can't let people know the full extent of "ballerifics"? Is behaving like a young Kofi Wayo really in bad taste?

  4. hehe @lucci. My school days were waay different, people did tell the amount mom gave em and Lord did it cause trouble! I for one am quiet a no-no in my books.

  5. Esi, I see you are laying down the law now so people wont ask later how much your wedding dress cost. Sly chick!
    You are right though. Generally, Ghanaians are modest. That is one of the few things that I'm not sure if we should encourage or not because we are competing with the West more these days (for jobs etc). E.g 2 people go for a job interview. The Ghanaman will be modest about his skills and qualifications but Mr West will run his mouth & talk about how he's held a 10.0 GPA since nursery school.
    It boils down to self-confidence too but I think it is linked to what you've written about. We just dont talk about somethings but we will tell you about the general things that we feel are important.

  6. I love this this write. I disagree with a few things though. If say your friend is earning so much working at X, and you so little (esp. when U r in the same field) is your duty to let them hit the ground, let them know they r being ripped off. As for comparing it makes as competitive. When I was a kid I always checked grades and knew who topped this subject ot must know those ahead and those behind you ..lets face it life is a race in some aspects. The diamond rings etc...I agree those questions are irrelevant. As for the girl who pretended the exams weren't easy I know that kind they end up being school prefects in WGHS.

  7. Spot on!
    Let me add to the list:
    - we don't announce we're engaged/about to be married.
    We tell those who need to be there to get ready. And these days maybe we throw a party (aka wedding/reception) and assume everyone will come if they heard about the event :)

    - we don't announce we're about to have a kid.
    We announce the kid's been born and everyone's invited to the 'launching' (aka outdooring).

    - we don't announce that we just got admission into some fancy school (which is kind of funny because then you meet your relative's kid at the same school and you're like "how come I didn't know we were both coming here" :) ).
    We announce it when we're there and touched the school gate with our own hands:)

    I'm also not saying it's good or bad, but just that it's not really considered a standard thing to do at least in the part of Ghana I know well.

    That said, if you're living in a Western country you also need to know they expect almost the exact opposite (it's called 'gaining more visibility' in office-speak).

  8. But Esi,
    I have this Ghanaian friend and he always makes it a point to tell me how well his life is going...stuff like the new car he just bought, or how much he is paying for his mortgage, or how high his new salary is or even his wife. He is very Ghanaian..

  9. @Enyonam. "My mom always tells me " Don't tell many people about your plans till you follow them through cus, not everyone who smiles at u likes u" There is always an enemy that u never thought of"...I heard Patrick Awuah say that Ashesi University has this exact policy even concerning advertising. They will not publicize plans but rather accomplishments. I think it makes sense but how does that work with what our elders say...that w'anton wo yare a, wonnya ano eduro. (If you don't tell people what ails you, you will not find a cure?)

    I guess sharing problems and inviting suggestions/solutions isn't the same as declaring plans. Seems to me, it may be okay share both actually and even share general successes but spare everyone the details? That is, it's okay to share that you got your end of year bonus and so are excited about it, but not necessary to say...hey everyone...I'm $20,000 dollars richer! Specially not to someone whose total annual income is $10,000...What do you think?

    @Lucci.This pocket money issue can make a student feel poor paa. I once was a dorm monitress in Gey hey and was responsible for collecting pocket moneys from those in my dorm for safe-keeping in the school bank. And there was such a wide difference among the pocket moneys the girls submitted.I think if I was one of those receiving the lowest and say I found out that someone else got like 5 times what I was getting, i'd feel deprived paa:) But then again, where does contentment come in? Can one only be content if one knows not what others have?

    @Wofa eric, maybe it's okay for them to realise you have much when say they visit you and see your very nice house but there's no need to tell them it costs a million bucks? In primary school, there was this kid who looked and acted like an agya ba just like the rest of us. You know? No airs, no i don't like this or that, i don't play with this kind of person or that...and then one day, regular joe had a party so people went to his house for the first time. And they were blown away. One guy still tells the story to this day of how when he went to regular joe's house, it was the nicest damn house he'd ever been to, and he was so shocked that regular joe wasn't too known. Even as kids, we had a new found respect for the boy who could resist being too known because we knew in our hearts of hearts that if we had even half what regular joe had, we'd be the ultimate too known kids. There's something refreshing about this kind of modesty, wouldn't you say?

    @Juanita...i did not see your comment before i responded to lucci but now that i've read it, all i can say is oyiwa!

    @Mike, well, there is a difference between confidence and the kind of arrogance we're talking about...that whether intended or not, may put people down. I introduced two guys to each other once. In the 10 minutes that they chatted, one told the other...I'm one of the best students that ever came out of so and so school. The other guy by the way had also attended the same school but was not in the same year. Imagine how he felt.Heck, even i felt funny. Yet I know other people that are much smarter than this guy who don't feel the need to put it out there like that. If you're so smart or so rich or so cool, let people discover this for themselves through your actions or your ideas or your accomplishments. You don't need to "tell them" and especially not within 10 minutes of meeting someone. Truly confident people don't feel the need to do this. Oh and about the wedding, me and the man were just talking about it yesterday. we were wondering if close friends would be hurt if we restricted the invitees to only family. lol. I think i'm gonna try some Kaba or somn. What say you?

  10. @Anonymous, i used to check grades too, and it did spur me on to try harder. Who was it that said all progress stems from discontent with the status quo? I have to agree with you on that. But then again, sharing how much you make in order to get them to demand more from their employees is quite different from just declaring for the sake of it, no? There's a time and place for everything. I think the manner in which it is done also matters. For example if your friend just got a new job and she tells you, they offered me such and such amount and asks you if you think she should accept it...if you make double that, you can share this information then and tell her to ask for more? Even if she doesn't get it, i don't think she'd feel bad about herself and envy yours because she'd see you as someone who is trying to build her up.

    As for life being a race, i think it's yes, and no. It's a race we run against ourselves. No one out there has my particular strengths, upbringing, and talents so how could they possibly compete with me in anything? So my goal in life should not be to make more than Akosua but rather to make as much as my skills are worth. Ideally, i shouldn't want to build a mud house because akosua built one, i should determine what i like and build a house that reflects what i like.

    I'm enjoying this discussion and hope we can take it much further. Looking forward to hearing what you all think.

  11. Esi, my momma told me this one but I think she wasn't entirely right. For a long time, I never understood why some people felt the need to share "unnecessary" personal information like how much they earned, what assets their parents had in their name and how awesome their GPAs were. I however kept encountering so many instances of such narcissism that I began studying the phenomenon. I found these out:

    1. It is a defence mechanism resulting from insecurity. We human beings are always making judgements about others. Unfortunately, this judgement is influenced by just what is evident (seen/heard/smelled) and not what is hidden. People who have certain things which may influence this judgement but is not evident feel the need to proclaim them. If they don't, they are afraid the wrong opinions will be formed about them. When you meet a vulcanizer at Suame, your first impressions of him may not be of a responsible guy who keeps a decent home. However, if he "yobs" you small about that three bedroom house he's putting up at Abuakwa (even when you've not asked for this info), you may tros. Same thing applies to that guy with a Yale Law degree.

    2. It works! Yes, bragging works. That is the part that I feel my momma never told me. I have mad respect for unassuming people but I feel I am in the minority. Most people believe the guy who toots his own horn. Two guys want a girl, one has money but doesn't show/talk about it and the other shows it. 8/10 times, the ostentatious/boastful guy is gonna go home with the girl. Two women in a church want a position, one has a well paying job but keeps mum about it; the other has a rich husband and brags about the 24K gold necklace her husband bought her just last week. 8/10 Osofo gives the position to the latter. It happens in job searches, it happens in contract bidding, it happens in sales. Bragging may be distasteful to some, but it wins over many others. Such is the sad nature of human existence. Ahwene pa nkasa is what they told me as a child, but I don't think that idiom is fully reflective of reality.

    Esi, if you got nothing to boast of, keep quiet & let's listen to the trumpets of those who do. Hehehe

  12. Intersting write up. There are two sides to this story. I believed in humility until I went out of Ghana and saw the exact opposite. We do have a tendency to keep humble as Ghanaians but has that helped us in the past? It is those countries that are more flashy... that show off what they have that people often hear off. A couple of countries in Africa come to mind. Yes humility can be a good thing if done in moderation.Anything less than that and people take you for a weak, underconfident doormat. Come to think of it, if America kept quiet about her loot, you and I would never have desired to go there. That is precisely why it the #1 destination in the world. The realities will hit you later. But they are good at catching your attention. That cannot be so bad for Ghana can it?

    I have a friend who always asks me so how much I make (an hour) This is somebody who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth,and I mean SILVER. Still sucking on it, but she wants to know anyway. Its one of the 1st questions she asks whenever I meet her. I plan on telling her just how I feel about that next time she asks.

    Growing up in Ridge Church, there was this girl, who was KNOWN for bragging. From every indication she is still not humble any. But guess what? She hasn't suffered for it. I knew a few ppl. like that in Aburi Girls well. They are doing just fine. People are drawn to them. Flock to them even. Maybe hoping some crumbs will fall from the king's table. Frankly, I wish I had been taught how to blow my own trumpet in my formative years. Or maybe I should have been born outside of Ghana. Selling yourself is not as bad a thing as Ghanaians think. If you don't let others know what to have to offer, nobody will.

  13. In this discussion, the lines between confidence and bragging can easily be blurred. There are people who derive confidence from peoples’ positive perception of them and so feel the need to brag their way up. And there are those I call “quietly confident” who do not define themselves by what they have or do, or by what people’s perception of them are, and so are more modest in their ways of life… In my view, intrinsic confidence beats the extrinsic kind any day!

    I have actually observed some Ghanaians who want so much to be regarded as modest. In so doing, I feel they are silently bragging about their modesty. Has anyone else encountered such people?

    I agree with Esi that the key is to timely strike a fine balance between what’s appropriate to divulge and what to be modest (i.e. keep quiet) about.

    @ Esi: “Regular Joe’s” story just blew me away. I know a few of such now (as in parents live and work in Ghana and have bought and paid for an expensive house in the US for them, just so they’ll be comfortable). “No airs, no I don't like this or that, no I don't play with this kind of person or that...” You can imagine the deep respect I have for them.

  14. Kaba will be nice & different.
    Good think I won't be invited because I have a thing for women in Kaba. The osofo might notice me drooling, see where my eyes are focused and kick me out of the ceremony.
    Don't worry about close friends getting offended if you & your man choose to make it a family affair. They'll get over it.

    Back to the blog subject; the various comments and examples show it is a fine line that bounds modesty & self-confidence. Easy to go over that boundary and be in the company of the boastful.

    @ Thomas Kyei-Boateng; Ahwene pa nkasa but we hear it behind closed-doors where we're supposed to hear it. Right?
    That is the fine line we weren't told about.

  15. If you've got it, flaunt it! There's nothing wrong with showing off what you've got. If others get jealous or depressed about it too bad. It's their problem not yours. They can deal with it!

  16. Ah, so a friend of mine called me today to discuss this topic in more detail. haha. Looks like all the discussion here wasn't enough for him. And then he came up with a suggestion to list all of the things Ghanaians like to brag about. His guess was that we'll likely find that guys and girls brag about different things. So here we go. My list of things girls brag about:

    1. Money + stuff
    2. Their men
    3. Their bodies...especially in America.
    4. Sex

    @Anonymous, help us out with a list of things we should flaunt if we've got

    @Nanasei...I'm feeling you on the modesty thing. So i guess we should throw that on the list of things Ghanaians brag about?

    @Thomas, help us out here, we beg.

    Also, is it bragging if you've actually done what you're saying you've done? I've heard of cases where person claims x when they actually don't have x. What d'you make of this?

    @Mike, my husband reads the blog o. And he's been gyming paa *bragging* so therefore dey G lest he comes after you:)

    "Ahwene pa nkasa but we hear it behind closed-doors where we're supposed to hear it" ...Eish so u've been hearing some ahwene heh? *bragging*? lol


  17. nice discussion:)
    perhaps the line between bragging and self-confidence is best described by the US Supreme Court's characterization of pornography: "you'll know it when you see it"

  18. This is all I have to say... chillop! Watch my vid... tres bien merci! VIMMMMM

  19. Sometimes, Modesty appears as unmotivated and slow.I think Ghanaians must learn the art of selling themselves... but to the right people.

    Selling yourself to the doorman may boost your ego but not necessarily boost your career.

    Modesty is knowing who to shut up around and who to brag around.

  20. @Wofa Eric,
    Nana Osbey Capo Cheerz. We chillup! Love the dude. But i disagree with him bigging up Lenden. Still, one of these days, we should get him to do a collaboration with Wo Se Ekyir. Like give him a topic and get him to do a video on it. Actually, maybe it's time for him to get his own blog or website. Wo deaseE?

  21. I hate the way we tend to lower our true worth. Why do you think outsiders believe that Ghanaians are so friendly? It’s because we give them this false impression that we are worse-off than we truly are; relatively, it makes them feel that they are better-off than they thought. This false-ahobrase has become the expected national character; so we’re considered rude when we assert ourselves. I find our pretentious humility to be disgraceful!
    Here’s another lie: you pretend to be humble, so others won’t be hurt, depressed or jealous. Who are you kidding? If you care so much about them, then why not sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor? Then you can stop pretending to be weak in the name of the Lord because you will become weak like them, and like the apostle Paul you can go boasting all the more gladly about your weaknesses:)
    The truth is: you don’t show your true worth because you get a certain satisfaction from ACTING humble; it’s a subtle feeling of superiority. This is all you get from your quasi-humility.
    All I am saying is that when I sing my own praises in moderation, I get more than this *satisfiction. I get what I truly deserve, and this applies at work and my others relationship, so as long as I’m telling the truth, I’ll boast all I can.
    If I believe myself to be great, then why should I present myself otherwise? To segue your recent post on the vagina monologue, what's wrong with a dick measuring contest? Why should I not tell of my true measurement to get what I want?

  22. "Why do you think outsiders believe that Ghanaians are so friendly? This false-ahobrase has become the expected NATIONAL CHARACTER; so we’re considered rude when we assert ourselves"

    Kan-did..APPLAUSE APPLAUSE!!!!!! You couldn't have siad it better. Where THE HECK is humility going to get us as a nation? People fear and respect ASSERTIVE nations, not those who go out of their way to be friendly like Ghanaians..We will inconvenience ourselves to please other if we have to..THAT is slavish, people......We are so fake, it makes me dizzy.Underneath those fake smiles are some of the meanest people you ever met.


  24. Nana Kofi said it best. Know when to talk plenty.
    We can tell from the comments and examples that it is indeed a very fine fine between being assertive & confident and being a braggart.

    Mr Esi, relax ok. I won't look too much.

  25. Hi Esi - how does this issue fit in with the Ghanaian practice called unofficially "PhD" or Pull-him-down. I've been told (and witnessed for myself) that Ghanaians can be known to begrudge another's successes and want to pull him back down - what do you think on that issue??