Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Receiving Compliments in Ghana

The vast differences in cultural understanding can be neatly identified in the ways in which Ghanaian people give compliments. So many times during my stay here, I have been accosted by statements to which I often initially take offense. However, upon noticing my disgruntled or confused expression the complimenter generally insists that what they've said is actually a GOOD thing.

Example #1: “Madame Becky, your earrings are killing me!” Upon hearing this, my immediate mental image was the slow, painful death that would ensue if trying to murder someone with an earring. But maybe that's just my sadistic mind. As it turns out, it's not that far off from Western expressions of saying something is “sick” or “cool.”

Example #2: “You are growing BIG!” or, even more delightful... “Ghana is making you FAT!” I receive these remarks on at least a weekly basis, if not more frequently. Generally, when these statements occur in shorter intervals of time, I become driven to go jogging for maybe one or two mornings and stop eating fufu for 3 or so days. But exercising in this country is just way too difficult, as is avoiding fufu or other foods in the form of carbohydrate-rich balls. Nonetheless, saying someone is “fat” or “big” is a compliment here because Ghanaians like big people, especially women. It is desirable to be big/fat because it demonstrates that you come from a family wealthy enough to fill your belly to the brim with food everyday, you have children to work for you, and you are fertile and womanly.

Example #3: One particularly startling 'compliment' that I received yesterday was “You look like you've just given birth!” This confused me greatly, to say the least, as in my mind, I imagined a woman laying on the birthing table covered in sweat and baby residue. I, on the other hand, although sweating an average amount for Ghana, was sitting quietly at a table, not exerting myself at all. But, as it turns out, she was actually just referring to the clothing I was wearing – a white top and blue skirt and, in her words “my bright smile and expression” that would doubtlessly match the beaming face of a woman who just brought a child into the world. This again reflects the cultural priorities in the country, since giving birth to a plenitude of children is generally a very desirable thing to do, and doing so is a major source of pride and happiness for the mother and family. Basically, why would someone NOT want to look like they've just given birth?

Example #4: Although not so culturally-specific or confusing, another rather cute compliment that I received was the following: “Sister Becky, today your beautyness has come.” Just like that. It's nice how beautyness happens sometimes.

I hope everyone is doing well. I have to say that I'm not yet really missing the whole “Christmas season” thing because it's difficult to fathom Christmas when it's 30+ degrees everyday. As most of you probably know, my boyfriend Kevin is coming to visit me December 20th, and we will be spending Christmas on the beach. I am excited!