Over the months we’ve come to realize that truly one of the most difficult aspects of volunteer service is the understanding, communicating, and managing of cultural differences. Scenarios can range anywhere from establishing and maintaining personal relationships, to holding meetings at an agreed upon time, or any number of interactions held in the markets, or really anywhere that differences in cultural backgrounds force us to interpret situations very differently from each other, often unaware of the cultural context the other party is drawing from.
In his book, African Friends and Money Matters, David Maranz attempts to describe some of the cultural differences in everyday life between Africa and the “West.” He draws upon his own experiences of living across the continent, as well as his background in Ethnography, to make ninety distinct cultural observations, which he then tries to explain by presenting the cultural context behind each observation.
One easy criticism to make is that he overly simplifies the many different cultures spread across the African continent and the world into simply the “West” and Africa. Despite this problem I still found many of the observations to be strikingly accurate, and some even enlightening as to the cultural reasoning behind some previously misunderstood behaviors.
Listed below are several of his cultural observations that we observe or encounter on a regular basis:
#3. Money is to be spent before friends or relatives ask to “borrow” it.
#12. Africans readily share space and things but are possessive of knowledge.
#16. Precision is to be avoided in accounting as it shows the lack of a generous spirit.
#35. Africans find security in ambiguous arrangements, plans, and speech.
#41. In many rural communities people are afraid to accumulate more goods or property than their neighbors and kin, for fear of creating jealousy which may lead to reprisals being carried out against them on an occult level.
#50. A person with financial means is basically expected to pay a higher price than is a poor person.
#62. The value of a development project is not to be measured by its long-term success.
#68. The use of the word loan when requesting money from someone is often a euphemism for gift.
#78. Many people will choose a sure and immediate benefit over a potentially larger long-term benefit.
#84. 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.
#88. Having the correct amount of money for a business transaction is the responsibility of the buyer it is not the seller’s responsibility to provide change.
With many more observations included, each followed by detailed but simple explanations, drawings, and anecdotes this book is sure to help the unaware “Westerner” learn more about African culture, friends, and money matters.