“In Ghana here,” most everything feels different so far (Ghanaians love to talk about their country and culture, and start most of these sentences with “in Ghana here…”. I find it quite cute.) There are plenty of social norms I’ve noticed so far, including phrases, greetings, and behaviors. For example, Ghanaians say ‘please’ and ‘sorry’ a lot. This has struck me because in the U.S., these words have a connotation of inferiority or feeling like a burden. Women in the U.S. tend to use this type of language more often than men, and are encouraged to use these words less frequently in order to be more confident and secure. Here though, it is the norm for anyone to say ‘please’ and ‘sorry’ a lot in conversation and I think they just view it as being polite. The other day, my friend tripped and fell while we were running and a woman walking by saw, developed a concerned look on her face, and called out, “Sorry!”
Greetings are also very important, as Professor Forson informed us. I’ve learned this through having to do introductions at our service sites and at KNUST to familiarize ourselves with the space and meet the professors/bosses at each site. While the whole process is actually pretty informal (we just show up, pile into an office, and say hello), they made a big point of it happening our first week here. I also experienced the importance of greetings at my service site, New Mission Academy, where all of the teachers say good morning to me and each other and the students salute/curtsey to the teachers when they enter a space (even if they came for a purpose unrelated to you). You can read more about the importance of greeting in Ghanaian society here: http://www.ghanainfo.net/ghana-a-brief-introduction/the-ghanaian/and http://www.akan.org/akan_cd/ALIAKAN/course/U1-Drill-p30.html.
Another social norm here is following authority and/or not questioning authority. I’ve seen this at New Mission Academy as the teachers express that they can’t teach how they want to teach or make suggestions; they have to follow the rules of the principal. I’ve also noticed this norm in society. Ghanaians love and respect their king (as I witnessed cheers of excitement towards him at a soccer game to honor his 20thanniversary as king), but also think that he and other rich and powerful government/high up individuals are selfish with their money and resources. Ghanaians have pride in being from Ghana and love it despite acknowledging the issues of leadership.
Lastly, what I’ve been thinking about most in terms of social norms is smiling. I’ve been confused because it seems everyone has been mentioning how friendly Ghanaians are. It is also talked about at this website (https://www.easytrackghana.com/tour-ghana_people.php). So, I came in with that expectation. However, when we have been walking around, people just stare at us with a straight face. Even when they do stop to talk to us or help us, it seems getting a smile isn’t a guarantee. I associate friendliness with smiling, so this went against my expectation, but I realize they are friendly in other ways and we could be defining ‘friendly’ in different ways. I’m also used to the American south, where you greet someone, even a stranger, with a smile. I asked our Ghanaian friend about people not smiling at us and he told me most people were taught not to smile at strangers here. This isn’t to say no one has smiled at us ever here, because some do (especially the kids), but it has just stood out to me when people haven’t despite me smiling at them. I’m excited to continue learning about Ghanaian experiences and behaviors throughout our time here.