18 August 2014

Cultural Difference #6: Compliments in the form of a request

African Friends 
and Money Matters  
by David Maranz

Africans often give compliments indirectly 
in the form of a request for gifts, 
forming them as a question.

Westerners are not used to such compliments and easily misinterpret 
them or take offense. 

Typical compliment 
Can I have your shirt? 

Typical response 
I’ll give it to you when it has a little brother. 
[Meaning: ‘When I have another I’ll give it to you.’)

Africans understand responses (like above example) as replies that mean ‘no’, but that are more considerate of feelings. The rules of the game dictate that the response to the compliment be given in one of these styles:
  • Appear to take the compliment seriously as a request. 
  • Fend off the request with a polite and phony excuse. 
  • What most delights Africans is to make a clever joke out of it, and even mildly embarrass the one making the compliment. 

Playing word such word games is one of the joys of conversation to Africans.

Westerners do not give compliments as requests. While living in Africa, Westerners are constantly approached for actual requests for money, assistance, etc. and feel bombarded by these unpleasant encounters. Because of that, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the subtle differences of begging and a compliment formed as a request.

[Note: This post contains selected excerpts from the book 
and is only one out of 90 that the author explains.]

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