12 August 2014

Cultural Differences #4: Quantity versus Quality of Friendships

African Friends and Money Matters  
by David Maranz

To an African, a network of friends is a network of resources. 

Friendship and mutual aid go together. More friends means more financial security. 

A friendship devoid of financial or other material considerations is a friendship devoid of a fundamental ingredient: mutual dependence. It is only natural to expect material benefit from friendships.

To a Westerner this comes close to buying friendship, or of seeking and having friends for what one can get out of them. Any friendship that includes material consideration is suspect. Western friendships are built on and valued for: mutual interests, easy social interaction, loyalty, and emotional support; but not normally on finances.

But when questioned, Africans emphatically reject any suggestion that their practice of friendship involves ‘buying friends’.

Westerners seek a relatively few deep, emotionally and psychologically satisfying real friendships. Quality of close friends is seen to be incompatible with quantity. A person is thought not to be able to maintain many close friends.

Africans seek to have a multitude of relatively casual or superficial friendships. Quantity is not seen as incompatible with quality of friendship. 

There is a great quest for increasing one’s network of friends. There is a need to be greeted by and to greet many people, thereby demonstrating affirmation and respect.

In Africa, friendships and connections are essential so there is someone to turn to in case of a multitude of problems that are bound to come up, and for which people are the only way that solutions can be found. 

When public institutions and services are weak, ineffectual, corrupt, or nonexistent, friends are the resources needed for achieving a decent life. It is entirely understandable and logical then that friendships take on very different meanings in the West and in Africa.

Although the Westerner wants to have African friends, when a request for money comes too early and before a bond of respect and trust is established, he sees such requests as manipulation. He thinks the African believes he has pockets full of money and should be willing to share it with his new ‘friend’ who has great material needs.

The Westerner can summarily reject such personal encounters and the people who make them, or can candidly accept them as facts of life in Africa. The latter course of action allows the Westerner to move forward to work out the negative and sometimes positive possibilities that derive from relationships with particular individuals.

Because of this major difference, the formation of true, 
meaningful, and satisfying friendships are difficult to achieve 
between a Westerner and an African. 
It’s not impossible, but it requires effort and commitment 
on both sides to bring it about.

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

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