Saying Hello and Smiling First in Africa

Saying Hello and Smiling First in Africa

A Scout smiles and whistles under all circumstances.
- Robert Baden-Powell 1857 - 1941
- British soldier and founder of the Boy Scout movement.

My new friend Tony migrated from Ghana to the Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa because of better jobs and pay, he now works in the Bon Prix Supermarket.
He asked me a question,
"Why do you come in the Super Market everyday?"
There was a queue of smart replies in my head, but I chose this one.
"To try to make the girl at the checkout smile."

This is Kellie, the small girl who lives in my Hotel the "Las Palmas"

Grand Bassam, Quartier Françoise
Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa --- Saturday, October 9, 2010


I Smile First
The poor girls at the Super Market checkout here in Grand Bassam have a tough job, I feel it is my job to make them smile and laugh. There is no line, the situation is like a busy bar in the USA, you must crowd you way to front of the line, push to the front, people refuse to take turns, there is no queue. (Cultural Fatigue)

Therefore, the checkout girl is constantly dealing with "Nepotism." problem, Tony taught me this word.
Nepotism: favoritism shown to relatives: favoritism shown by somebody in power to relatives and friends, especially in appointing them to good positions

When I walk into the Supermarket, Tony meets me and wants to take me to the front of the line, I refuse and he is confused. I say, this is not "justice." and because I am a big guy, I can always be at the front of the line.

My Job in Life
I tell Tony,
"My job in life is to be a good example, therefore I try my best to make the girl at the checkout smile and not take life too serious."
He ask,
"Why is this your job?"

I am the only White Man, people are watching me --- what I do, become the stereotype of the "American White Man."
I make a joke about the French in Ivory Coast.
"Look at all the old French people here, with long noses and long face, they look beat up, like they forgot to go home after the Colonization ended, and no replacement have been sent."
"This is a French person to you."

"Tony, I am an Ambassador in Life, there are a few people who never lose their cool, who can remember to stay the course. There are leaders, and there are followers, there is the person everyone is watching. People tend to watch me all the time, I am not sure exactly why, but I do know this, I am going to be a good example, that is my job."

Tony is confused, too much English in one swoop for a Ghana man who really speaks Nzima as his first language.

"Tony, if you are a big person, (powerful) you say hello first, and smile first."

Tony says,
"We have a long history of Nepotism; the small people (weak) must smile first."

This is confusing to people in the USA, it is confusing to people here in Africa. However, I will stay the course; I know that my job is to be good person first. I was taught this by "Buster Spade" a farmer in the state of Indiana. I worked for Buster on the farm in my youth for 12 seasons. Buster realized that everyone talked, but he remembered his job was to do the right thing even though there was jealousy everywhere.
If Buster worked, I worked, if Buster walked, I walked, if Buster was quiet, I was quiet. I was a follower of Buster I was his hired hand.

A leader is going to smile first, shake hands first, and say hello first, that is why they call them leaders, they lead.

Why do I go into large Super Markets Daily when Overseas?
Because, I must buy something and get change for a 5000 CFA note, because the small shops never have change, the only hope for change is in the largest stores.

Note: If you lead with good photos on the Internet, it is a question mark whether there is a need to write words.

Saying Hello and Smiling First in Africa


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A sense of humor smiling and laughing make life worthy of living and help share one's travel experience with people anywhere on earth. Somehow I think such a topic shows how much humanity has in common rather than the news reports constantly causing fear and distrust. Glad to be back in Thailand where I'm able to read your blog, Andy, after 3 months in Vietnam, China and Myanmar, all with internet censorship of social network or blog type websites. Hope your trip to Africa proves to be the adventure you needed after your stay Latin America.

I work at a small center for asylum seekers at Zürich Airport. Parallel to working for the people there, I am all the time "smiling first". Usually with some success - building trust, helping people to relax a.s.o. To be honest, I've had the least success with this with people from Cote d'Ivoire, (as opposed for example to people from Ghana, Eritrea or Ethiopia) Sullen is the word that comes to mind.... After trying unsuccessfully to tickle a smile or even eye contact out of someone the whole day, you will here the same people having a riot of a time among themselves laughing joking giggling until someone (not necessarily an employee) joins their group. Then it's that sullen avoidance again. This is a real difference to groups of other nationalities who adapt quickly, and amazingly well, to a very special situation and develop a strong solidarity irrespective of nationality. I wonder if this is a cultural thing?? (Somalis are most often like this too)
What I can say for my current Cote d'Ivoire group- if they feel that ANYONE, no matter where from, is not behaving toward me in a suitable way they get VERY protective, to the point of me having to ask them to back down a bit guys (in French of course!)

Saying Hello is an art, I think being personable should be taught in school, sort of a dying skill set.

I am immersed in the Nzima culture, not Abidjan.

Each language defined culture is different, and Africa changes language quick.

I am not an easy person to ignore, I am willing to say hello and wait for a response.

Try to be a "player" in life, the joy is in opening a window and turning it into a door. Today, the difficult check out girl ccame to the back of the store, she glowed and I forced her to hold my hand for 3 minutes.

Superb Blog entry Andy,
being the African who does not look like and African, ran away to N America,
but whenever the Drums Beat,
a SMILE and the heart beats thump,
i know, Africa is again calling, yes the Smile returns.
adios till next time

Andy, this has always been my theory. Since I spend most of my time in America, I am treated and feel like an outcast because I think this way. I'm no "go-getter" but at least I can live with myself.

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