Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cross-Cultural Living 101

It’s lunchtime and the triangle has been rung to let the members of the group attending a conference on our Centre know it’s time to eat. In the dining hall, places have been set and food laid out for eight people at each table. As they arrive, the conference participants serve themselves. And soon the food is all gone. The only problem is that not everyone has arrived yet! All the food was eaten by the first handful of people to get there!

Welcome to Cross-Cultural Living 101 :) This recently happened on our Centre here in Ouagadougou, and reminded us that people of different cultures approach things differently. Westerners coming to such a meal would look at how much food was on the table, assume that’s all there was, divide it by the number of place settings, and take the proportionate amount for themselves, assuring that enough was left for the remaining diners coming to the table. Most Burkinabè, however, will look at the food on the table and assume that since the food has not been served on individual plates, everyone can eat as much as they like and more will be brought for those coming after.

Unfortunately, our kitchen had prepared the amount of food in accordance with western standards. The organizers of the conference had ordered a certain number of meals at a certain price and the kitchen had bought the necessary supplies and cooked accordingly. But then they had served it to Burkinabè in a manner that communicated that everyone was free to eat as much as they wanted. Needless to say, this clash of cultures resulted in a very awkward situation and a number of hungry and very unhappy people!

The moral of this story? In Burkina, don’t be late for meals!


Laura Dun said...

oh-oh, what a story...! Not sure whether to laugh or cry...

Remi Peythieu said...

Great Story...Although I'm sure it wasn't all that "entertaining" when it happened!