It is 16:00 hours and I am at my future in-laws house having tea and two cookies. The conversation is flowing and we are getting along well. It is 18:00 hours and we are still having tea. I know this because I am hungry and I have just looked at the clock.
My boyfriend and I stay until 19: 22 hours. I remember this because I was very hungry and looking at the time the whole time expecting to be offered dinner. In the car, I turn to my boyfriend and ask why we were not offered dinner. It is only common courtesy and good manners to do so, I think. Where I come from you are offered a full meal the minute you walk into someone’s house. You cannot leave on an empty stomach. Forbidden! “We were not invited for dinner, my boyfriend explains. A proper Dutch family will not serve you food unless they specifically invited you for that”, he says in a matter of fact manner. Note to self; eat at home before going to a Dutch home.
Cultures and protocol are different in different parts of the world. The following illustrates how it works in most if not all black African cultures when it comes to guests and visitors. I will specifically refer to the cultures I am most familiar with, that is, Tanzanian, Botswana, Zambian and Zimbabwean culture because I have lived in these countries but I am pretty sure this applies to the rest of Black Africa. In summary,the visitors are warmly greeted at the door then led into the sitting room. The drinks are offered and conversation ensues. Shortly a warm meal is served.The time of the visit is not a factor,whether someone comes at daybreak,midday or midnight, the same protocol ensues. I will give an example with fictitious persons for clarity’s sake;
How it is done in Africa (countries specified)
Host: “Good afternoon Bob and Stella, how are you? Don’t just stand there come in, its cold outside, you will catch pneumonia”. (always exaggerations in our culture, its possible it was not cold at all).
Visitors: “Good afternoon Tom, we are well. Don’t worry about us we will be okay. May we come in?”, they will ask politely despite being already invited in.
The parties will go into the house and Stella will, as usual, comment about what a lovely home Tom has. They will meet Julia in the sitting room and Stella will state her admiration for Julia’s dress. The two women will hug. Julia will immediately serve the drinks. The visitors cannot or should not refuse an offer of drinks. This is tantamount to accusing the hosts of having poisoned,bewitched or in any way tampered with the drinks. It is an indication that you do not trust the hosts. After a while (within an hour), food is offered. The following is the protocol;
Julia: ” Let me go and get the food. It’s time to eat. I have prepared a big meal. We don’t want you to go home hungry”. (Note: there is always food for visitors in an African home, expected or unexpected and it is always enough)
Stella: “No thank you. We have already eaten (they haven’t and they knew they would eat at Tom’s). Please don’t go out of your way. We didn’t come here for food”. This part requires outstanding skills in acting and all Africans have mastered this act.
Julia will go on insisting that their visitors eat and playfully emotionally blackmail them by claiming to be insulted. This usually goes on for one minute. In remote African villages it can take anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes to convince your visitors to eat.
Finally Stella will give in and insist on helping to set the table and serve the food . This will be met with a strong refusal by Julia and Stella will politely accept and wait for the meal. Meanwhile, the men are discussing football and pretending to be oblivious to what is happening. Of course it is only protocol, both parties knew there would be an offer of food, refusal of food, negotiation, compromise and agreement to eat eventually. As a matter of fact, Bob and Stella came on empty stomachs. Why do they go through this whole charade, you ask? For the simple reason that it is considered greedy and presumptuous to readily accept an offer of food.
How it is done in the Netherlands
First and foremost there has to be an invitation to a person’s house with a set and uncompromising time. You do not come earlier or later. Being early is a sign of inconsideration and being late a sign of disrespect. You arrive at the house and you are warmly greeted and served tea, coffee, beer or wine. If you are lucky your drinks will be accompanied by cookies, chips or peanuts. However, it is advised not to expect this. You will spend hours (can be 8 hours) having good conversations and laughter. I am not exaggerating. I will never forget the day I arrived at a friend’s place at 12:00 hours, left at 18:00 hours and left with a severe rumbling tummy and the taste of tea and wine. Always, always eat before you leave home!
Text taken from Adapt, Adopt or Suffer.
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