Discuss culture and traditions
By FACINETDRUMS
#31121
I'm new on this Board and truly enjoyed reading through the forum and could not resist but post a new topic.
Having been to Guinea, what customs and etiquettes did you observe and what surprised you?
What would have been good to know in advance? Did you commit any faux-pas?
Here are a few things I noticed:

Shoes - do not leave them upside down. A guinean will turn them right side up without even noticing that he/she is doing it. I'm not sure what the basis for it is, but it seems to invite bad luck.

Men will freely embrace each other and hold hands as they are walking down the street.

Just because a guy was introduced to you as "my brother" doesn't mean that the two shared the same mother and father.
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By michi
#31130
FACINETDRUMS wrote:Men will freely embrace each other and hold hands as they are walking down the street.
I haven't been to Guinea (yet), but I'm surprised by this. I would have expected the exact opposite in a country with lots of muslims.

Michi.
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By Dugafola
#31131
FACINETDRUMS wrote:I'm new on this Board and truly enjoyed reading through the forum and could not resist but post a new topic.
Having been to Guinea, what customs and etiquettes did you observe and what surprised you?
What would have been good to know in advance? Did you commit any faux-pas?
Here are a few things I noticed:

Shoes - do not leave them upside down. A guinean will turn them right side up without even noticing that he/she is doing it. I'm not sure what the basis for it is, but it seems to invite bad luck.

Men will freely embrace each other and hold hands as they are walking down the street.

Just because a guy was introduced to you as "my brother" doesn't mean that the two shared the same mother and father.
re: the shoes. when a shoe is left turned over upside down, the general belief is that the person/spirit will never come back. i've experienced this both in africa as well as the states.
By djembeweaver
#31132
Great thread!

1) The holding hands thing really freaked me out at first. Samsou used to hold my hand while we were walking (particularly at night) and it made me feel massively uncomfortable. After a while I realized that it was an ingrained social custom that was almost unconscious...he didn't seem to notice he was doing it. Eventually I learned to let him do it for about 30 seconds then make a gesture while talking so I could remove my hand. People do it all over Guinea...it's a sign of friendship and trust.

2) People shake their heads instead of nodding to indicate 'yes'

3) If you visit someone and return home after dark they will walk the first half of the journey with you.

4) If you ask a yes/no question people will often respond 'yes' if they are not sure. A good example is when I asked people if I could get from Farannah to Karroussa in a plank boat down the river Niger in 12 days (what it said in the guide book). They all said yes but it took two of us 18 days and nearly killed us. Next time I would ask: 'How long does it take to get from Farannah to Karroussa...'

Jon
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By michi
#31133
Thanks for the info, Jon!
djembeweaver wrote:1) The holding hands thing really freaked me out at first. Samsou used to hold my hand while we were walking (particularly at night) and it made me feel massively uncomfortable. After a while I realized that it was an ingrained social custom that was almost unconscious...he didn't seem to notice he was doing it.
OK, so there are no homosexual connotation then. It's interesting how strongly my own culture influences the interpretation I can put on a simple observation of fact…
4) If you ask a yes/no question people will often respond 'yes' if they are not sure. A good example is when I asked people if I could get from Farannah to Karroussa in a plank boat down the river Niger in 12 days (what it said in the guide book). They all said yes but it took two of us 18 days and nearly killed us. Next time I would ask: 'How long does it take to get from Farannah to Karroussa...'
Wow! Come on, I want to hear more. What's the story? That must have been quite some adventure!

Michi.
By mgmcgahon
#31135
Hand holding is the norm. Made me a bit uncomfortable when two of the drummers held both my hands as we walked through the village...

The general clearing of the nose and spitting but not near food.

Saying no to food or drink. You should give a reason rather than a plain no.

A big custom in Guinea is paying off the army and police at checkpoints but the custom of being ripped off by security, immigration, baggage control etc at Conakry Airport, on the way in and the way out, is something I will always remember.

The people of Guinea are warm, generous, good people. Have a great time there.
By djembeweaver
#31136
Wow! Come on, I want to hear more. What's the story? That must have been quite some adventure!
Yes it certainly was Michi. Way too much to recount here but a few memorable bits were (in extreme brevity)

1) We (myself and an english guy I met) had to leave Farannah in secret after a corrupt government official tried to charge us hundreds of dollars for all sorts of made up stuff. When the military got wind there was money to be made we left them arguing and did a runner (well...more of a frantic paddle)

2) The boat was made out of planks of wood nailed together and sealed with candle wax.

3) We did the trip at the end of the dry season and the river was so low we had to haul the boat over endless sandbanks and rock strata. This meant all the fishing villages were uninhabited - we went 10 days without seeing a single person.

4) We capsized the boat in rapids and ended up wedged under a tree root. We lost nearly all our stuff but eventually found a faint track that led to a small village. The whole village rocked up to unwedge our boat.

5) We were plagued by black ants for nights in a row. They cut their way into my tent and infested all the remaining food in the boat by climbing up a tree and down the tether. I was bitten in every imaginable area by thousands of ants.

6) We lost a paddle in rapids but found a french chimp research project who gave us an oar.

7) We got stuck on the nth sandbank of the day and my cry of frustration spooked a herd of feeding hippos who piled into the water 20 feet from us and surrounded the boat on three sides making aggressive snorting sounds and throwing up plumes of water. We had to wait about half an hour for them to calm down before we could move. This is the single most intense moment of my life.

8) We 'sold' the boat for two bowls of rice and sauce.

9) When we arrived in Karroussa I had malaria and giardia...double whammy!

Jon
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By tanamasi
#31141
Hi,
what a story Jon! I am not sure that trip will be on my agenda :)

here are other things I noticed:

-they are suprised if you sit on the floor
-when selling drums to a group of students, the quality of the drum tends to correlate with the level of the student. In other words, not everybody may get the same quality. Also, friendship can be more important than money in this context :) Other than that, if you are not a pro, they may not feel that you need a master drum. After all, many Guineans sound better playing a can than some of us (including myself) on a master drum. And every seller is different, in any case
-if you ask about quality in drums, etc., a completely accurate and detailed answer on their part might mean their friends/brothers do not make the money they need, so a half answer might be good enough.
-the police will target you if you take pix/shoot video on the street. big trouble
-musicians may show up to greet you and play for you - they expect you to tip them :)
-do not play at the time of the muslim prayers.... that is relevant not just for you but for your teacher... if somebody tells you that you are done for the day, the prayer time might have come, so it is not optional
-not all the neighbours enjoy rehearsals. for your teacher to teach you, he/she might have to negotiate with neighbours (or put up with their complaints)

at the city, Western behavior might be tolerated and even widespread but in a village setting...
-nobody wears short pants, neither men nor women - you may shock somebody if you do
-women when washing the clothes in the river might not feel the need to cover their whole body, but when you show up, they probably will (so you need to be aware of that if you run into them)
-greet everybody you meet in the village, it seems to be part of the ettiquete. They don't expect you to have a long conversation, but greeting, particularly elders is important. so learn some greeting phrases in the native dialect (e.g. tanamasi - tanasite in malinke etc).
-in the morning it is customary to as if one has slept well
Cheers
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By e2c
#31142
Re. hand-holding: it's common in the Middle East, too, for both men and women, as a sign of friendship. (Often, actual kinship - sister, cousin, etc.)

Even in some Mediterranean and Latin American countries, men will walk arm-in-arm with friends.

I think our culture is really a bit too uptight about expressions of friendship and affection - we put sexual connotations on things that have none, or mostly don't. (Like men kissing/hugging male friends: again, common in Latin America, many Mediterranean countries and in some parts of the Middle East.)
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By michi
#31144
e2c wrote:Even in some Mediterranean and Latin American countries, men will walk arm-in-arm with friends.

I think our culture is really a bit too uptight about expressions of friendship and affection - we put sexual connotations on things that have none, or mostly don't. (Like men kissing/hugging male friends: again, common in Latin America, many Mediterranean countries and in some parts of the Middle East.)
Right. Different culture and different customs.

Interestingly, in Australia, it's common to see men hugging each other for a greeting. But walking down the street holding hands with another man would immediately be understood as a public display of homosexuality.

Michi.
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By e2c
#31145
the 1st time I saw two young women holding hands openly and walking down a street was in London. They were from the Middle East, and actually looked much alike (probably were sisters). I was not much older than they were, and was very surprised and uncertain how to interpret their gesture.

A few decades later, I started getting to know people from various parts of the Middle East, and felt embarrassed about my initial reaction to the custom, because I was so off-base!

... which - when I think of it - helps me to put myself in their shoes per reactions to 1st seeing public displays of affection between men and women over here. It's shocking for many. (Not just Muslims, either - Middle Easterners are very circumspect about it in ways that would blow the minds of most American teenagers. :))
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By michi
#31146
... which - when I think of it - helps me to put myself in their shoes per reactions to 1st seeing public displays of affection between men and women over here.
Yes. Depending on how far things go, it may be considered normal in the west, or may mildly inappropriate. Whereas, in some muslim countries, such behavior would almost cost at least the life of the woman, and possibly the man as well.

It just goes to show that these kinds of standards are in large part arbitrary.

Michi.
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By tanamasi
#31147
definitely cultures vary a lot. in my culture you may kiss sb of the opposite sex to greet him/her... and yet the holding hands things felt very strange the first time

btw, I remembered sth important as it may get you in trouble:

-it's advisable not to touch anybody with the left-hand
By djembeweaver
#31148
Here's another one:

When eating communally, if you want to indicate that you've finished eating you have to turn your spoon upside down and leave it leaning against the plate, then move away slightly. If you keep your spoon in your hand (as I did at first) they assume you are still hungry but are saying you are full to be polite and leave more for others. That inevitably leads to the words 'Il faut manger', which in french means 'You must eat'. I took this literally and thought I would offend people if I didn't eat every time.

So when I was staying in Tigue I had really bad (and painful) indigestion from over eating because we used to go visiting lots of people. Everyone gave me food with the words 'il faut manger' so I ate every time, then when I got home the family I was staying with couldn't understand why I wasn't hungry (and I felt it would be rude to say I had eaten elsewhere) so they used to sit and encourage me to eat another massive plate of food!

When I learned the spoon trick it was a revelation!

Jon