10 important phrases to know before going to Ghana, Africa

10 important phrases to know in ghana africaLearning a foreign language can be difficult. And, for people traveling to Ghana for only a short amount of time, trying to become fluent in Twi, the principal native language of the country, may be a bit farfetched. However, learning some important phrases before you go can help prepare you for a more comfortable experience.

Eti sen?
How are you?

In Ghana, the people are extremely friendly, and everyone, even complete strangers, are going to ask you this. Greetings are very important in Ghana, and if you don’t want to be seen as impolite then be sure to learn this phrase and use it as much as possible.10 important phrases to know before going to ghana africaEh ya.
I’m fine.

When someone asks you how you’re doing, this should always be your response, even if you’re having a terrible day. If Ghana, people don’t share these troubles in response to someone greeting them, so no matter how you are really feeling, just say you’re fine.

Ye fro wo sen.
What is your name?

When you meet new people, make sure to ask them their name, even if just to be polite. It is more than likely that you will also be asked what your name is many times throughout your stay in Ghana, so knowing this expression ahead of time can be helpful.

Maa chi/Maa ha/Maa jo.
Good morning/Good afternoon/Good evening.

Politeness goes a long way, and when locals see that you’re making an effort to learn their language and greet them, they’ll respect you more and not look at you as a lost and confused foreigner. It’ll also help you immerse yourself in the culture that much more.

Oburoni.
Foreigner.

This is an expression you will hear a lot. And, when I say a lot, I mean at least 20 to 100 times each day. While it may sound offensive, as in many Western cultures shouting “foreigner!” at someone is taken rudely, in Ghana they mean it in a friendly manner as a way to say hello and try to get to know you. Even if you don’t want to respond to the shouts of the locals, it is nice to know what exactly it is they are yelling at you.

Wo bay jay sen?
What is the fare?

As a visitor to the country, you most likely aren’t going to have a car (and once you see the crazy drivers, traffic congestion, and pothole filled roads in Ghana, you won’t want one). Therefore, taxis and tro-tros (kind of like a packed out mini-van) are going to be your transportation options. If you are traveling locally by tro-tro, you can almost bet that the fare will be under 1 Ghana Cedi. However, if you are taking a taxi it can be helpful to know how to ask how much the trip will cost.

Te so.
Reduce it.

On that some note, as an “oburoni” you will undoubtedly be charged the foreigner price, sometimes as much as four times what the locals pay. Don’t feel bad about bartering the price down. And, once the taxi drivers hear you speaking the local language, they will be more likely to give you a fair price.

Wa ye sen?
This is how much?

Just like with taxi fare, be prepared for hawkers and market salespeople to charge you a higher price than the locals. When shopping in the markets or buying food and other items on the street, politely ask how much something is. Then, go back to the prior phrase of “Te so”, and ask them to reduce it.

Koo se.
Sorry.

As a foreigner, it is inevitable that you will make mistakes along the way. If you find you have made a cultural faux pas, just be polite and apologize.

Me daa si.
Thank you.

The people of Ghana are very friendly and will often help you figure out your way around the area and local customs. Whether someone points you in the direction of the nearest public toilet, serves you a delicious meal, shows you the local beaches, or takes you on a guided tour of one of the historical castles, show gratitude and thank them.

Useful foreign phrases, Part 1: how to say, “I’m just looking” in 10 languages

useful foreign phrasesI’ve frequently pimped Lonely Planet’s Phrasebooks on this site, but I swear I don’t get kickbacks from the company. It’s just that I’m a big believer in not being a). A Tourist (although, let’s face it, if I’m not at home, I am indeed A Tourist) and b). helpless.

Even if you’re the biggest xenophobe on earth–which would make foreign travel a really weird and pointless pastime you might want to reconsider– it’s hard to dispute the importance of knowing how ask “Where’s the bathroom?” in certain urgent circumstances.

It’s with such experiences in mind that I came up with this fun little series. There are a handful of phrases I’ve cultivated in various languages that have served me well, in situations both good and bad. Not only are they inscribed on the dog-eared inner covers of my trusty Phrasebooks; they’re etched into my mind, so I can summon them at will. Whether you need to ward off annoying vendors, personal humiliation, potential suitors, or would-be attackers, it pays to be prepared and know what to say, when. Since things like “Yes, No, Thank you, Please, Hello,” etc. are generally not too challenging, for the purposes of this series, I’ll leave them out. That doesn’t mean they’re not very important to learn, however.

This week’s lesson: “I’m just looking.” Invaluable for politely but firmly stating your desire to see with your eyes, not your wallet. It may not stop persistent hawkers from trying to close a deal, but at least you’re showing respect by speaking in their native tongue (or an approximation thereof). And who knows? If you change your mind, that alone may help you score a better bargain.

P.S. I don’t claim to be polylingual: I’m compiling phrases based on past experience or research. If I offend anyone’s native tongue, please provide a correction in the “Comments” section. Be nice!

1. Spanish: Solo estoy mirando.

2. Italian: Sto solo guardando.

3. French: Je regarde.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Gerry Balding]useful foreign phrases4. German: Nur schauen.

5. Czech: Jen se dívám.

6. Portuguese: Estou só a olhar.

Many languages, especially those spoken in Asia and the Middle East, use written characters. Transliteration will vary, depending upon the guidebook/translator, which is why the spelling or phonetics below may be different from other sources. Since these languages are largely tonal (and may require accents or characters not available on a Western computer), look at this way: odds are you’re going to mangle the pronunciation anyway, so just do your best! It’s the thought that counts.

7. Chinese (Cantonese): Tái haa.

8. Japanese: Watashi ga mite iru dakedesu (here’s to Japan getting back on its feet and attracting travelers soon!) To make a Red Cross donation, click here.

9. Vietnamese: Tôi chỉ xem thôi.

14. Moroccan Arabic: Ghir kanshuf.

What’s the most useful phrase you’ve ever learned in a foreign language? How has it helped your travels? We want to hear from you!

[Photo credit: Flickr user wanderer_by_trade]


Bartering in Africa – bring socks, and other tips

Bartering in Africa
I’m pretty good at bargaining.

From a young age, my mother schooled me in the art of pretending I didn’t really want something, walking away, and knowing when to give in and pay up. I even developed my own trick:

1. Pick your item and lowball it, haggling it down. (Let’s say you get it down to 20 for example.)
2. Pretend you’re also interested in something of similar value.
3. Ask for a deal on purchasing both items. (Let’s say you get two for 30 instead of 40.)
4. Get rid of the second item.
5. Demand the lower price for your first item. (You already know they can let go of it for 15.)
6. Don’t budge, and walk away if they don’t give it to you.

It’s more than a badge of honor to get a great deal; haggling is a truly primitive survival skill — one that you’d be able to use in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s like being able to start a fire or make a compass out of scrap materials (all you need is a sewing needle, a piece of cork, a small magnet and a cup of water). Furthermore, we use it in the business world all the time, whether we’re bargaining for a raise or a house.

Bargaining with guys like the above gentleman outside of Victoria Falls in Zambia is a whole different ball game. The reason for this is that currency isn’t limited to cash. Currency can be the rubber band around your wrist.In this market, and in many others like it all over Africa, the men working in the shops come from villages with few sources of income. Their land is unsuitable for crops, so they can’t farm. What they can do is weave, carve and make all kinds of beautiful objects you’d never find at home (at least not without a thousand-percent markup — minimum).

For men like these, who work all day in the shop, access to basic essentials like pens, shoes, socks and even rubber hair ties is extremely limited. Even if they make enough cash to buy them at full price, going and buying them can be a long, inconvenient trip — and you, the tourist, are likely to have access to nicer stuff than they can get. That’s where the bartering super-skill comes in: a well prepared traveler like you should know that your best bargaining chip may be a bag of socks to trade.

If you’re going to Africa, you may already have considered bringing school supplies and other basics to donate, but also consider hitting up your dollar store for some essentials you can use in place of currency to buy gifts and souvenirs. To you, it may seem like an unfair trade, but everyone benefits: the goods you have access to are more valuable than currency to some markets, so the shopkeepers are happy to trade with you, and you get to save money. All you have to do is make a little room in your suitcase, and you can be an amateur importer-exporter.

Just don’t get too carried away, and play within the “commercial goods” laws.

Here are some ideas for things you can bring to barter with in Africa:

  • Socks
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Hair ties and clips
  • Underwear
  • Shoes
  • T-shirts
  • Toothbrushes
  • Razors
  • Hand mirrors
  • Bandages

The list goes on and on. Places where it’s appropriate to whip out bags of trading goods are pretty obvious; often, store owners will ask you for things of this nature outright. If you’re in a market or shop where all the goods from multiple stands are rung up at one register, it might not be kosher, but almost any situation where you’re dealing one-on-one with a merchant is fair game for trading.

Just remember: what you don’t end up trading, donate to a local school, or at least leave it with your hotel and ask them to give it to someone in need. You can buy another bag of socks when you get home.

[Photo by Annie Scott.]

My trip to Zambia was sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent and Sanctuary Retreats, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

Use a calculator as a bargaining tool – International travel tip

Always carry a small calculator when you travel internationally. It will save the day when you are trying to figure out how much things cost in “real” money.

Moreover, since math is universal, it will cut across language barriers when haggling in markets — just type in what you want to pay, pass it to the seller, and let him enter his counter offer.

You’ll avoid struggling with the right word for the number, and you won’t end up paying cinquenta dolares ($50) instead of cinco dolares ($5) for that sombrero for Uncle George.

[Photo: Flickr | ken2754@Yokohama]

Don’t pay in dollars – International travel tip

Like it or not, the gold standard for international currency payment is now the Euro.

The United States Dollar is still being used, but it doesn’t hold the prestige it once did. There was a time when you could purchase goods at a great discount if you paid with hundred dollar bills. However, nowadays, merchants will increase their base price and round up figures to give you can even dollar amount. Merchants do not want $5 dollar or $10 bills. Whatever you pay will be rounded to the next $20.

So pay with local currency — or pay with Euros.

Counterpoint: Bring American dollar bills – International travel tip