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.

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.

South by Southeast: Ugly bargaining

Welcome back to Gadling’s series on backpacking in Southeast Asia, South by Southeast. Most visitors in Southeast Asia are on a tight budget. Lucky for you, the prices here are very negotiable. As I’ve learned during the past two months, everything from the price of my guest house, to my tuk-tuk to souvenirs, is up for negotiation. For a traveler living “on a shoestring,” it’s a been a useful skill to master. But sometimes there’s a difference between bargaining your way to a good deal and just plain “ugly bargaining.”

While in Myanmar, I watched in horror as a backpacker haggled with a woman over a dollar of bananas, walking away shouting in disgust that “he’d been ripped off.” In Laos, I listened as a girl berated our minivan driver for “leaving 30 minutes late.” Ultimately, this kind of “ugly bargaining” gets travelers nowhere. When we get aggressive over small sums of money, it makes locals more jaded about their interactions with foreigners. Not to mention the money involved, while small to you, can mean a great deal to a local.

Bargaining in Southeast Asia need not be an “ugly” affair. If done right, it’s an interaction that benefits everybody. You, the traveler, get a good deal and the local merchant earns some much-needed foreign currency. Everybody goes home happy. Wondering how to do it right? Check below for a few tips.

Rule #1 – Everybody Can Win
Bargaining is not winner-take-all. In a good bargain, both the buyer and seller get something of value. Don’t aim to make your bargaining session a contest with winner and losers. You’re trying to make a purchase, not prove a point or show off your haggling-savvy.


Rule #2 – Stick to Your Word
Negotiating for anything is built on trust. If either side feels the other won’t fulfill their terms, it’s much more difficult to agree on a price. Once you’ve settled on an amount, commit to pay for it. Don’t walk away and check elsewhere. Don’t back out. And if you have no intention of completing a transaction in the first place, don’t ask for the price.

Rule #3– Be a Good Guest
When walking around with plenty of foreign currency in our pockets, it’s easy to assume a mindset of superiority. When we shop at home, we expect a particular level of service will come with our purchase. But in Southeast Asia, mass tourism is still a relatively recent phenomenon – English is a second language and infrastructure is often unreliable. When your bus leaves 30 minutes late or the the power is out at the restaurant, freaking out at the staff is poor form. Don’t stand for poor service, but a little patience and a smile goes a long way. It will work out…promise.

Rule #4 – Keep Perspective
Long-term traveling means sticking to a budget. But don’t let your own budget get in the way of the bigger picture. Sure, you might be saving a few bucks, but the gap between your income and the average merchant in Southeast Asia is huge. A week’s wages for you could be more than they earn in an entire year. If you don’t get the price you wanted, consider the extra as a gift for their assistance.

Rule #5 – Smile
Not every bargaining session works out perfectly. Maybe a merchant still managed to get a few extra Thai Baht than you planned. Or you’ll hear another traveler bragging about a great deal that was better than your own. In these situations, remember to smile – a few dollars lost in a bargain isn’t the end of the world.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.