Hello folks! Yesterday marked exactly 1 month since my arrival in the Ivory Coast, and what a month it has been. Exciting, confusing and exhausting. Living in Abidjan took several weeks to get used to, and just as I was starting to feel comfortable with living I started to have issues adapting to my work environment. I’ve had to learn so much so quickly, it feels like I’ve been here a year not a month!
To give you a glimpse of some of my experiences these last four weeks, here are eight questions that have often come up in my conversations with Ivorians:
1. Ca va? (How are you?)
Before you start any kind of conversation here you have to ask the other person how they are doing. Of course, we often do this in the UK, but here it is more of a social obligation, as well as a general nicety. Now most of the time this is very pleasant, but it can be easy to forget in commercial situations, when asking for directions, or in texting situations if you want a quick answer to something.
Person A: Salut (Hey)
Person B: Salut (Hey)
Person A: Ca va? (How are you?)
Person B: Ca va, et toi? (I’m good, and you?)
Person A: Oui ca va (Yes I’m good) …
finally gets to point of conversation
2. Are you married?
Oh yes, I’ve been asked this a lot, and though the real answer is definitely a no, after a few keen encounters, the answer I have learnt to adopt is yes. Yes I am happily married to a lovely husband, so unfortunately I’m not looking sorry. (A further question was once: “but are you married in England or in Ivory Coast?” I chuckled as the question reminded me of Phoebe in Friends! Then I politely explained that a marriage holds in all countries)
3. Can I have your number?
This one is more common than the marriage question, and harder to refuse. Ivorian men can be very forward and very persistent, both in their questioning, and in their texts and calls if I do give in. In most cases they only mean well, and do genuinely want to be my friend… but 5 missed calls and 7 texts in a day from the same guy is too much.
4. Are you French?
Yes surprisingly I have been mistaken as French many times, because the only white people that speak French are the French right? Or maybe I just have an excellent French accent. I’ll let you decide.
5. Tu as de la monnaie? (Do you have any change?)
I will never fully understand why no one ever has change in this country. Even in supermarkets, if the bill doesn’t round up to a nice number and I don’t have change on me… chances are I will have to go and find something cheap in the shop that brings up the total. This complete lack of change was even featured in the news!
6. Are you Christian?
Religion is hugely important in society here. The split is approximately half Muslim and half Christian, but either way, everybody believes in something. Often the replies I get if I ask “ca va” will be “ca va bien, grace a Dieu” (I’m doing very well thanks to God). If good news comes someones way they will say “Dieu merci!” whereas I would say “yessss great news!”
7. Why are your cheeks red? Are you allergic to something?
I’ve never considered that it might be weird to some that I blush, or that I go red because it’s a bit warm outside. I have however had to explain many a time that it’s perfectly natural for my cheeks to be red, and no don’t worry I haven’t had an allergic reaction.
8. Why is your hair frizzy and not straight?
Yes this was a genuine question, as they went ahead and touched my “strange” hair. My response was to touch their short hair back, saying “well why is your hair frizzy?”. Their response: “yes but I am African!”