Friday, August 03, 2007

Different swarms have different rules – getting the right ice cream in Axim

I frequently noticed in Ghana that while my opposite was trying to do the best for me, his failure to explain me his reasoning converted the result into the opposite. Sometime this can go to some extremes where the motivations on both sides are not really clear. Our experiences in the beach restaurant at the romantic Axim beach resort set an excellent example.

It is no easy thing to get ice cream in Ghana. Electricity breaks down all the time, and frequently it is turned off for half a day which means that it is hard to keep ice cream in its icy state for extended periods of time. The more pleasant our surprise, when the menu of our beach hotel in Axim offered ice cream. When we ordered our ice cream, the three of us chose chocolate and strawberry from the waiter. We were slightly surprised when the restaurant manager himself proudly brought us mixed strawberry and vanilla ice. When we informed him that we had ordered strawberry and chocolate, he deeply apologized and promised to bring us what we had ordered. We saw him throw away the strawberry and vanilla ice and head back to the restaurant kitchen. But a few seconds later he was back, even more apologetic, telling us that the chocolate ice had melted in the hot Ghanaian climate, and that strawberry and vanilla ice was all that was still available. The chef had decided on his own that substituting chocolate ice with vanilla ice was what we wanted. Of course the chef had guessed right – we were starving to get some cold ice cream – but the chef had not bothered to inform the manager about our order and the changes the chef had made without asking us. In the end we gladly accepted a new vanilla and strawberry ice, but the wasted ice cream was a heavy price to pay in a country where ice cream is a highly valued rare treat.

In the same restaurant we experienced a second communication breakdown and misunderstanding of cultures. One day I told the waiter I wanted a chef’s salad as a starter for the three of us – my two kids and I would share one salad as we were not that hungry and would also have a second dish each for lunch. And indeed I got a large heaped plate of salad as the first course of our lunch. The not-so-pleasant surprise came afterwards, when the waiter doubled the price of the salad – explaining that I had asked for a “big” salad. He claimed he had only tried to follow my wishes, and could not understand that I refused to pay the double price.

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