Ten Insights into Ghanaian Culture: #4 – Ghanaian Timeliness
You may have heard about it––African time. Invite a Ghanaian to a party at 7 o’clock, and they’ll show up at 10 o’clock. Set up a meeting for 2 pm, and they’ll be waking up from their nap and getting ready set out to your meeting at 2 pm. It’s all true; the reputation is well-deserved. But lateness does not arise out of disrespect for your time. There are 2 very good reasons why Ghanaians are always late: priorities; and expectations.
For a Ghanaian, interpersonal relationships are higher priority than showing up on time to meetings. Ghanaians prioritize people over meetings. If someone shows up at their house for a visit before their scheduled meeting, or needs their help with something important, or simply crosses paths with them on their way to a meeting––then the meeting gets bumped, usually without alerting whomever they are meeting with––and the person immediately in front of them gets priority. This value placed on human relationships is one of the reasons why Ghanaians have an open door policy and, at all hours of the day, receive guests who do not call ahead to announce their visit. Your priority is the person standing in front of you, and you must be flexible to welcome them and accommodate their needs. That is how communities thrive––through interdependencies and solidarity––and how the whole concept of “it takes a village” comes about.
Expectations are the other reason that Ghanaians are always late, and this one is borne out of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, if you expect someone to be late, and they know that you expect them to be late, then there’s no way they will show up on time because they assume that your 7 o’clock really means 10 o’clock. This concept bears out steadfastly and proves itself by the fact that if a Ghanaian invites you to a meeting or event and you actually show up on time, they will be very surprised indeed, and may not even be ready for you. Serious meetings such as job interviews or hospital appointments are a different matter, of course, and a Ghanaian will only show up a few minutes late at worst; most likely they will show up ahead of time. For all other less serious and social matters, the default expectation holds true: nobody expects you to show up on time. If you are a foreigner and you really do want people to show up on time, the best thing to do is to give them a time that is 2 to 3 hours in advance. Then you can really be sure that your meeting or party will start on time.