Recently I noticed that one of those Facebook «friend» invitations that it is best to delete immediately came with a Shona sender's name. Not a well-known name, but in the form of a name and most Shona names mean something, so, assuming it to be a pen-name, I looked up the root word in the standard Shona-English dictionary. It was an obscenity that is all too common in English these days, but in over 40 years I've never heard it spoken in Shona, nor seen it in print outside the dictionary.
That is a fair indication of African politeness. Learning what things are not said, and how and where and when delicate matters are discussed is essential if one wants to live in a culture in which he or she was not born. It is quite a challenge. Of course strange things happen on both sides in that kind of exchange. Shona people often don't realise how bad the “bad words” in English can be; it is not uncommon to hear a respectable middleaged woman respond to someone's account of their troubles with a drawn-out “shi-it!” in a tone that expresses both surprise and sympathy. That probably reflects how freely the first whites they came in contact with used those less respectable English words.
A wise man once said “in approaching another culture, the first thing to do is to take off your shoes because the place you are treading is holy ground”.
If this is going to be a last contribution, that is probably a good note to sign off with.
24 novembre 2014