In order to make our stay more enjoyable, the program I am with has set up a buddy system. A group of Ghanaian students have volunteered to take us places in Ghana, show us around, help us at the markets, and take us to the traditional festivals. I do not have an “official” buddy, but I have talked to a number of Ghanaian students – and they all, without fail, asked me how the USA is different from Ghana.

Oh god. How do I even begin?  Even after the third time I was asked, I still did not have a smart answer to reply with. How is Ghana different? It would be easier to count the things that are the same…and honestly- I don’t know any off the top of my head.

That’s when we began to talk about marriage (Don’t worry mom- I’m not getting any ideas).

 The two students I was talking to, both men, leaned forward and asked very quietly- What are the American Ideas about boyfriends? I have never seen such a curious look on two people’s face in my life. Boyfriends? Yeah…I heard girls in America have lots of boyfriends. I laughed and said, how about you tell me about what they are like in Ghana, and I will tell you how we are different.

They smiled, looked at eachother and said “ohhhhhh….the only time you ever say someone is our boyfriend or girlfriend is if we are about to get married- a girl is never supposed to have more than one boyfriend.” Then they looked at me with an expecting wide eyed look. Then I continued to tell them about how dating starts in middle or high school, and boyfriends could be casual or serious. They exchanged looks- how many can you have? I smiled, as sweetly as possible, and said- there really is no limit I guess…..a girl could have 20 before she gets married.

The boys almost jumped out of their chairs, made loud shocked noises, covered their face and then leaned in together and laughed in an almost embarrassed way. When they looked up again they said, ohhh….we like the American way. When does dating start for you guys? Not until the twenties- but they would never dream of asking a girl to a night club…or anything like that (I had explained how boyfriends often take us to dances etc)- much too scandalous.

Apparently, when a man is ready to marry a girl (a lot of it has to do with parent permission, pressure, suggestion), he must go over to her house with a bottle of Palm Wine, and knock on the door. They must knock on the door until someone comes to answer- and they said it could be 20 minutes (in Ghana time, that probably means at least an hour). He said, it’s very boring. After you have knocked for that long, it shows that you are serious about marriage, and they will open the door for you. The entire family will be standing there, acting like they have no idea what you are going to say- but in reality they do. Then, they get married! He said that a wedding in Ghana costs the same amount as 12 cows. I am still working on the translation for that.

Then one of the men said that he does not want to get married- he wants to coinhabit. There were a couple of looks from the surrounding students. Then he continued- there is way too much pressure to get married- he wants to do it the American way…then a long pause followed…do they do that in America? I said coinhabit? Yeah- you know….live together and have a baby without being married? I smiled- yes in fact, my sister happens to be doing that. His hand flies to his mouth- I like the American way.

Then I explained to him, that in America, there are actually a lot of benefits to being married; in terms of taxes, scholarships for school, medical issues. He looked at me shocked once again- you guys benefit from being married? The American way sounds nice.

The same boy later asked for my number, and said he will be coming to America as soon as he graduates….just for vacation ;). He didn’t even fail to leave out that he will need someone to show him around.