Birthdays are super important in all cultures. In African culture, it‘s synonymous with a grand celebration with food and drinks, but this wasn‘t the discovery for Zawadi, 33, Kenyan, who has lived in Canada for 8 years. When she migrated she attended her first birthday party in Canada and was later informed that everyone was to pay for their food, according to her, I made some friends, and one invited me to her birthday dinner. I was excited and skipped lunch that day as I thought there would be free food. At the venue, I practically ordered a lot, and after dinner, I heard one person ask, “how are we splitting the bill”. I turned and asked what that meant, and they explained that each person pays for what you ordered/ate. With a confused face, I wondered why I had to pay when I had just honoured an invitation to a birthday dinner. It was then explained to me that‘s how it‘s done here. In Kenya, the celebrant pays for anybody honouring the birthday invitation. The idea is that guests are taking the time to come and celebrate your birthday, so the least you can do is pay for their food. Sometimes the host/celebrant checks if everybody is eating enough or if there is something they could offer. They might get offended if you don‘t eat enough. This happened years ago, and I still don‘t understand why I thought what I knew was the norm everywhere.
In most African societies, people tend to approach joint bills or celebrations with a communal mindset. A particular person is expected to bear the cost of a celebration, and it is seen as a strong mark of being an excellent host. Every country has its own set of culture & traditions. These factors generally affect people‘s behaviour. What is “normal” to one person is not normal or even offending others. When people from one culture go out or live with others, there can be miscommunications about their expectations.
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Going dutch isn‘t limited to birthdays but also certain life events like weddings. *Bunmi, 30, a Nigerian who had been in Ireland for 5 years, was once invited to a wedding where some guests were not given food or granted access to the reception. According to her, “my Dutch boss invited me to her wedding. There was a beautiful ceremony in a romantic castle. After that, the couple served us some tiny snacks for refreshment. After that, we took a group picture, and then the wedding planner announced that those with a fork and a knife pictogram in their wedding invitation could proceed to the dining hall, and the rest could go home; thank you for coming. I still don‘t get it”.
For *Damola, 23, a Nigerian who has been in the U.S. for 2 years, every time she has dined with people from other cultures, they are very particular about sharing the cost down to the last cent, anything that involves money, not just eating. Interesting to note was her experience during a Holiday she does not celebrate. According to her, “Americans are massive on celebrating Halloween, something I don‘t care about. Anyway, one of my flatmates decided that she would decorate the apartment for Halloween. Without informing anyone, she went to the dollar store to get decor items. She put up like three/four things, and at the end of the night, she sent everyone a text that we owed her $2 and should send it to her via Venmo. I had just arrived in the U.S. then, so I didn‘t have Venmo and couldn‘t even get it on my App Store. She bugged me for $2 for days- kept sending me texts to pay for it, and then even cornered me in the kitchen to remind me to pay for decor I didn‘t even ask for. Anyway, I eventually asked my friend who had a Venmo account to help me send it to her cause It was bordering on embarrassment”.
In addition, technological advancements have been made to ensure joint expenses are split seamlessly.From companies like Uber, adding fare splitting options to their updates and Settle Up, which keeps track of group‘s expenses from roommates sharing costs to buddies taking a trip and automatically calculates who owes how much. Culture shock, especially regarding joint costs, is a recurring theme among immigrants. Something to find out is what the acceptable norms are wherever you are. This would help you prepare and also prevent you from embarrassing situations.
*Real names have been changed at the request of the interviewees