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Bargaining in Bambara

What we did in Bambara class today just goes to show that we will never have any idea what we will learn on a day to day basis in that class. Sure last semester, we ended up learning some pretty cool things, but also some rather strange things that may end up being useful. I recall that from last semester, the oddest things that we ended up learning about were the various kindship games that are found in the Bambara culture. Many of you who are regular faithful readers of my linguistics blog will remember me talking a lot about these kindship games several months ago. If not, feel free to click back through some of my blog archives and find those posts.

Anyways, this semester started out pretty tamely with some review of basic concepts in grammar and coversation that we learned about last semester. All of the sudden today though, we ventured into the world of bargaining in a Bambara market. Note that this is not something that any of us in the class have really ever done, and its' not something that we really do over here in the United States. One of the most difficult things to get used to was the conversion of money in the Bambara system, because although they talk about money in one set of terms, they spend it in another. Allow me to explain. As you probably know, Mali (and several other nations in West Africa) was formerly occupied by France. The French implemented their monetary system on their former colonies. Even though independence came over forty years ago, the French influence has remained strong in the Francophonie nations, and thus they all (with the exception of Guinea) have kept the French Franc as the accepted currency. Here's where it starts to get funny though. France obviously joined the European Union and adopted the Euro as its currency. West African nations did not follow suit and still use the Franc...meaning that their printed money is the Franc. Well, since the Franc isn't really worth what it used to be...all of the prices in West Africa need to be multiplied by a certain amount in order to equal what the Franc is worth. So when you're in a Bambara street market and someone tells you that the price for a pile of peanuts is twenty actuality, you need to multiply that amount by five, meaning that that pile of peanuts is really costing you one hundred CFA (say eff ah)...that's the abbreviation for French Francs. Add this to the general confusion of bargaining with street vendors and trying to multiple amounts by five in your head, and you've got a whole heap of fun.

Published Jan 19 2007, 01:06 AM by christophergreen
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