What’s the News

Burkina Faso Village

Burkina Faso Village

When we lived in Burkina Faso in the Cerma language, we learned that the greeting for someone you had not seen for some time or someone who had traveled some distance to come see you was “What’s the news?” Whether you had some news or not, the proper response was “No news”, because “news” was by default “bad news”. Even if there was bad news, you still responded “No news”. Then after a while you would say, “Well, there is news after all”, and go on to give the “news”. The news could be the announcement a death in the family or some other tragic event.

If this sounds strange, let me ask you a question. When someone asks “How are you?”, don’t you respond with “Fine” even if everything is not really fine? The response “No news” is really no different. In fact, it might be more honest as everyone knows that “No news” is always the first response and any news will come out later. The response “Fine” carries no such guarantee of future clarification.
Ed learning language, 1978

Ed learning language, 1978

There are other similarities.We say “No news is good news”. Also, we might ask someone “What’s up?” which has the same intent as the Burkina Faso question “What’s the news.”

The longer I work across cultures, the more I realize that a lot of the really strange things in other cultures are not really all that strange. In fact, under the differences, we human beings are all very much the same.

If you liked this, you might also like Small Differences, Ghanaisms, or Passing the Purse.