The sequel to “Mrs. Robinson”

Another particularity of the Sakalava dialect is how directly people speak. In the United States, if a sick person in the hospital asked you how he looked, you wouldn’t say, “Your brothers and I took bets. My $20 says you’ll be dead tomorrow.” You’d instead tell the sick person a white lie or say something indirect. But Sakalava speakers would probably say the bit about the bets.

Here’s another example. Last week I was riding my bicycle home from lunch. A woman selling cell phones on the sidewalk calls out, “Hey! Come here!” I turn around and ride up to her table. She wore a black cell phone provider t-shirt and looked to be 30 years old.

“Do you have a wife?” she said. I nodded. She continued, “Where does she live?” I told her my “wife,” Michelle, lived south near Tamatave.

“O.K.,” she said. “How about Wednesday?”



“Wednesday what?”


“What’s on Wednesday?”

“Your house,” she said.

“My house?”


“What are we doing at my house on Wednesday?” I said.


“What are we doing at my house on Wednesday?”


Yes, propositioned again. Judging by the number of women who’ve approached me in the last two months, you’d think I was a descendent of Adonis instead of a skinny young man with ratty facial hair. All the attention comes from my white skin and the assumption that I’m wealthy. I told the woman while many married people in northern Madagascar have affairs outside of marriage, it wasn’t American custom to have a wife and sleep with others. She glumly muttered a response. Then I continued my way home.

You see, an American woman in this situation would be indirect. She would ask to come over to watch a movie or play Scrabble or something. But this Sakalava woman says the bit about love.


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