Congratulations v. Enquan Dess Alesh

I recently graduated from law school.  The days following graduation were filled with congratulations, mentions of how proud people are and well wishes for the future.  But I realized something.  My Ethiopian Family and Friends said “Enquan Dess Alesh” (the Amharic phrase for Congratulations) and I responded Thank you.  Then someone corrected me.  The appropriate response is actually “Enquan Abro Dess Allen” Meaning “It is happiness for us to share” (rough translation).

This phrase by itself is a great way to describe the difference Ethiopian and American Culture.  Ethiopian Culture is community based.  One’s happiness is the happiness of all those surrounding that person. One’s success is the success of everyone around that person.  However in American Culture, One’s success is considered to be that person’s individual success.  The Individual benefits from his or her success; it is his own not to be shared amongst those around him or her.  The individual is the one that will benefit from the fruits of his labor and therefore he or she is congratulated as an individual and he or she says “Thank You,” admitting and claiming his success as his own.  There is no sharing in the congratulations.

Where as in Ethiopia congratulations is shared; there is immediate acknowledgement that one’s success is to be shared.  It is the achievement of the community and the people that raised me as a whole.  My success is the fruits of THEIR labor.  They are the people responsible for my achievement.  They created this person. Yes, there is value in self motivation and the work I, the individual have accomplished.  BUT, the culture reminds us that it is not just you in this alone, it is the Whole, it is everyone’s joy.  “Enquan Abro Dess Allen” is a humbling phrase.  It explains why successful Ethiopians tend to be so humble (of course there are the exceptions who may not so humble but I’m speaking generally here).  The Ethiopian Culture dictates that you do not respond with a simple thank you.  The culture requires you to recognize that it is not just you, it is Everyone who benefits from your achievement.

My Ethiopian American Experience is indeed a humbling one.  As I learned that a simple Thank you does not suffice.  So a toast to those all around me that helped make me who I am today, Especially Mom and Dad: Enquan Abro Dess Allen!!


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