I have this habit of saying “No, I’m okay, thanks” when I don’t want something, but it has worked against me more than once while in Ethiopia. “Okay” is commonly used and understood by most Ethiopians in Addis Ababa. When speaking to someone with limited English vocabulary – “okay” might stand out from the other words which can lead them to think your polite no was actually a yes.
More than once this habit of mine has led me to drinking a coffee I didn’t really want or to sharing a meal when I wasn’t hungry. This is obviously not a big problem, but I could imagine a few situations where this misunderstanding could get you in to trouble.
It is best to be clear with your positives and negatives. Learning simple answers in Amharic will also help you avoid this problem. There isn’t actually a word for no, so it is worth learning a few negative verbs.
Yes = ow
Okay/Yes = eeshi
There is = alleu
I don’t want = alfeullegem
I can’t = alchellem
There isn’t = yelleum
If you are worried about sounding impolite just throw in a thank you. Amesegenallo!