The Epitome Of Sophistication

“Senegal” is one of the stories that Maya Angelou wrote in her book entitled “Letter To My Daughter”.

Maya was invited to a formal dinner in Dakar, Senegal by her friend whom she met in Paris. She described that their living room was beautiful furnished, and guests were enjoying a full-blown party. As she walked into another room, she noticed that guests were standing along the wall and carefully not to step on the beautiful oriental rug in the center of the room.


(photo credit

Maya immediately thought about a women in Egypt who would not allow her servants to walk on her rugs… thus, it “plummeted in my estimation”, Maya said.  She decided to walk across the center of the rug, and did so back and forth four, five times while admiring the paintings on the wall.

A few minutes later, when Maya was engaging a conversation with a guest, two maids came in the room. They rolled up the rug that she had walked on and carried it away.  Then, they came back with another exquisite rug and carefully spread it on the floor, then began to place glasses, silverware, and wine on the carpet.  When the dishes were brought to the carpet, the hostess announced that the dinner was “For our sister from America.” She waved at Maya and said, “For Maya Angelou.”

Maya recalled…as all the guests sank to the floor her face and neck burned.  “I sat, but I found swallowing hard to do. The food had to force its way over that knot of embarrassment.”  She continued:

In an unfamiliar culture, it is wise to offer no innovations, no suggestions, or lessons.  The epitome of sophistication is utter simplicity.”

So many times when I have had the urge to walk on someone’s “carpet” based on my own assumption or judgement, her story always reminds me to “offer no innovations, no suggestions, or lessons”, but to accept the differences. Thank you, Maya!

Maya Letter to my

71 thoughts on “The Epitome Of Sophistication

  1. Pingback: Thursday’s Post: Sitting Pretty | Lost in Translation

  2. “… when I have had the urge to walk on someone’s ‘carpet’ based on my own assumption or judgement, …[I always try] to ‘offer no innovations, no suggestions, or lessons’, but to accept the differences…” – sometimes correct, sometimes too shy …


    • it is changing, and I don’t mean to be impatient at all. I admire how Maya cleverly used her story to help us make sense of it.
      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.


  3. I absolutely loved this post Amy – have never heard that story and it’s just perfect, especially as I’m experiencing the unique culture of China. Today I asked an old man who was carrying a young child if I could take a photo of them. He explained that their culture (a very small ethnic minority here) says that if you photograph a child before he can talk, then he will never be good at talking. I smiled and thanked him, happy I’d asked (through our guide) before shooting. So your story was very timely for me!


    • Hi Tina, Thank you for sharing your travel experience. China is one country, yet each region, city, town, family… has its own culture they treasure and want to maintain; they are all part of Chinese culture. But, travelers easily can get a snap shot and make their own assumptions… Though I’m Chinese, I have had some embarrassment moments 🙂 Glad you like Maya’s story. Happy travel!


  4. Good morning Amy!
    There is so much truth in your post! I love it! I will try never to forget it, because sometimes we can hurt people without realizing it…Sometimes we think our world is small, because we read, we watch tv, we travel…But we do not always take a Little bit of time trying to really KNOW about the others, and we watch everything through the same lens..Our own lens!


    • I appreciate so much of your insights Ilargia! You’re so right about … we do not always take time to really know about others. Often we see what we want to see, and interpret it based on our own small world. Sometimes, I spot travelers posting photos that reflect on a different culture just for amusement…
      Thank you for letting me share the story with you 🙂


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