In the western world, complimenting someone on their appearance or accessories is a great way to strike up a conversation.

It doesn’t always work like that for Samoans.

I remember one time, I mentioned to a relative that her bag was pretty, and then when she tried to give it to me, I was like, “Oh no… I don’t mean that I want it. You keep it. But thank you so much.”


I don’t see it happening so much any more, but back in the day, I learned very quickly that complimenting someone – especially when it sounds kind of random – is as good as asking for something.

Turns out, it’s an actual thing.

It’s part of the Samoan culture, as expressed in this proverb:

O isi e momo'o

(Translated in this graphic by Dr. E Shultz)

“O isi e momo’o” literally translated means, “Some people desire”… but it suggests that these people’s actions are motivated by this desire.

In other words, they are flattering you because they covet your stuff, but they’re maybe too embarrassed you directly for it.

It just so happens that Samoans are also a very generous and loving people, so when we suspect that somebody wants something we have, of course our first instinct is to give.

It’s just how we do.