Fitting into Ugandan Culture as a Visitor and Tourist
The Top 11 Cultural Mistakes to Avoid in Uganda-Cultural Information for Visitors
Cultural Mistakes to Avoid in Uganda – Tips and Advice about Ugandan Culture and how Visitors can avoid Cultural Mistakes. Please realize that when you visit here, Ugandans will also make cultural mistakes in dealing with you, just like you. They do not know how to deal with Ugandans, and they often do not know about your cultural values. One reason is that it is good to get to know people from other cultures.
Cultural Sensitivity is the keyword when relating to Ugandans, including officials and those in business. It begins by honing your listening skills and listening more than you speak.
One can give first-time visitors the best advice to leave all their preconceived ideas, stereotypes, and other notions about Uganda behind. Cancel Culture does not exist in Uganda, and Ugandans care about people and accept their differences.
The words of Aldous Huxley still ring true today, “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”
Most visitors will find that they thought that Uganda and Ugandans were wrong. Most Tourists and Visitors are pleasantly surprised and delighted by what they discover. “Uganda was not at all like I thought it would be” is what many visitors proclaim as they depart the Pearl of Africa.
How Ugandans see you as a Visitor to their Country:
Just like a visitor might have preconceived notions about Ugandans, Ugandans have many preconceived notions about Visitors.
One of the most erroneous ones is the assumption that all Visitors from abroad are wealthy. That they have unlimited resources and live a luxurious life.
Such ideas are fueled by movies’ anecdotal stories that they have heard. The idea that most visitors to Uganda are wealthy can cloud potential relationships. Add to that the erroneous belief that many Ugandans have that anything from abroad is better than what is available in Uganda.
Many of the Ugandan ideas about visitors are rooted in the distant colonial past. Though Uganda is no longer under colonial rule, decolonizing the minds of Ugandans remains an ongoing process.
Additionally, Ugandans see Western cultural struggles as silly, as reflected in the local media. However, they would never tell a visitor that.
Ugandans are considered some of the friendliest and most welcoming people in Africa.
With their gracious and courteous ways, Ugandans are some of the friendliest people you will find anywhere. Yet culturally, we may have quite different values and be poles apart.
The best way to find those differences and see what we have in common is by meeting Ugandans, asking questions, and listening. As a visitor to Uganda, you will make some cultural mistakes not knowing the Ugandan ways. You will not even know that you made a mistake in most instances, and that is because the gracious Ugandan will never tell you that you made a mistake.
When it comes to culture – African -Ugandan Culture, there are many things that we might take for granted in the West that are not accepted and tolerated in Uganda. Africa is quite conservative. The values and principles are often based on faith, and those values and beliefs are held as sacred.
There are customs here that are also quite different such as polygamy, which is still prevalent though someone may not call it that. Terms such as another or second wife may be used instead.
Take in what you encounter and enjoy the people – be open to learning. Below are some tips that might come in handy if you want to know the Cultural Mistakes to Avoid in Uganda.
11-Practical Ways to How to avoid Making Cultural Mistakes in Uganda
1 – Understand the Concept of African Hospitality as Practiced in Uganda:
The concept of African Hospitality, as practiced in Uganda, means that you are welcomed into the family. Hospitality, like most things in Uganda, is based on relationships. You might even be called Auntie or Uncle. If you are older, Momma or Papa, or with a respectful, Mzee.
In a Family, relational mistakes are made and tolerated. What happens in the house stays in place, and it allows you to be you instead of trying your hardest to fit into something you are uncomfortable with.
Ugandan Hospitality is more than a welcoming greeting, even more than a shared meal. Ugandan Hospitality means that the host assumes responsibility for your well-being while in the home.
Uganda is a Hospitable country; hospitality is deeply ingrained in most Ugandans’ Cultural Traditions and Beliefs.
The concept of African Hospitality has become ingrained in the Uganda Tourism Industry. It is practiced by lodges, hotels, and tour operators like Kabiza Wilderness Safaris.
2– Not understanding Ugandan English, which is called Uglish:
Most will not speak like a local but learning a few phrases in Luganda would endear you to many Ugandans. It will mean that you took the time and effort to learn Luganda.
English is the Official Language of Uganda, and Uganda is now considered the Best English-Speaking Nation in all of Africa. Specific phrases may not have the same meaning as yours since they are part of the local Ugandan version of English called UgLish.
If someone tells you to slope down, it means to follow the road down the hill. If someone asks you to extend, they are asking you to moreover. If someone tells you that they will make a short call, they are not referring to the phone but a visit to the toilet.
Though English is the official language, Luganda is the lingua franca of Uganda. It was not always that way, but it has become that way since Ugandans moving to Kampala began to learn and use it in other parts of Uganda.
You can, too. Go to our Luganda-101 page and learn a few phrases. They will get you smiles of approval here and may a few more bargains. Oli otya means, “how are you?” Respond with gyendi-“I’m fine.” Geybale ko Nyabo (woman) or sebbo (man) is a standard greeting, webale is thank you, and when you want to show that you show that you are shocked or surprised, say “banange.” You will draw a few smiles and laughs.
You will not speak like a local, but a few Luganda phrases will endear you to the Ugandans you meet and greet. Learn a few Luganda or Swahili phrases. It will make your time in Uganda more enjoyable.
3 – Not Knowing how to Greet Ugandan Style:
It is always best to shake hands when greeting someone, whether a friend or a stranger. Even strangers will do you – then there is the more intricate handshake with added touches that you will quickly learn when coming to Uganda. Both men and women shake hands.
One cultural difference here is that friendship between men and women and women is often expressed by lightly holding hands when it comes to needles.
Visitors may find it unusual to kneel by women and children as they are greeting you. While you, as a westerner, may be uncomfortable with it. It is a traditional cultural sign of respect, especially in the central region of Uganda, and it should be gratefully and gracefully accepted.
Never meet anyone in Uganda without acknowledging them and Greeting them. The greeting is also about the family, business, life, and health, an essential greeting component in Uganda.
An essential part of greeting someone in Uganda is asking about them. It is customary to ask how the family is and how they are.
Greetings tend to be longer than in the West, but they are an essential part of the Ugandan relational culture.
4 – Not understanding the Ugandan Art of Conversation:
Engage in significant conversations – listen to the stories of Ugandans, of living and making it despite tough times. Tell your story – where you live – what you do – do not criticize what you do not understand, but ask about it, and you might get an answer that will shed light on the issue.
It is incredible what people write about Uganda—often written by people who never set foot in Uganda. Even news reports tend to hit the government, which usually do not reflect the reality one encounters living here.
Conversations with Ugandans will get you to find out the mindset, values, and principles that rule Ugandans’ lives, and at the same time, they would love to hear yours. One thing is that Ugandans and most Africans hate to be lectured by Bwana ( a sort of Besserwisser) who knows best from the West. Africans and Ugandans hate lectures from Westerners. Whether that Bwana Lecturer is President Biden, President Obama, or even you do not matter. Such talk shuts the conservation down with a Ugandan.
Often such lectures reflect a lack of understanding of Ugandan ways.
5 – Not understanding the Relational Aspect of Life in Uganda:
In Uganda, it takes a village to raise a child. The town is where it all starts, where life begins, and where lifelong relationships are formed. During Holidays everyone returns to their roots, the village.
Westerners are seen as being alone, whereas Ugandans have ties, family, church, and mosque. Westerners are to the point, and Ugandans take their time.
Bring some family pictures and pictures of how and where you live, and a Ugandan will love it. They will see you in a different light- the light of relationships they so much treasure.
Family relationships and Family Events are the focal points for most Ugandans. Everyone returns to the village during the holidays, and life in Uganda is relational first.
Even time is not seen in terms of tasks but relationally. Almost everything is done on a relational basis.
6 – Not dressing for the Occasion:
Africans like to dress smartly. You will see something in Kampala, even though much of the clothing they wear is second-hand. Though even that is changing, it comes down to the reality that Ugandans like to dress smart but conservative. If a woman wears a short skirt, they will put on leggings, jeans, or other slacks (unless going to a bar or nightclub).
Ugandans find it insulting to wear clothes that are not neatly pressed, cleaned, and need mending—in the city, being dressed smart gains you respect.
Women should avoid miniskirts and short shorts. Men and women are more respected for not wearing shorts. On safari, you have better protection from insects. Modesty in dress applies equally to men and women.
You will see many Ugandan men in suits in Kampala – you certainly do not have to wear a suit – but neat, clean, and pressed clothing will be appropriate. Many women in Kampala and villages will wear a traditional dress called Busuuti, also called Gomesi. At the same time, men will wear what appears like a dress, and it is called a Kanzu. Both the Busuuti and Kanzu are worn at weddings and marriage introductions. Alicia Keyes wore a beautiful Busuuti during her visit to Uganda.
7 – not Showing Respect for the Elderly:
In Western culture, the song “Forever Young” comes to mind – in the West, youth –Youthful looks are celebrated.
Here in Uganda, an older person is a celebrity. Most Ugandans do not reach the age past 60, and 53 is the life expectancy in Kampala. The older people in this culture are honored – often, when someone meets me, they call me Mzee since I am over 70 years old.
Ugandans show respect for elders. They are deeply respected and sought out for advice and counsel. Often, the children or grandchildren will seek the grandparents’ advice before making a significant life decision.
When you meet an older person, greet them appropriately, have a conversation with them, and learn about Uganda, including its past.
You will often find out some most interesting things about the person and Uganda.
The Elderly, especially Grandmothers in Villages, are the backbone of Uganda. They have raised generations as the harsh winds of HIV-Aids blew across the land producing thousands of orphans.
8 – Showing Emotions – such as Anger or Frustration:
Things do not always go your way, and things in Uganda will not always go according to your expectations. The last thing you want to do here is to explode with anger, and it is a vast cultural mistake to do so. Grin and bear it and keep quiet. That is the Ugandan way. Confrontation with a Ugandan will often lead nowhere except distance.
In this culture, admitting a mistake is a rarity. You cannot extract anything but a deep dislike for yourself – keep in mind the relationship rather than merely venting your feelings.
Do not vent your emotions even when irritated in a restaurant, but quietly share your feelings.
Emotional outbursts such as anger are considered “Bad Manners’ and people will avoid you. That is not something you want while visiting Uganda. For visitors, it might be best to, as Ugandans say, “just keep quiet.”
The sharing of feelings, common in the USA, is not so common here. Emotions are suppressed for better or worse. In the last 20 years, that has changed in towns but not in villages.
9 – Taking Western Savior Style Selfies, please ask first:
We strongly suggest that you do not take what is referred to as exploitive Poverty Tourism pictures, which is a form of exploitation.
It is poverty porn, images of the poor seen in many fundraising campaigns worldwide. Africans are labeled as powerless victims, which could not be further from the Truth—seen as people who cannot help themselves, passively waiting for someone to rescue them.
Yes, Ugandans are poor, but at the same time, they are some of the most entrepreneurial people on the planet. They come up with ways when there is no way.
Exploitive Slum Tours have become the rage in Nairobi. Even in Kampala, some tour operators are conducting them. We do not offer such tours and recommend that you take one.
We suggest an African answer to poverty and orphaned that you watch “Mully” on YouTube. It is the story of a man without western help empowering a generation of orphaned children in Kenya. A moving tale will show you the African concept of Harambe, of pulling together for a purpose.
On the positive side, some of our clients saw a need and knew how to fill it while on a safari. Two instances come to mind. One was empowering young people in a school near Bwindi Forest, and the other was an ongoing project in a village in the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. Both preserve the dignity of Ugandans.
No Western Savior Selfies that are demeaning. That is especially true when visiting the Batwa, Karamojong, Benet and Ik People.
10 – Showing Affection in Public- a Cultural No-No:
Kissing in public or showing other signs of affection even with your spouse is frowned on. Although Ugandans will write it off because you are a Muzungu and do not know what is acceptable in Ugandan culture.
Ugandans usually do not show affection in public. You will see men holding hands at times. However, that is a sign of friendship.
Kissing in a public place is not an accepted norm in the culture – neither is a conversation about what is considered intimacy.
There is, however, a slow change. Middle-class Ugandans, especially women, will hug and kiss another woman she knows well.
Even President Museveni has stated that he never kissed his wife in public in an interview. You will also find a different scene on a night out in Kampala.
Things are changing, and you find more people greeting each other with hugs and even a western-style kiss on the cheek.
11 – Bringing up local Politics and Ethnicity – Social Issues:
There are some issues where you shouldn’t bring them up, and they will put the Ugandan into an awkward spot and will not express what they feel talking to a Westerner.
Uganda is a Democracy, and the form and expression will vary from what you are used to. In February of 2021, a new election took place, and President Museveni was re-elected. Yet many Ugandans are divided over the outcome.
Social Issues like LGBT issues are best not raised. Uganda is following British Colonial Laws, and it will be a long time before there will be broad acceptance in the Country.
LGBT Travelers are accepted because they are Tourists. One thinks it has to do with the money. They have been safe on a safari in Uganda, and the Uganda Tourism Board has even guaranteed that in past communications.
In Uganda, all lives still matter. Black Lives Matter has triggered an appeal to Parliament to change some streets and landmarks’ names, which will be done. Otherwise, there was one Black Life Matter Demonstration. Thirteen (mostly Foreigners) were arrested for violating Presidential COVID-19 Directives.
Stay away from Politics. Your time in Uganda will be a lot better because of it.
Cultural Mistakes to Avoid in Uganda -Our Take
The above are just a few of the Cultural Mistakes to Avoid in Uganda. It is good to know about when visiting Uganda. Ugandans will be pleased that you have tried to learn to understand and respect their cultural ways, and you will find that they will try to understand your artistic ways.
We may have cultural differences, but we can cross them through meaningful conversations.
Many visitors are surprised at how wrong they were in their pre-visit assessment of the Country.
Uganda is one of the friendliest countries in all of Africa, it is safe and secure for tourists, and it has been stable for over 30 years.
Your time in Africa in Uganda will become more meaningful if you avoid cultural mistakes. Be culturally sensitive and aware of your newfound Ugandan friends in the Pearl of Africa.
Enjoy your time in the Pearl of Africa, Uganda.