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 commit cultural mistakes in dealing with you, just like you do not know how to deal with Ugandans. They often do not know about your cultural values. One reason that it is good to get to know people from other cultures.
Cultural Sensitivity is the keyword when relating Ugandans, and that includes officials, those in business. It begins by honing your listening skills and listen more than you speak.
One can give first-time visitors the best advice to leave all your preconceived ideas, stereotypes, and other notions about Uganda behind. 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 what they thought about Uganda and Ugandans was 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:
How Ugandans see you, as a Visitor to their Country:
Just like a visitor might have preconceived notions about Ugandans, so Ugandans have them 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 ideas that Ugandans have of visitors are rooted in the distant colonial past. Though Uganda is no longer under colonial rule, decolonizing the minds of Ugandans is an ongoing one.
Ugandans are considered some of the friendliest and welcoming people in all of Africa.
With their gracious and courteous ways, Ugandans are some of the nicest 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 done by meeting Ugandans, asking questions, and listening. As a visitor to Uganda, not knowing the Ugandan culture, you will make some cultural mistakes. In most instances, you will not even know that you made a mistake. 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. Often, the values and principles are based on faith. 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 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 as 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 terms such as Mzee.
In a Family, relational mistakes are made and tolerated. What happens in the house stays in the house. It allows you to be you instead of trying your hardest to fit into something you are not comfortable with.
Ugandan Hospitality is more than a welcoming greeting, even more than a shared meal. Ugandan Hospitality means that the host assumed responsibility for your well-being while you are in the home.
Uganda is a Hospitable country; hospitality is deeply ingrained in the Cultural Traditions and Beliefs of most Ugandans. The concept of African Hospitality has become ingrained in the Uganda Tourism Industry. It is practiced by lodges, hotels, and some tour operators such as Kabiza Wilderness Safaris.
2 – Not understanding Ugandan English, which is called Uglish:
Most will not speak like a local but learning a few local phrases would endear you to many Ugandans that you meet. It will mean to them that you care, took time and effort to learn Luganda.
English is the Official Language of Uganda. Uganda is now considered the Best English Speaking Nation in all of Africa. Specific phrases may not have the same meaning to you as they do here 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. You will learn quickly if someone tells you that they were going to 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 it 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, even Swahili, 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.
When it comes to hands, one cultural difference here is that friendship between men and men and women and women are often expressed by lightly holding hands.
What visitors may find unusual is the custom of kneeling 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. It should be gratefully and gracefully accepted.
Never meet anyone in Uganda without acknowledging them and Greeting them. The greeting is also about how the family, business, life, health is. That is an essential component of greeting in Uganda.
An essential part of greeting someone in Uganda is the enquire about them. It is customary to ask how the family is, how they are.
Greetings tend to be longer than they are 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 conservation – 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 be hit pieces on the government, which usually do not reflect the reality one encounters living here.
Conversations with Ugandans will get you to find out the mindset, the values, the principles that rule the lives of Ugandans, 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 village is where it all starts, where life begins, 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. Ugandans take their time.
Bring some family pictures, some 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 which they so much treasure.
Family relationships and Family Events are the focal points for most Ugandans. During the holidays, everyone returns to the village. Life in Uganda is relational first.
Even time is not seen in terms of tasks but relationally.
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 if you are wearing clothes that are not neatly pressed, cleaned, and in need of mending. In the city, being dressed smart gains you respect.
Women should avoid miniskirts, short shorts. Men and women are more respected 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 especially in villages, will wear a traditional dress called Busuuti, also referred to as Gomesi. At the same time, men will wear what appears like a dress. It is called a Kanzu. Both the Busuuti and Kanzu are worn at events such as 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 an older person is a celebrity – most Ugandans do not reach the age past 60 – 53 is life expectancy in Kampala – so the older people in this culture are honored – often when someone meets me, they call me Mzee – elder –
Ugandans show respect for elders – they are deeply respected, sought out for advice and counsel.
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.
8 – Showing Emotions – such as Anger or Frustration:
Things do not always go your way. Things in Uganda will not always go according to your expectations. The last thing you want to do here is to explode with anger. 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 you – keep in mind the relationships 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.
The sharing of feelings, common in the USA, is not so common here. Emotions are suppressed for better or worse.
9 – Taking Western Savior Style Selfies, Please:
We strongly suggest that you do not take what is referred to as exploitive Poverty Tourism pictures. That is a form of exploitation.
It is poverty porn, images of the poor seen in many fundraising campaigns across the world. Africans are labeled as powerless victims, which could not 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 do not recommend that you take one.
We suggest an African answer to poverty and orphaned that you watch the movie “Mully” on YouTube. It is the story of a man without western help empowering a generation of orphaned children in Kenya. A moving story That 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 with us. Two instances come to mind. One was empowering young people in a school near Bwindi Forest. The other ongoing project in a village in the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. Both preserving the dignity of Ugandans.
No Western Savior Selfies that are demeaning. That is especially true when visiting the Batwa, Karamajong, Ik People.
10 – Showing Affection in Public- a Cultural No-No:
Kissing in public or show 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 and Ugandans, especially women, will hug and kiss another woman she knows well.
Even President Museveni has stated in an interview that he never kissed his wife in public. You will also find a different scene on a night out in Kampala.
11 – Bringing up local Politics and Ethnicity – Social Issues:
There are some issues where you shouldn’t bring them up. They will put the Ugandan into an awkward spot, and he or she will not express what they feel talking to a Westerner.
Uganda is a Democracy. The form and expression of it will vary from what you are used to. In February of 2021, a new election is taking place. There are 45 Candidates for President. Yet most Ugandans know the outcome as local opinion polls are confirming. Do not bring up local politics. Let the Ugandan do so.
Social Issues like LGBT issues are best not raised. Uganda is following British Colonial Laws. It will be a long time when 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. 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 Lives Matter Demonstration. Thirteen (mostly Foreigners) were arrested for violating Presidential COVID-19 Directives.
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. You will find that they will try to understand your cultural ways.
We may have cultural differences, but we can cross them through meaningful conversations.
Many visitors are surprised as to 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 a lot more meaningful if you avoid cultural mistakes by being culturally sensitive and aware of your newfound Ugandan friends in the Pearl of Africa.
Enjoy your time in the Pearl of Africa, Uganda.