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Uganda Customs & Etiquettes
 
 
 

General

Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting. Casual dress is usual for most occasions in the daytime or evening. Ugandans have adopted a socially conservative culture and homosexuality and drug abuse is illegal and widely condemned.

In most situations, Ugandans are not overly concerned with being punctual. People are expected to arrive within the first hour or two after the appointed time. The higher the status of the person, the more they are excused of lateness. Also, it tends to be that the more prestigious the event the later guests will arriving. This usually applies to both social and business meetings. Punctuality tends to be more valued in business situations.

Uganda is going through a transition when it comes to gender roles; however, it is still a male dominant society.
In most rural areas women will most likely be housewives. They will be expected to cook, clean, do they laundry and take care of the children, as well as work their land. Once married, the woman is transferred from her original family to the man's and takes on his clan. Marriage can be at a very young (early teens), but seems most common in the late teens. Also there is a transfer of "bride wealth" from the man to the woman's family. Polygamy is generally acceptable as well.

In most rural areas, women have to wear clothing that covers the legs. Showing too much leg can result in a woman being called the local word for "whore". In urban settings it is more likely to find women who work and have a career. Although opportunities are becoming more varied, salaries and room for growth tend to be limited.

Walking over versus around any bowls or pots (especially those containing food) is considered rude. Spending time in silence versus conversation is often times also interpreted as rude. Men almost always wear long pants, even in the hottest weather; shorts are a sign of being a child.

Meeting & Greeting

Among men, a handshake is appropriate in most situations. Handshakes tend to be energetic and very often linger a bit. To express extra deference, the hand-shaker may lightly grip his hand-shaking forearm with the opposite hand. Many times men will hold hands with other men, and often the handshake is prolonged into this hand-holding. This does not have any implication on their sexual preferences; it's just a sign of friendship and closeness.

As for greetings among women, a handshake and/or nod of acknowledgment is appropriate in most situations. If you would like to show great respect you may also place your left hand over your right elbow/forearm when handshaking. Many times women will hold hands with other women, and often the handshake is prolonged into this hand-holding.

Appropriate greetings between men and women depend on the nature of the relationship and region. A handshake is usually appropriate but it is best to wait for the woman to extend her hand, otherwise a bow or a nod of acknowledgment will suffice.

Remember to always use your right hand when shaking hands.

Communication Style

Ugandans tend to communicate more indirectly than directly. Stories, proverbs, and the like are common means of expressing a point indirectly and require the implicit knowledge of the listener. Greetings and a good amount of small talk almost always occur before talking about business.

Feelings tend to not be accurately expressed between adults and sometimes one can get the feeling of being fawned upon with false happiness, or being lectured by a false sternness.

Humour plays a big role in communicating and most Ugandans enjoy a good joke. However, it is best to avoid sarcasm as it may not translate well, if at all.

Personal space tends to be very minimal in Uganda. People often talk very close to each other and less than an arm’s length of space is common. On public transportation, personal space is limited to non-existent. It is common to see people crowed into a bus or taxi with no space in between. This tends to be the case more in rural areas vs. urban.

When two people of the same sex are talking, touching is acceptable. It is common to touch the hands, arms, and shoulders. However, when two people of the opposite sex talk there is very little to no touching. The only appropriate touch is usually a handshake.

Generally, people prefer indirect eye contact. This does not mean you can’t look at somebody directly, but continuous eye contact during conversations is not a must. Overly direct eye contact can be considered aggressive by some. Women and children often will look down or away when conversing with men or with elders.

Gestures

When gesturing or beckoning for someone to come, you should face your palm downwards and make a scratching motion with the fingers. It is rude to point at people as pointing is reserved for dogs, so usually the whole hand/arm is used.

Holding the palm upwards and then motioning in a small flick downwards (like throwing a yo-yo) has a variety of vague meanings. It could be questioning "What's up?" " What?"; apologising "Sorry, what can I do?"; filler "You know."

Pointing fingers upwards and rubbing the thumb along the fingertips is the sign for money.

Dining Etiquette

Etiquette is important at family meals. When a meal is ready, all the members of the household wash their hands and sit on floor mats. Visitors and neighbours who drop in are expected to join the family at a meal. Normally a short prayer is said before the family starts eating. During the meal, children talk only when asked a question. It is considered impolite to leave the room while others are eating. Leaning on the left hand or stretching one's legs at a meal is a sign of disrespect. When the meal is finished, everyone in turn gives a compliment to the mother.

 

 
 

 



 


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