Cultural Etiquette – DOs and DONTs in Ghana
Ghana is very peaceful and welcoming country. Its people are incredibly kind and hospitable and therefore, in my opinion, its biggest attraction. In order not to offend and to show respect to Ghanaians and their culture and also to ensure yourself feeling comfortable, read cultural etiquette and rules to follow during your stay in Ghana.
Right Hand Rule
Always use your right hand for eating, shaking hands, giving and receiving items, money etc. Left hand is considered as »toilet hand«. Especially among Muslim people in the North, toilet paper is still not in usage, so they left hand is considered as dirty and Ghanaians can really feel offended when someone is using his left hand, even for waving. It takes time to get used to not using your left, always have in mind that left is somehow »haram« (forbidden). In case that you unwantedly use it or if your right hand is really not free, you have to say “sorry for left”.
Always, but ALWAYS Greet People
Greetings are really important for Ghanaians. If there are more people, always greet them from right to left. Even if you are in a hurry, and for instance want to ask for directions, say good morning first, and then go further with asking. If you don’t greet first, they may feel offended, so you have to apologize and then try again. Also, then you want to ask for the price, greet vendor first. But, what I found interesting is that people usually don’t say goodbye that when they leave. So, while greeting when arriving/meeting is a must, greeting when leaving can be left out.
Learn a Few Words in Local Languages
Although English is an official language and widely spoken all over the country, Ghanaians always like to hear foreigners use their local languages. There are many different local languages, so you might get confused, but try to learn at least »hello«, »how are you« and »I’m fine« in Twi (the most common and also official language, Ashanti region), Ga (Greater Accra region), Dagbani (Northern region).
|Good afternoon||Maaha [maachi]||Oshwiee||Antire|
|Good evening||Maadwo [maajo]||M’naokoo||Aninwula|
|How are you?||ɛtɛ sɛn?||Te oyɔɔ tɛŋŋ?||Use one of the greetings above|
|I’m fine||Me ho yɛ||miyɛ jogbaŋŋ||Naa|
- Ghanaians rarely use »hello«, it is hardly to be heard even among young people. Much more common use good morning/afternoon/evening.
- People in Northern region do a half bow when greeting or talking to people who are older than themselves. Sometimes they even kneel down and stay like this for some time. This is the way of showing respect to elders.
Don’t Cross Your Legs
Especially when sitting with elders. You will never see women have their legs crossed, as in Europe for example. It is an indicator of disrespect.
Don’t Be Too Talkative and Pushy to Small Kids
They may start to cry since some of them are apparently afraid of obruni (white person in Twi) or our skin colour – happened to me many times in both urban and rural areas! I have never experienced it before in any other African country, so I bet there must be an explanation behind it. Maybe they feel like seeing a ghost or when they act naughty, parents tell them obruni will come and kidnap them.
Don’t Blow Your Nose While Eating
I found it very difficult since I have always runny nose while eating because of extremely spicy food, especially in Southern part of Ghana. Although some people told me it should not be a problem if I blow my nose while eating, using a tissue of course, I still try to do it before and after eating.
Don’t Talk While Eating
Some Ghanaians told me it can be a sign of disrespect if someone talks while eating. But so far, I have not noticed that locals here would really follow this “rule”.
Don’t Sniff Food
In Ghanaian culture is not appropriate to sniff offered food or beverage.
Don’t Curse or Use Any Vulgar Words
So far, I have never hear a Ghanaian using swear words. While for me words like “crazy” or even “stupid” wouldn’t sound quite harmful, for Ghanaians can be really insulting. Also, never tell someone to “shut up”.
Don’t Make Any Remarks About Any Religious, Political or Ethnic group
Ghana is ethnically very diverse country, but extremely tolerant, so respect local traditions and customs. Also, people are very religious so they will find it difficult to understand that someone is an atheist. Better just saying that you attend church regularly.
When You Are Eating, Always Say “You Are Invited”
It is very polite to invite others to share your meal with. You will often hear them inviting you for lunch, although they may not really mean it, so it is normal if you just say “thank you” without accepting invitation.
You Can Spit in the Street
Even if you are a woman since everyone does it here.
Ask For Permission Before Taking Photos
Ghanaians really don’t like being photographed. Better asking first to avoid possible conflict. Try to buy item from a vendor first and then ask, if you can take a photo (although may not work either).
Try Not to Smoke in Public
Smokers will be dissapointed in Ghana. It is not appreciated to smoke in public anywhere in Ghana.
Dont Embarrass Yourself With Excessive Drinking
Excessive alcohol consumption is considered shameful in Ghana. Keep moderate amounts of alcohol.