AN INTRODUCTION TO ETIQUETTE IN GHANA
You’ve moved to Ghana, and now you’d like to immerse yourself in the rich culture. But how can you be sure of the correct etiquette? We are here to give you a crash course in Ghanaian culture 101! After all, having some background on the cultural customs and etiquette will not only help you to fit in better, but will also enrich your overall experience in Ghana!
Here are a few do’s and don’ts to guide you!
- The most valuable piece of information to know is that the right is always right! We’re talking about using your right hand, not your left and this applies to eating, shaking hands, paying, and very importantly, when giving or receiving something. This is because in Ghana the left hand is viewed as unclean as it is regarded as the hand that takes care of all the less than sanitary things. If you forget, excuse yourself with a quick apology in the form of “sorry for the left” and try to remember using your right hand for next time!
- Ghanaians are very hospitable and polite, which you might notice on hearing the signature phrase Akwaaba wherever you go – which translates to “you’re welcome”. In addition, every sentence starts with the word please. This is because in many of the Ghanaian languages and dialects, this is the typical way of speaking. So as part of getting acquainted with the local lingo, you could start adding please to the beginning of your requests, statements and questions.
- Greeting is not only considered the norm in Ghanaian culture, but is also simply good manners. Always greet on entering a room/public place or when approaching either an individual or a group of people. It’s recommended to exchange a few pleasantries before launching straight into the conversation, question or instruction. Rushing a greeting is considered extremely rude so it’s always a good idea to ask how the family is doing and to make a bit of chitchat to start. A handshake is the most common form of greeting for both men and women. Greet elders and heads of family first before moving onto younger members. When sitting with elders, never cross your legs, as it’s considered disrespectful.
- Ghanaian etiquette revolves around the formal addressing of a person, based on their age and status. Addressing people correctly is very important due to the fact that titles are very important to Ghanaians: Madame for women and Sir for men, and where necessary, Doctor – are the most common ways to address someone. You’ll also hear locals (mostly male) referring to one another as Chale, Chief or Boss, although this is more informal and better suited to casual conversations or with those you are more familiar with. Apart from Madame or Sir, you might find yourself being referred to as mummy/daddy, aunty/uncle or sister/brother. This is another example of the way in which locals address one another in Ghanaian culture.
- When it comes to mealtimes, it is not appropriate to sniff food or beverages. Communal eating is very common in Ghana (food served in one bowl) and before partaking; a washbasin with soap will be brought out and passed around for everyone to wash his or her hands. Once again, remember to use your right hand for eating and do not begin eating until the oldest male has started. Eat from the section of the bowl directly in front of you and never reach across the bowl to take from the opposite side.
- Respectful dressing is encouraged, especially for women, though it is generally more laid back at the beach or poolside. The waist area is considered the most sexual part of a woman’s body, so wearing crop tops (or shirts that expose this area) is not encouraged, especially in the villages and rural areas where conservative and traditional attitudes remain deeply entrenched. Sex and sexuality are not openly discussed in Ghana, the way they might be in Western cultures.
- Not everyone will be happy to have his or her photo taken. When it comes to snapping someones’ photo as they say here in Ghana, it is only polite to ask permission first. Taking photographs of government buildings, military institutions and the police is strictly off limits.
- Learning a few words or phrases in Twi is a great idea if you’d really like to immerse yourself in Ghana mode – it also shows you are making an effort to integrate into the local culture.
- Ghana is known for having a dashing culture – you may hear the term dash a lot while you’re in Ghana and occasionally be asked to pay one. A dash basically translates to a small tip. It is rarely a high amount – a few Cedi or some coins will do.
- Smoking in public (unless it’s a dedicated smoking space in a restaurant or bar) is generally frowned upon, and this applies particularly for women. If you’re going to smoke in public, make sure you are discreet about it.
- Cussing, swearing and using foul language are not considered appropriate; neither is insulting someone by telling them to shut up or calling them crazy or stupid. Religious slander is a no-no as the majority of Ghanaians are deeply religious. As a rule, avoid making comments relating to religion or politics. Ghanaians in general, tend to be more on the conservative and traditional side, something you may notice when compared to their less conservative Francophone neighbours.
- Be wary that as a foreigner, your accent and word pronunciation may not be clear to Ghanaians. Keep questions and instructions simple and avoid adding unnecessary additional words to avoid any “lost in translation” moments.
- Be patient and flexible, Africa time is real but losing your temper or becoming aggressive will not help the situation, if anything, it could just make it worse.
Now that you have an introduction to Ghanaian etiquette, get out there and explore all the wonderful culture, customs and traditions that the land of the black star has to offer!