Uganda Culture

The Ugandan People
Ugandan people are very friendly, gracious, and forgiving of cultural mistakes. However, if you have a question, it is best to ask if you have the opportunity. Remember to enter as a student. The Ugandans are proud of their culture; as they teach you, trust is built.
Don’t be offended by people who stare. Staring usually does not connote rudeness as it does in western culture. People will be curious about you, so they will stare.
Relationships with Ugandans:
Show respect for older people.  Stand up and be prepared to give an appropriate greeting. When circulating in a group, always take time to talk with older people.

Conversation Style
Always be sensitive to whether the nationals might like to express themselves, or whether they want to listen to you. Some people communicate through hints and metaphors, rather than frankness; some through satirical repartee and over statements; some through stories.  As a rule, well-told stories will be appreciated.
Be flexible, not up tight.  Go with the flow of the culture you’re involved in.   The people of East Africa are event oriented rather than time oriented.  The key in all of this is the event, not whether or not the event started and/or ended on time.   This should not give you an excuse to be late.  Try to set a good example by being on time (or early).
Family, community, and church relationships are very important in the Ugandan culture. Ask nationals about their family and friends and try to get to know them.  Learn to tolerate a crowd.  Likewise, talk positively about your family and be ready to show photos if you have them.
In many cultures, losing your temper is just about the greatest sin possible.  Keep quiet. Diffuse your explosive emotions in your journal or in prayer.
Ask Questions.
If you have questions regarding anything relating to your work, the people, the culture, etc., please ask someone you deem more experienced in that respective field.
Ugandans, both men and women, greet each other with a handshake. The people of Uganda are generally very friendly so do not be surprised if strangers come up to shake your hand.  You will be taught special greetings for special circumstances.
Usually older people greet younger people first. Men greet women first. If you are not in a position to shake hands, acknowledge others with a wave. Friendship between two men or two women is often expressed by holding hands. It does not mean that they are gay.
When taking photographs of a Ugandan, you need to ask their permission as a matter of common courtesy, just as you would ask permission at home.  Usually street scenes, athletic events, church services, and pictures at institutions and homes are welcomed.
It is best to take pictures when you arrive and your experience is still fresh.  You may forget or become accustomed to the scenery.
It is illegal to take pictures of some government buildings and official personnel unless special permission has been given.
Dating and the Opposite Sex
Ugandans have a different standard for dating and expression of affection in public. Please refrain from kissing and hugging, even your spouse, in public. What you regard as a sign of friendship may mean something different to a Ugandan. Be friendly and hospitable but develop friendships with a number of people. Organize or join group activities.
Do not spend time alone with a person of the opposite sex unless he or she is your spouse.
The specific use of the word “friend” in many cases has a different meaning.  A man is not a “friend” to a woman and vice-versa.  Women are friends with women.  Men are friends with men.
Choice of Dressing Style
You should all be conscious of local sensibilities when choosing the clothes we wear.  It is also good to note that Africans are very neat dressers.  The villagers are more casual depending on what they can afford.
Most Africans find it insulting for Westerners to wear scruffy or dirty clothes.  If you are traveling or doing manual work, it is not always possible to look neat but we should try to look as clean and neat as possible.
Ladies Clothing
Ladies generally wear dresses/skirts but loose fitting slacks or Capri’s are acceptable only in Kampala and the game parks. Pants/slacks on women are not recommended in rural areas.
Since Ugandans consider it offensive for a woman to expose her knees and shoulders (although you may see less modest wear on the young adults and in the city), the most acceptable thing to wear is a dress/skirt covering the knees with a modest top – short tops that show your stomach or your back are not acceptable.  A tank or T-shirt which exposes your bra – or more – is definitely not acceptable.  A loose fitting tank top which is at least 4 inches wide at the shoulders is acceptable, but nothing less. And these are only acceptable in Kampala. However, if you are wearing a loose-fitting shirt over the tank, such as a “camp shirt” (meaning button up short-sleeved shirt), this is acceptable.
It is absolutely necessary for ladies to wear an underskirt or lining underneath their dress/skirt, unless it is denim or of a similar heavy weight material!
Please note that it is culturally inappropriate for ladies to wear trousers or shorts in many areas of Uganda, especially in the villages.  In such places longer skirts/dresses should be worn.  However, for beach holidays, school activities and trips, one may wear trousers.
Men’s Clothing
Men must also be conscious of what they wear – or bare! The older generation will look upon you as still being a “boy” if you wear shorts in public. It is considered more respectable to wear trousers and have your legs covered.
Walking around in a public place without a shirt is totally unacceptable.
It is unacceptable for short shorts to be worn – by either male or female!
Special Events
If you attend a baptism, wedding, church dedication or other special event, you will experience cultural habits that are specific to that occasion.  Visitors to special events will be treated in a special manner.  You may be served food when no one else is served, and may be watched the entire time you eat.  The people you are visiting may not eat with you.  In some groups, they will leave you on your own to eat.  In other groups they will sit with you and watch you eat.  Community
Africans are very community oriented.  They take care of each other, watch each other’s children, and are extremely family-oriented.  The African family not only consists of one’s immediate family, but also their extended family.
As well, most East African people groups are male-dominated.  Women and children often do not eat with the men.  Men are served first and are the dominant figure in the family.
Uganda being a Christian dominated country in terms of religion, so, church norms are also important to know.
Music is very much a part of the service, and the singing may go on for an hour at the beginning of the service.
Women will “piga kilele” (eulilate) as part of making a joyful noise.  There will be a lot of hand clapping, and moving during the singing.  If instruments are available, instruments will be used, too.  This is the African way.
Service may be as long as two, three or four hours.  This is due to the fact that many people walk a long way to church.
Driving in Uganda can be challenging. Although there is a highway code, it is often not followed because of inexperience as a driver or lack of proper training. To get through the city streets in rush hour traffic, one needs to drive defensively, but you need to avoid displaying the behavior that may be found offensive. Watch out not only for vehicles that will do the unexpected, but also for boda bodas, bicycles and pedestrians that often appear out of nowhere.
Driving Conditions (10 tips)

  • Driving in Uganda is different from some other countries:
  • Most of the vehicles have right hand drive and are manual transmissions. Driving is on the left side of the road.
  • Roads are often potholed and rough. Take caution when driving, and learn how to patch a tire.
  • It is illegal to text or talk on your mobile phone while driving.
  • Seatbelts are required by law.
  • The larger vehicle or the vehicle with the bumper out in front, has the right of way.
  • Cars in the roundabouts have the right of way.
  • Always be on the lookout for vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians.
  • On boulevards, right hand turns are made at the second opening.
  • Due to the free style method of driving, you must drive aggressively.  Try not to be overly aggressive and therefore offensive, when driving.

This is available though not always dependable and is sometimes dangerous.  The three main types are listed below.
Taxi (Public commuter transport)
All Taxis (white mini vans with blue squares on them) go to one of two central locations in Kampala (New or Old Taxi Park). To go to town just wave a taxi down in the direction you want to go. When you get to the taxi park, ask any of the hundreds of helpful men waiting around to direct you to the one that is going to where you want to go. You pay the conductor when you get off. Watch what others pay – you pay the same. Don’t let it scare you – the more you use it the easier it gets!
Private Hire
There are several little white cars (with squares on them sometimes) that are always ready and waiting for you. They are more expensive, but the price is negotiable. They take you directly where you want to go. They can be hired for all day – and there are no crowds or taxi parks to deal with.  Be sure to negotiate the price ahead of time, and do not give the fare until you reach your destination.
Boda Boda (motorcycle taxi)
These are for private hire; men driving bikes or mopeds.  Always use caution when riding on a boda boda; they can be very dangerous. Using a helmet is necessary.

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