East Africa is full of welcoming and friendly locals. It consists of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Burundi. Like when traveling to other parts of the world, it’s essential to learn about the cultures and traditions of East Africans when traveling there to ensure you respect their way of living and get the most from your trip. It is especially the case when there’s a language barrier, meaning you might need to rely on the actions of the locals during the time you’ll be around.
To learn the cultures and East African traditions when visiting isn’t only a show of respect and appreciation but opens a better way to interact with the locals and learn about these beautiful countries. Culture clashes are not uncommon when you travel to East Africa, especially if you’re from a Western country. Read along to learn more about East African traditions and cultures.
1. Don’t Point At Things
Like many other countries in Africa, pointing at someone or something is considered offensive in East Africa. Avoid pointing at strangers unless you want to invite trouble. Different communities use different pointing methods, including using your elbow and chin to draw people’s attention to something. The best approach is to observe the local community in the area you visit to see how they point at things. Or better yet, use a tour guide to show you around and ask any questions you may have. The best part is that many different safari companies in East Africa can help make your trip to East Africa more enjoyable. For instance, at medicalaid.org, you can have your trip to Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda organized to ensure you have an exciting and educational adventure.
2. Greetings Are Highly Valued
Every conversation in East Africa starts with greetings. People in East Africa value greetings and view them as a sign of respect. You will want to learn to say ‘hello’ when you meet people on the streets or when interacting with them in their businesses.
People in East Africa, especially in the coastal towns, are accustomed to shaking hands upon meeting and departure. Young people greet older people when clutching their right hand as a sign of respect when shaking their hands with older people. Other people, like Muslims, touch their left hand to the chest when shaking hands. You’ll, however, experience finger-clicking variations when young people are greeting each other.
Usually, greetings can last a minute or so and are often associated with former conversations between people, especially in rural areas. It is usually something like ‘How are you?’ ‘How is your family and business’ and other such conversations seeking to understand how the other person is doing. So, when you find someone speaking to you at length, pay attention and be affirmative as a show of respect. The most common languages in East Africa are Kiswahili and English, so learning those languages will give you an added advantage.
3. Locals Will Refer To You As ‘Mzungu’
Mzungu is a common term used to mean white people. So, whether you’re from the USA or Europe, you’ll hear locals call you ‘Mzungu.’ It’s not an insult, so don’t panic or be offended. Most often, people will smile at you and call you ‘Mzungu’ as a way to appreciate you and make you feel at home.
4. No Talking Much During A Meal
While you should not utterly keep quiet during a meal, talking too much or discussing business while eating may be considered uncouth. Of course, you can discuss small matters during a meal, like when you see an interesting thing that you’d like to ask more about, but if it’s business or serious issues, you’ll have to wait when you finish your food.
5. Respect For Elders Is Non-Negotiable
People in East Africa have high respect for elders and regard them as being much wiser. People treat elders with higher levels of respect. Disregarding their advice or opinion is a grave cultural offense.
If you’re on the Kenya coast or Tanzania, you should always say ‘Shikamoo’ to people older than you. They’ll respond by saying, ‘Marhaba.’ This is a respectful way to greet your elders in Swahili.
6. Gift-Giving Etiquette
It’s common for tourists to give gifts to locals in East Africa and locals appreciate it. However, it’s best to understand the giving etiquette before giving out gifts to East African locals. For instance, you should use your right or both hands when giving out a gift—don’t use the left hand. Also, while you might be used to giving alcohol as a gift to your country, it might not hold the same value in East Africa (unless you’re sure the recipient takes alcohol). Also, wrap your gifts before giving them out, although not necessarily using expensive gift wrappers.
On the other hand, if you receive a gift, you should always accept it with two hands, showing that you appreciate it genuinely.
7. Wear Modest Clothing
Some parts of East Africa, especially Tanzania, are deeply conservative. As such, wearing much revealing clothing might be a sign of being disrespectful, especially in rural setups where women wear long dresses. But of course, you can wear modest trousers or jeans.
But the case is different on Kenyan Coast and Nairobi, where people are flexible on what to wear.
8. Silence Is Key
Don’t get this wrong, but sometimes you need to remain silent and enjoy the company of those around you. Of course, if you have something to say, you should say it, but don’t just talk about it. So, before you travel to Africa, know that it’s okay to be silent and that you shouldn’t try to fill the silence with conversation. Sometimes you’ll need to keep quiet and enjoy the company of people around you without the need to feel uneasy.
9. Don’t Sniff Your Food
Some people are accustomed to taking in the delicious aroma before digging into a meal. But it might appear to be a cultural faux among many communities in East Africa. Many communities in East Africa consider sniffing food a sign of suspicion and insulting to the cook. Some people may find it rude when someone turns down food served to them. So, it’s best to avoid doing it.
There’s something special about East Africa that makes it loved by many travelers worldwide. If you’re visiting this part of Africa for the first time, you can be sure that there are many places to visit and enjoy, and its people are welcoming. Knowing the above cultural and traditional values gives you an upper hand on how you should interact with people to make your stay even more enjoyable.