Culture is people’s ‘way of life’, meaning the way they do things. It is the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members or a group of people from others. It consists of the unwritten rules of the social game.
Cultural Awareness An essential skill in the provision of culturally appropriate services, cultural awareness entails an understanding of how a person’s culture may inform their values, behaviour, beliefs and basic assumptions. Cultural awareness recognises that we are all shaped by our cultural background, which influences how we interpret the world around us, perceive ourselves and relate to other people. Uganda is a country made up of a diverse range of ethnic groups. There are over 30 different African languages (referred to as the vernacular – the language or native dialect of a specific population) Official languages are English and Swahili. Most Ugandans, including children speak, write and understand English. Social customs vary according to race, tribe and religion. British social habits are acceptable everywhere. People are generally friendly. The usual modes of address are as used in the UK. Arriving in Uganda for the first time A foreigner may experience some culture shock. Although Ugandans speak English, it has a distinct local flavour. Ugandan English is influenced by accent, manipulating some words for euphonic purposes and peculiar cultural meanings and sometimes having had very little contact with native British speakers. e.g. I will eat your money ( spend it recklessly), She is putting on nice! (She is dressed well). It is not considered polite for the visitor to laugh out loud at perceived mispronunciations or broken English of their hosts. It is their version of English, and if they break it and made it work for their part of the world it’s more tactful to let it be. Ugandans tend to resent being lectured to or condescended to by foreigners. Mimicking accents as a form of teasing or trying to fit in is not encouraged – they are polite people, and they never admit to deep dislike, but Ugandans are fiercely proud and do not respond well to perceived mockery. When meeting people for the first time (home and corporate) a firm polite handshake for either gender is adequate. In some ethnic groups, women may drop a slight curtsey as well which is a cultural norm and should be taken as such. Elders are venerated in Uganda – they are to be addressed in the honorific at all times (home and business) – unless they ask you not to. In Uganda, some ethnic groups avoid direct eye contact with a person upon first meeting (it is a sign of disrespect or challenge in their culture to do so). As the relationship thaws, eye contact is established and maintained. Guests should not take it as a sign of weakness or dishonesty. Business In business, Ugandans value forthrightness and honesty. They are shrewd businessmen and can competently negotiate and deal at the same level as the Western. Decisions are often made by a group within the company where there is a premium on consensus. Many Ugandans like to discuss business extensively, and usually seek external advice, before making decisions. When negotiating, companies will respond to your approach in an equal manner. Therefore, if a potential partner demonstrates flexibility and willingness to commit, they will gladly put the same effort into the partnership. Personal contact with potential and existing partners/clients and regular visits to the market are therefore of the utmost importance and it is natural for the business relationship to be built with time. Ugandans want to get to know the people with whom they are dealing and begin most meetings with an introductory conversation about people’s backgrounds and families. Ugandans are generally conservative and formal when making speeches to a group. Greetings and acknowledgements invariably precede formal speeches in strict accordance with protocol. They are however very proud people and sensitive to anyone implying their culture is backward (Western competitiveness may be seen as showing off), for a deal to be completed amicably refrain from odious comparisons. In Homes In homes, children will kneel and clap rhythmically when greeting a visitor- a cultural form of respect to be accepted as such. Children at times also kneel and clap when receiving gifts – a sign of appreciation in their culture. Children in homes usually play in their own areas and at mealtimes, eat quietly, speaking only when addressed. Ugandan society is close-knit and has extended family. Terms like cousin sister and cousin brother refer to first and second cousins usually. It is normal for children adolescents and teens to do most of the household chores. It is an accepted cultural norm. They are training for married life to run their own homes. Laziness, talking back and boldness are discouraged. Spanking is not a crime in Uganda, and all elders are allowed to swiftly discipline naughtiness. As a foreigner though, it is not wise to hit your host’s children or criticise them unless they have been extremely terrible. Copying the Ugandan curtsey, and clapping when receiving gifts usually is rewarded with indulgent smiles. No one will be offended if you keep your Western culture. Traditions In traditional rites and rituals, should you be fortunate enough to attend, ask permission before taking pictures or joining their dances. Africans are deeply religious and undue interference e.g. in a rain dance may offend them greatly. In Uganda, people are friendly but because of bad press from some Western media, they are wary of indiscriminating picture-taking. Please ask permission first. Taking pictures of uniformed forces without their permission is never a good idea. Discretion and Modesty Public displays of affection in Uganda are not common. They believe in discretion and modesty as the true virtue of maturity. Kissing, petting and fondling your spouse in public may be tolerated as foreign strange culture and it makes everyone very uncomfortable. Please do not engage in this behaviour in front of children of your hosts, they would be justified in asking you to leave. Sexual behaviour is a very private matter in Uganda- you may use your designated bedroom to be affectionate. Family When invited for a meal, one is not expected to bring a bottle or contribute to food. If one wishes you may bring the host’s children small gifts or something for the whole family e.g. sweets for the children, or a box of ice cream for everyone to enjoy. It is polite to compliment the chef (usually your hostess) after the meal. If you are a single male, please do not bring a gift for your married hostesses only; avoid kissing or hugging her unless you are sure her husband is fine with it. For your hosts- giving their children presents and buying a few groceries is acceptable. Giving or offering cash may hurt the pride of people who genuinely felt happy to host you. Perhaps if there is serious need you may leave an envelope when you leave. As an icebreaker, bringing along pictures of your family, where you live etc will help greatly. Even in a business setup, a little background information puts everyone at ease. Dress It is not polite to appear in polite society in a shabby ensemble. Torn, dirty, un-ironed clothes are disrespectful. For women, inappropriately short clothes, sleeveless clothes are informal and best avoided in the formal company. Tipping Tipping service providers like waiters are very generous. 10 % of the bill is allowed. You may use foreign currency – (not coins) which is redeemable at banks. Factors to consider Be aware of your own cultural influences. Be aware of judging other people’s behaviour and beliefs according to the standards of your own culture. Be aware of making assumptions about cultural influences and applying generalisations to individuals. Understand that the behaviour and beliefs of people within each culture can vary considerably. Understand that the extent to which people adopt practices of their new country and retain those from their cultural background can vary within communities, even within families. Understand that not all people identify with their cultural or religious background. Understand that culture itself is a fluid entity, undergoing transformations as a result of globalisation, migration and the diaspora influence. Increase your knowledge about different cultural practices and issues through cultural background information sessions and/or resources and cultural awareness training. Understand the importance of appropriate communication.