Ghana Cultural Etiquette
- Always greet people from right to left, always with your right hand. Remember that your palms are always properly aligned for greeting people when going right-to-left. Always follow this order, regardless of the age or gender or status of the people you are greeting. This will seem very awkward when you enter a room where everyone is lined up on the left wall because you will have to walk past everyone to start greeting from the furthest person.
- The West African handshake is used in Ghana, where the middle finger snaps the middle finger of the person you are shaking. The louder the snap, the better, and it is acceptable to try the snap a second time if you miss it. You can see examples in our language videos.
(Note to our Italian friends: È possibile riconoscere questa stretta di mano come un grave insulto. Tuttavia, questo è un messaggio di saluto standard in Ghana e nessun reato dovrebbero essere prese.)
- Always use your right hand to give and receive items, and to eat. In this culture, your left hand is considered your 'toilet hand'. It is a common practice to give money with your right hand while at the same time receiving your purchase into the same hand.
- Always greet people first when you enter an area. Otherwise, you may wonder why people are just looking at you when you enter a room. They are waiting for you to offer a greeting, which will be received with a big smile and a warm reply.
- Never make derogatory remarks about any religious, political or ethnic group or behavior. Ghana is tolerant and respectful of all its diverse tribes, religions and customs.
- Always be respectful, especially to elders. The older the person, the more respect. But always greet in the correct order, right-to-left, regardless of age or gender. (see #1 above)
- Remember to share. People in Africa do not live the independent lives of Western cultures. Sharing food and sharing stories are two of the best ways to join this culture of interdependence. It is acceptable to give small amounts of money ($2 maximum) to children or the disabled, but usually not to beggars.
- You should not be wasteful. Africa is a land where every little thing has value. Your guide will never ask you for anything, but throwing away just a piece of paper that has a blank side would be a painful sight for him to see. (Notice how small the rubbish cans are in homes and hotels.) Feel free to offer anything that has no value to you to any person anywhere.
- Direct, “let’s get to business” conversation is considered rude. Always exchange pleasantries and inquire about family before beginning to transact any business. Even if you are just purchasing an orange.
- Keep your demeanor and dress proper. For men, lightweight trousers are more proper than shorts during the weekday. Shirts with a collar are also the preferred dress during the weekday. Non-native men should not go shirtless except at the beach or poolside. Shorts and T-shirts are fine after the workday hours or on weekends, when it is casual time. For women, modesty is preferred. Always try to keep your shoes clean of dirt and dust.
- Realize that starting times for events are not exact. An event will usually not begin until at least one hour after the noted starting time. We call it "Africa time", and if you arrive at the posted starting time, people will jokingly say you are following "European time".
- When in rural areas and small villages, a visit to the local chief is the first stop you should make. When in the presence of the chief, remove your hat, keep your hands out of your pockets and do not cross your legs. When invited to greet the chief, approach just short of where they are seated and bow slightly. Do not offer your hand unless the chief invites you for a handshake. Always be sure to bring a small gift. Usually a bottle of schnapps is perfect.
- Knowing just a couple words of the local language makes a huge impact. Ask your guide to teach you to say 'Thank you' (may da say) and 'How are you' (wo ho te sane) in Twi or view some of our language videos for more phrases.
- Be certain to read our Rules for Visitors for some important Do's and Don'ts in Ghana.
If you wish to know more, here are some good cultural resources:
- "Into Africa: Intercultural Insights"
by Yale Richmond and
© 1998 Intercultural Press
- “Foreign to Familiar”
by Sarah A. Lanier
© 2000 McDougal Publishing
- “African Friends and Money Matters”
by David Maranz
© 2001 SIL International
- "Into Africa: Intercultural Insights"
All are available through Amazon