Culture Club

We are learning a great deal about the culture here in Uganda. Here are some of the things we have learned so far….

Greeting… it is all about a proper greeting.  If you do not properly greet someone you are considered very rude. It the States it is not uncommon to walk into a room full of people and wave and say “hello everyone.”  In Uganda, that is socially unacceptable.  You are expected to greet everyone with a handshake and proper greeting which includes asking how they are doing, how their night was, how things are at home, how are the children, how are the cows/goats.  You get the picture?  Greetings can take a very long time.  Even if you have been sitting right next to someone in class for a couple of hours, if you have not properly greeted them you are expected at the first break to greet them and everyone else in the room you have not spoken to.  It is also not acceptable to just wave to someone as you pass by or to start your greeting before you have reached that person. If you do that it is a sign that you are rude and want to get your greeting over very quickly.  If you are passing someone on the road, you are expected to wait until they completely reach you, stop and go through the whole greeting process. It is also very important to teach your children to properly greet someone, so that you are not offensive to someone because your children won’t greet them.  The kids are catching on, even Pierce says hello and sticks his hand out to greet now.

Crossing your arms when someone is speaking is considered rude and disrespectful. By crossing your arms you are saying this person is boring and does not have anything important to say.   I cross my arms all the time; this is something I have had to be conscious of, especially when Ugandans are teaching.


My cute little monkey; How many times have you said that to your little one?   Kari called Pierce her little monkey for the longest time.  He even had a shirt that says “Mommy’s little monkey.”  Cute and harmless right…WRONG!  A group of westerners was visiting New Hope and was with one of the family groups where a couple of young Ugandan children were being bathed in wash basins outside.  One of the ladies said “Oh, look at those cute little monkeys” just a simple term of endearment.  Well the word spread like wildfire through the community that this group of westerners thinks that Africans are monkeys.  Another example was when a man from the UK was praying for a group of Ugandans.  He began is prayer with Lord bless these folks. What the Ugandans heard was fox, and again they were offended wondering why this man though that the Ugandans were a group of animals.  We are being very cautious in our wording and trying not to make mistakes.  And then there is Everett. Those of you that know Everett will just understand that it is Everett being Everett. The Head Master of the School had a birthday today and Kari made a very cute card for all the staff to sign.  Everett, just being Everett comes running up to Uncle Simon to sing him Happy Birthday. Sweet and harmless right, a 5 year old singing happy birthday; what could go wrong?  So Everett starts in “Happy Birthday to you, you’re 102, you look like a……..at which point Kari slaps her hand over his mouth.  Everett keeps trying to sing, muffled by Kari’s hand “You look like a monkey and you smell like one too.”  Thankfully Kari was able to stop E from getting the words out. Can you imagine?  I can see the headlines now “American student calls the Head Master a monkey and thinks he smells like one too.”  Oh Everett you cause me more grey hair each day.   

It is customary in some cultures to fatten the bride up before a wedding because a skinny wife is an unfit wife.  In the States bride’s work hard to lose weight before the big day so they will look good in the wedding gown. Can you imagine in the States “Honey, does this dress make me look fat…..yes dear…..Great!’

If you say “what” in response to someone it is considered rude, your response should be "yes please."  Your conversation would go like this “Kari……….yes please…….can you come over here.”


If someone comes into your home you should invite them in, have them sit down and immediately serve them juice.  You do not ask if they want juice you just bring it to them.  It is rude to ask because it is like you are saying I am asking but I hope that you say no. So when I am back home in the States, I expect “juice” each time I come to your home.

Do you hate when someone drops by the house unannounced?  Not Ugandans! It is considered an honor when someone shows up unannounced. At which point, you guessed it, you need to bring them juice.  It is also expected that if it is near a meal time that you feed them as well. So when we get back to the States our family of six is going to drop by unannounced and expect juice and meals……Is that a problem?

“That’s okay” means yes.  For example do you want more posho (to which your answer should always be NO) if you answer that’s okay, you better move over because there is a heap of posho coming your way. 


Daily dress is nicer than most of our church clothes.  Most people dress very nice for their daily attire.  In our class the women are expected to wear skirts everyday that cover their knees.  Men are expected to wear nice pants and at minimum a collared polo shirt. Workers will dress in nice clothes to go to work and take clothes to change into for work.  There was a group of construction workers building a small apartment near our training classroom.  They would come to work dressed in slacks and button up shirts, take them off and change into work clothes, and put on the nice clothes at the end of the day to go home. When it comes to shoes you had better dress to impress.  If your shoes are not nice, you obviously do not know how to take care of your feet. If you have on dress shoes they better be polished or you should just not wear them. Flip-flops are considered shower shoes and you would not be seen out in public with your shower shoes on. So 99% of college students would be considered to have on shower shoes when they go to class in the States. 


Whew, we have a lot to learn.  This is just a few of the things we have learned so far and the list of things we have not learned yet is even longer. Slowly but surely we are learning.

We have a huge praise report;  we got our Visas renewed with no issues!  We have heard reports that this can be a very big hassle and can take hours or even days.  Thankfully I walked right into the immigration office and would have been done in five minutes if I would have had copies of our passports. I went and got copies made, paid money and "Stamp" we were done. No hassle, no worries and we have new 90 day visas. 
Matthew Ortega1 Comment