Basic rules of Etiquette

The following are some of the basic rules of social conduct in Ghana. Ghanaians are very tolerant and forgiving, especially with foreigners, and will often not point out mistakes. However, repeated errors and offences will create an uncomfortable atmosphere with negative results. Just remember the old adage: when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

1. Learn the uses of the right and left hands. Eat and greet with the right hand only. Do not give or receive anything with the left hand. Above all, do not dip your left hand into a dish of food shared with others or take the Lord’s super with the left hand. Remember that the use of the left hand is considered disrespectful in most settings.

2. When eating and someone comes, always offer them some food or invite them to join you. When you are so invited, you may decline respectfully or join as you wish, but make sure you wash your right hand before joining. When served food, never refuse. Eat at least some .Make only favorable comments about food. When you are asked what you would like to eat, feel free to make suggestions within limits of availability. Be careful of facial expressions or comments about food, as this is a sensitive area. Always share, and always be appreciative and willing to join in.

3. Greetings are important. Always greet and respond to greetings properly. Whenever you pass a group of people, especially elderly ones, always give them a greeting. To fail to greet is considered an insult, and not easily overlooked. When you walk up to a group of people, always speak a greeting and shake hands if possible. Time is always made for greeting and it is not seen as an interference or waste of time.

4. Be careful with humor and teasing. Ghanaians love to laugh and have fun, but humor is usually non bi-cultural, that is, it does not cross cultural boundaries easily.

What is funny in one language may be insulting in another. Teasing, especially, can be misunderstood. Do not attempt jokes unless you catch on the style of humor. Do not compare people to animals (cute as a monkey, “dirty as a pig,”etc.).

5. Private matters may be “not so private”. Your physical size, marital status, etc., may prove to be enticing topics of conversation, so do not “wear your feelings on your shoulder.” Do not be overly sensitive to personal remarks made about you or to you. For example to be called “fat” is a complement. They are probably not meant in an insulting way. However you should be very careful about making any comments about anyone else.

6. Showing affection in public between men and women is not acceptable, even husbands and wives. Men may hold hands (no sexual implications) or even hug, but male/female relationships are much more strictly controlled. Hugging is not commonly done except by very dear friends, especially between men and women. For example, American insistence on hugging is often very embarrassing to many Ghanaians.

7. Be careful in taking photos. Always ask permission and do not let your zeal for photos become a distraction or disturbance, especially in church services or public gatherings.

8. Always use tittles of respect when addressing someone. Anyone older than yourself must be addressed as “brother” or “sister” at the very least. You will hear terms like “senior brother, elder, mother, father, uncle, auntie, “etc. Elderly people should be addressed with tittles of respect like “father, mother, grandfather”, etc.

9. Be very careful of words like “fool, stupid, crazy” etc. Avoid judgements, strongly worded language, for many words have different meanings here. Do not take offence when certain terms are used that normally are considered profanity in your home country. Sexuality is not a topic treated in public easily unless you are conversant with the culture, so be careful on delicate issues.

10. Do not shout or display loud, boisterous behavior. Shouting is considered in poor taste, especially for women. Whenever you are in public, be cautious and careful, normally exhibiting a quiet, friendly attitude. It is not considered polite to eat while standing or walking in a public place.

11. Women must be ready to play a submissive role in everything. Especially in northern Ghana.

They are expected to be quiet, supportive and respectful at all times. If a woman is in a teaching position, she is to be dignified and moderate in how she speaks and conduct herself. A woman should not publicly criticize a man, nor should a wife behave as an equal to her husband. This is difficult for western women at times, but it is something closely monitored by local people. We are bound to give the best impression and influence we can, therefore, we must accept the social roles as they are defined by the culture. A woman who behaves as a man will not be respected, or positively regarded.

12. Do not be out in public places late at night. Always stay with brethren or your group. If you like jogging or walking, do it in the daytime.

13. Dress modestly and neatly. Women must not wear tight or revealing clothing, even when exercising; women must not dress like men or wear any tank tops, tube tops, halters, or shorts, especially in the Islamic environment of the northern Ghana. Men should not go without a shirt; you should pay attention to grooming and neatness, for that has a strong reflection on your character. Even when indoors, dress modestly and be concern about neatness and public appearance.

14. It is not acceptable to wear sandals or flip-flops into someone’s room. Remove them at the door. Shoes may be worn inside, but it is not acceptable to put your feet upon furniture or sit in a way that shows the bottoms of your shoes or feet to them in the room. Keep your feet on the door. You must always remove shoes of all kinds when greeting a chief. You should not sit in a way that would show the bottoms of your feet to a chiefs or elderly.

15. If someone washes your clothing for you, do not include your underwear. That is considered your own responsibility, and washing others” undergarments is not an accepted practice. You must be prepared to wash your own clothing by hand, especially women. Washing machines are not common, usually find with the missionaries.

16. You must receive requests from people about any number of things. Listen politely; do not commit yourself (“maybe” means yes), unless you are seriously going to follow through and provide what has been requested or at least part of it. If you wish to give something to someone, do so privately, not in the presence of others. Give out compliments to groups, not singling out individuals for compliments in the presence of others.


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