Cultural Dos and Don’ts when in Ghana
Ghana is a very peaceful and welcoming country. It is ethnically very diverse but extremely tolerant. Its people are incredibly kind and hospitable. But these virtues should not be taken for granted. Local traditions and customs should be respected. In order not to offend and to show respect to the Ghanaian people and their culture, and also to ensure your comfort and enjoyment, certain rules and cultural etiquette should be complied.
See below a few rules that have been put together for short-stay visitors:
- Food – Do not smell food brought to you. Even if you can’t resist that temptation, make sure you don’t do it in the presence of the person that prepared it or the person who served the food. Although you may have good intentions, your intentions may be misjudged.
- Nose blowing – Ghanaian foods are mostly spicy, and might result in nose running during eating. Do your best not to blow your nose at the table as this might offend others.
- Respecting elders – If you get the opportunity of visiting an elderly person or a traditional ruler, do not cross your legs or wear hats and sunglasses. It is regarded disrespectful, although in an academic environment like the University of Ghana, such gestures are overlooked.
- Time keeping - Patience in Ghana isn’t just a virtue; it’s a necessity. Ghanaians are not very time conscious so it is always good to give some allowance on time especially when you book an appointment, otherwise you will be frustrated - especially when you want to go strictly by Western time rules.
- Titles - Ghanaians love the use of titles, especially when addressing the elderly (e.g. Uncle Toby, Mr. Ranft, Mrs. Boateng, Sister Zane, Aunty Ilse, Grandpa Rainer etc.), traditional authorities, (e.g. Nana Kofi Annan, Ohemaa Ama Dake, Nii Pio), academic environment, (e.g. Professor Esi Sutherland, Dr. Lynn Johnson, Dr. Mrs Judith Gray etc), when addressing the clergy (e.g. Reverend Bertram Lyons, Very Reverend Johan Oomen, the Most Reverend Professor Filip Sir, Bishop Tommy Sjöberg etc.)
- Taking photographs – Some Ghanaians like to pose, love a selfie, and love being asked to have their picture taken. However, some people might take offense when you take photos of them without their permission. Be respectful and ask permission before taking photos. Ask your tour guides when it is appropriate to do so.
- Smoking – Smoking is not allowed in public places in Ghana, however, there are designated places where smoking can be done, for example, particular drinking pubs, restaurants, night clubs etc. Please try not to offend anybody; look for legal smoking spots, and you are good to go.
- Alcohol – Excessive alcohol consumption which leads to one walking unsteadily is considered shameful in Ghana. Do well to keep moderate amounts of alcohol in order not to embarrass yourself. But on a more serious note, look out for the Ghanaian beers (Club/Star Beers, Gulder etc). They are so good!
- The right hand rule – It is considered offensive when one raises the left hand to ask a question, even if the person is left-handed. Do well to use the right hand when pointing to something or want to draw attention.
- Religion – Ghana is a very religious country, every Ghanaian belongs to at least one of the three religious groups in the country (Christianity, Islamic Religion and traditional Religion) and almost every Ghanaian refers to God as the Supreme Being – with these beliefs it becomes difficult when one has to force him/herself to believe that one is an atheist. So bear with people who hold such stringent views when it comes to religious discussions and don’t try to impose.
- Weekday names – Although Ghana is diverse in terms of ethnic groups, the Akan group form the majority, and have great influence on Ghanaian culture. Almost every Ghanaian knows the particular day on which he or she was born. It would be fun to look yours up and select your name before you land in the country. See the table below for tips:
|DAY (ENGLISH)||DAY (AKAN)||NAME FOR A MAN IN AKAN||NAME FOR A WOMAN IN AKAN|
- Some simple expressions that might help:
|Thank you very much||Medaase Paa|
|It is delicious||ɛyɛ dɛ paa|
|This is beautiful||ɛyɛ fɛ paa|
|Good night||Da yie|
|How is life||Ete sɛn?|
|Life is good||Eyɛ paa|
|How are you?||Wo ho te sɛn|
|I am very fine||Me ho yɛ paa|
|My name is …||Yɛfrɛ me …|
|How much is it||Ɛyɛ sɛn?|
- When you walk on the streets and you hear “Obroni”, it means a “white person”. Don’t take offence at this at all - smile and wave. If you really want to enjoy a conversational ride, just say “Obibini” which means “dark person”