Cultural Tips for Uganda

Cultural Tips for Uganda

By: Leanna Summers   |   Posted: November 20, 2003

Bicycles are an integral part of Ugandan culture. Since they are an inexpensive form of transportation, people use them not just to get themselves and their children from one place to another, but to haul large loads of food, animals, luggage, textiles and even furniture!

Uganda is an incredibly beautiful country with misty mountains, massive lakes and everything in between, including the largest population of mountain gorillas in Africa. As interesting and varied as their landscape, the people of Uganda treasure their heritage and have distinct cultures and traditions. If you are planning to journey to this fascinating destination, keep these tips in mind:

Ugandans tend to be outgoing and are interested in your well being. Your first meeting will most likely be filled with inquiries into your health, your family's health and your hotel accommodations. Ugandans appreciate thorough, friendly answers but will think curt replies are rude. Remember these additional tips to ensure a great first meeting:

  • Handshakes are the standard form of greeting for business people although long-time acquaintances may embrace. Female visitors should offer their hand to Ugandan counterparts although locals may be a bit ill at ease during the first meeting.
  • When you move outside the major cities and into the rural areas, greetings may become more elaborate and ritualistic. Customs may appear odd to visitors but never trivialize these proceedings as this can seriously harm relationships. 
  • When waving to children, keep your palm flat and do not curl your fingers. Curling your fingers may confuse some Ugandan children because that gesture means "come here" in Uganda, rather than "hello". 

Ugandan food has a subtle flavor. Common dishes are made with beef, goat, fish, chicken, matoke (green bananas, mashed and steamed), posho (starch from white maize, similar to Italian polenta), sticky rice and many kinds of beans. Keep these tips in mind as you try out some new flavors.

  • To protect your health, avoid purchasing food from street vendors, drinking beverages with ice and eating dairy products unless you know they have been pasteurized. 
  • Meals become simpler the farther one gets from an urban area but the general theme of meat and starch pervades. Vegetarians may find it tough going in the countryside.
  • In the cities, most hotels and restaurants are owned by Ugandan and Asian entrepreneurs. A wider variety of dishes (including vegetarian) such as European continental fare are available. It's a good idea to make special dietary needs known in advance.

Although Uganda is not known for its shopping, you can find some lovely handicrafts, including musical instruments, wood carvings, woven goods and pottery. The Central Market in Kampala is the best place to go. When you venture out, don't forget these tips:

  • If you find something you like and you really need it or want it you should buy it because you may not be able to find it again.
  • Feel free to bargain if you go to the Central Market in Kampala.
  • In the cities, it's a good idea to keep your money and valuables in a money belt under your clothes. Pickpockets can be a problem.