Friday, May 6, 2011

Travel Etiquette: Body Language in Ghana

Taken from BBC
Today, BBC in cooperation with the Lonely Planet published an article concerning 'Body Language' around the world: BBC version, Lonely Planet version.
Although an interesting read, there is no mention of the body language used in Ghana, so here it goes:

I gathered these out of my own experiences and comments given on the Lonely Planet article.

11. The left hand is considered as dirty as it is used for cleaning your own body after a visit to the toilet, the right hand is clean. Always eat with your right hand, shake hands with your right hand, give and receive money or goods with your right hand. If it is impossible to use your right hand (as you are holding something heavy, or you are eating with your hands and the right hand is covered with food), you should say "Sorry for left".
I personally have become so accustomed to it, that also when I return back home, I always take my wallet in my left hand and pay with my right (although I used to do the opposite before coming to Ghana).

12. In friendly meetings, at the end of the handshake you snap each other's middle finger. This might need a bit practice before you get used to it, but friends always have the biggest fun in teaching you.

13. Muslims here shake hands as is described in the article as a Moroccan custom (#10): after shaking with the right hand, you touch your heart to indicate that you are meaning well.

14. When sitting down, avoid to show the soles of your feet, especially towards elders or authorities. It is considered rude. At the other hand, I have met chiefs that didn't mind to point their sools towards me, probably considering me as 'inferior'.

15. Quite a difficult one for me personally: mostly nobody minds that I sit with my legs crossed, but once I was in court for a minor disagreement and I was constantly corrected by the policemen present to put both my feet down as my way of sitting was considered inappropriate. In other occasions, nobody ever protested.

16. There are a lot of signs that you can use in communication when the person is far away or would not be able to hear your voice. One of them is the sign for "why?" or "what do you want?". Hold your right hand up and twist the palm outwards. It is considered 'vulgar', so only use it amongst friends or as a joke.

17. For public transport (busses, trotros or shared taxis), you use your index finger to indicate whether you have to go far (point in the air) or only closeby (point to the ground). Some sites have their own signs, when you are in Accra for example and you want to go to the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, point your index finger down and make a circular motion with it. You will see the boys of trotros do the same thing, accompanying the gesture with shouting the first syllable of Circle "Ci-Ci-Ci".

18. As dfkid77 mentioned, also in Ghana a thumbs up can be considered rude when it is clear that you mean it sarcastically. The difference is whether you do it with a smiling face (then it is recognised as the symbol as we know it in the West) or with a straight face (same as giving 'the finger').

19. As busbuckets has commented, looking elders or authorities straight in the eye might be considered as rude or bold. I notice it when I talk to younger employees of our lodge, that they avoid looking me into the eyes. It is quite uncomfortable for me, as I am used to looking at the person that I speak to.


  1. thank you for this very important info, I am going to be going to Ghana in a few months time so that has been very helpful, enkosi, Merci

  2. Thank you and very welcome!

    If you are looking for something particular in Ghana, feel free to contact me!


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