If you’re planning on travelling to Ghana, you have plenty to look forward to. The country’s compelling history, lip-smackingly flavoursome dishes, beautiful landscapes, friendly locals, and vibrant music scene make it a wonderful place to visit. But like any other country that has a rich culture, there are some customs and social norms that you might not be aware of. To help navigate this interesting and diverse country, here’s what not to do in Ghana.
What not to do when visiting Ghana
1. Be afraid to eat with your hands
First thing’s first, don’t expect cutlery everywhere you go. Traditionally, many Ghanaian dishes are eaten with hands. It’s a cultural practice – feeling the raw texture of your food adds another element of enjoyment. Many countries eat with their hands, but westerners who are used to utensils might find it unusual. But we encourage you to give it a go, many people swear it makes the food taste better. Plus, you might not actually have the option!
2. Use your left hand
In Ghana, you must always use your right hand for things like eating, shaking hands, handing an item to someone, waving, etc. Ghanaians are taught that their left hand is their ‘toilet hand’, and while they might actually use it to clean themselves up, it’s still considered the dirty hand. And if you’re venturing out into the rural areas, you might come across villages where toilet paper isn’t readily available, so the ‘toilet hand’ is still in use. If you offer someone your left hand, it’s deeply offensive and gives the impression that you don’t respect them. Just in case you slip up or if your right hand isn’t free, say “sorry for left.”
3. Forget to greet someone
Greetings are a big deal in Ghana. When you enter a room, you should say hello or good morning, good evening etc. Even if you’re asking someone for directions or the price of something, you should always start by politely greeting them. If you’re meeting a group of people, start by shaking the hand of the person on the right first and make your way to the left.
4. Cross your legs
Crossing your legs is a huge sign of disrespect, especially when in the company of elders or highly respected people. The elderly are hugely revered in Ghanain culture, and any sign of disrespect towards them will immediately make you stand out. You should also never greet elders while wearing a hat or have your hands in your pockets around them. And like with any other culture, you should always give up your seat for them on public transport.
5. Assume everyone speaks English
English is widely spoken in Ghana, but it’s always a good idea to have some phrases up your sleeve just in case. If you venture out of Accra into the rural areas, you’ll find speakers of Twi, Ewe, Ga, and Krobo. Although most people do speak English, it’s just respectful to learn a bit of the other languages. Native English speakers have a reputation for assuming everyone speaks English, remember that you’re a representative of your country and a little bit of effort goes a long way.
6. Leave your cash at home
Cash is king in Ghana. In many places, card payments aren’t available. Either they don’t have a card machine or the POS systems are down. If you do forget your cash, there should be an ATM close by. But ideally, you’d already have it with you. It could help you get out of a sticky situation too. Police stops are common in Ghana, and while the officers are usually nice and friendly, most of the time a ‘tip’ could be the difference between a two minute stop and a forty minute one. Also on the topic of police stops, make sure you always have your passport with you.
7. Get hung up on customer service
This isn’t to say that Ghanaians are rude, it’s quite the contrary. But expecting a ‘high level’ of customer service would be a mistake. They simply don’t have the same social cushion that western customers may expect. And don’t expect everyone’s food to come out at the same time, timekeeping isn’t a Ghanaian’s strong suit! Try not to get hung up on it, it’s just a different culture. You’ll forget all about it when you’re eating your delicious banku.