Thursday, April 16, 2009

"I Say Goodbye and You Say Hello"

It is always amazing to be completely submerged into a different culture. After living in Uganda for over a year I have come to realize one difference that unfolds with every interaction - I say goodbye and they say hello.

In Buganda culture, greetings are paramount. The typical greeting seems to go on indefinetely.

"Oli otya"
"Gendi, Oli otya"
"Belungi, Jeebale"
"Kale, Jaabale Ko"

etc. etc. etc. This literally means, "Hello, how are you?" "Fine, How are you?" "Fine." "Thank you for the good work." "OK." "Thank you for the work." "OK."

After this continues on for a while, you can finally say, "Do you have mineral water?" or address whatever is needed.

Coming from the fast paced western world, I would just walk into the store and ask for water bypassing all the formalities that consume so much time. But I have quickly learned how rude this behavior is, have changed my evil ways, and despite the rush I may be in I politely greet every one and ask about the day.

However, at the same time, goodbyes hold little importance. People will just hang up the phone without saying "goodbye." Often, I will be in the middle of a two part conversation and they will hang up and I'll still have things to say. If I drop some one off, they will usually just get out of the car and walk away. If I leave a location, no one seems to notice...

I often stand there dismayed by what has happend. Are they mad at me? Did I do something wrong? Why didn't they say "goodbye?" You see, for me, it can often take 5 or 6 sentences to complete my fairwells (if not more) and when some one cuts me off without offering me this opportunity I feel as though the conversation is not completed or as though something is missing.

As I have learned to politely greet others, I have learned not to take offense when I feel as if my parting routine was ended prematurely and have adjusted to this cultural difference along with countless others.

1 comment:

..........Randy & Alisa Varga...... said...

Hello, I have been traveling to Uganda and Ganda Village, three times in the last year. I am planning to move there, with my family mid-summer. We are working with Show Mercy International. We are involved with Hope Children's Home and Alpha Omega Primary School. Thanks for your Luganda lessons, with your help, I just might get some phrases. If you would like to look at our blog, go to or email my wife and I directly at It's a blessing to see what your are doing there. Blessings, Randy and Alisa Varga