Kenyan Culture

Etiquette

Basic Etiquette

  • The right hand or both hands are used to pass and accept items. The use of the left hand by itself to perform such tasks is considered improper.
  • Taking photographs of another person without permission is frowned upon, particularly in rural areas.
  • The Kenyan attitude towards time is mostly patient and relaxed. It is common for people to arrive after a designated time, or for services to be delayed by up to 30 to 45 minutes. One reason why perceptions of time in Kenya may differ from the English-speaking West is that many Kenyans operate on both the world time system and on their traditional time system known as ‘Swahili Time'. The latter runs from dawn to dusk to dawn, rather than from midnight to midday to midnight.

 

Visiting

  • Sunday is a popular day for people to visit one another.
  • Many visits are unannounced as people will often visit for a short time only to have a conversation and a cup of tea.
  • For a more extended visit, guests or hosts will make prior arrangements.
  • Arriving before the stated time may make your Kenyan host feel uncomfortable. It is best to arrive half an hour after the designated time.
  • There is no definite etiquette regarding the length of a visit. However, it is considered impolite for a host to ask guests to leave.
  • Hosts will go to great lengths to be hospitable and make their guests feel comfortable.
  • It is common for hosts to offer tea. Accepting the offer means that one accepts the hospitality of the host.
  • If guests are invited for dinner, there is usually some conversation while the final preparations for the meal are being made.
  • After a meal, guests stay for more socialising and conversation.
  • For many Kenyans, it is considered impolite to say goodbye at the door. Rather, hosts will usually walk with their departing visitors for some distance before returning home.

 

Eating

  • Eating and sharing food with others is very important to many Kenyans.
  • Afternoon tea is a common custom throughout Kenya.
  • The type of utensils or method of eating varies depending on the type of food and family traditions.
  • For example, it is common for families residing in rural areas to use their right hand to eat.
  • Hands are washed before and after eating a meal.
  • In some more traditional families, children eat separately from the adults.
  • It is common for men to be served first.
  • Among the Samburu, warriors avoid eating in the presence of women.
  • It is rare to find Kenyans wasting food or water.
  • For special occasions in some areas of Kenya, it is customary to kill and roast a goat. Along with the roast goat, sheep and cow may be served at the celebration. This dish is called ‘nyama choma’ (‘burnt meat’).
  • Those who identify as Muslim or are part of Asian communities may abstain from certain foods and alcohol. This varies depending on the community and the individual.

 

Gift Giving

  • Guests invited to someone’s home may bring a small gift of appreciation.
  • Common gifts to give are flowers and tea leaves.
  • In rural areas of Kenya, coffee, sugar, flour and maize are usually given. These gifts are presented in a woven bag (‘kiondo’ in Kikuyu). The host will return the bag at the end of the visit after placing gifts for their visitor inside.
  • It is impolite to return a kiondo empty.
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