In the days before the W.C. and toilet paper, the left hand was reserved for cleaning oneself after going to the bathroom. Therefore, all instances involving interacting with another person were done with the right hand. To show someone a left hand was a direct way of showing disrespect. In modern times when the majority of people do use toilet paper, W.C.’s, hand sanitiser and all manner of hygiene products, the rule still holds and the insult is still monumental.
The elderly are revered in Ghana; a special respect reserved for those who have survived so long in a world such as this. Regardless of the relationship with an older person, to address them as ‘Ma’, ‘Papa’, ‘uncle’, or ‘aunty’ is the norm. To treat them with anything other than respect is the equivalent to doing the same to one’s own parents. Do so and prepare to be admonished for it by everyone around who was a witness.
Time is incidental in Ghana. A food order can take an hour, a meeting scheduled for 2 pm won’t start until 4 pm, and when someone says, ‘I’m just coming’, or ‘I’m on my way’, it usually translates to ‘I haven’t even left yet, so just relax and I’ll get there when I get there’. Patience in Ghana isn’t just a virtue; it’s a necessity.
Things sometimes aren’t going to work out and in Ghana, there exists a culture of complaining and then shrugging it off. Grovelling to the customer when an order is wrong or late, treating one with kid gloves and false smiles is not the go to. Expect an apology and move on, but don’t expect it to be better the next time.
This rule holds fast to all beach resorts surrounded by lively fishing villages. The lack of good sanitation, the numbers of people living in the area, and its being a water source make it an ideal breeding ground for the parasites that favour attaching themselves to feet. During the rainy season, the water gets washed around so much and mixed up that a basic street that looks muddy could contain all manner of crawling microbes. Beware.
Because it’s usually at least 10-15 Cedis overpriced. Minimum. And frankly, regular Ghana cabs are getting frighteningly expensive. To accept the first price as a tourist makes it easier for them to keep increasing the prices and stand their ground. Always ask someone (a shopkeeper, a passerby even) how much an average taxi should be and stand your ground.
Ghanaians are funny about cigarettes. Around town at night, outside bars, clubs, in mixed areas, and at home, there isn’t a thing for smokers to worry about. Try lighting up on a busy street lined with kiosks, containers, and indigenous peoples around and receiving some disgusted looks or even being asked to put it out is inevitable.
People always get excited about getting a ‘bespoke’ outfit made out of lots of the brilliantly priced, beautiful material they’ve bought after showing the tailor a picture or a sketch. But remember, a tailor is not a designer and there’s a reason that person operates out of a tiny kiosk and only charges 30 Cedis for a dress. This isn’t Savile Row, so make sure to overly express even the tiniest details rather than a quick overview. Otherwise, what comes out probably won’t be the same as what was ordered and fabric can’t be used twice.
Ghanaians like to pose, love a selfie, and love being asked to have their picture taken. But take a candid of, say, a busy streetscape with people going about their daily business and someone is bound to be furious. There have been instances in the past of photo books of Ghanaians at less than their best being published abroad—a sort of poverty porn—so tourists aren’t’ given the benefit of the doubt that this isn’t what they’re up to. Be respectful.
Street food like plantain chips, groundnuts, and bufroot (doughnut balls) are usually fine, but then there are the things that used to have a face, are fried and dried, and left out for goodness knows how long including octopus, prawns, and some kind of crunchy oyster. And even if they taste good now, be careful because they may make a reappearance the following day.
Especially at night. Anywhere. Mosquitoes, sandflies, and all manner of things come out at night and bite. Once the itching starts, it’s hard to relax, and enjoy a drink at the bar, or an outdoor dinner. Just be prepared, though there is a risk of the repellent being taken by someone who was not.
Ghana is truly a unique place. Tourists will have a lot more fun and get to know it more deeply if they just navigate things as they unfold instead of expecting things to be any kind of way. Embrace the daily weirdness and idiosyncrasies that are sure to surprise.