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Kenya; Getting to Know The Local Customs

Kenya is a country with diverse ethnicities. The country has thirteen main ethnic groups and 27 smaller groups. The majority belong to the ‘Bantu’, ‘Nilotic’ and ‘Hamitic’ tribes. Even though every tribe has its own culture, there are some similar local customs you should be aware of when visiting Kenya.

Getting to know the local customs of Kenyans

Just like the climate in the East African region, Kenyans are very warm people. Communities are very welcoming, with extraordinary happy dances and entertaining traditional songs when visitors come to town. The people there love the outdoors, and when they encounter familiar people, it always starts with a warm greeting. This particular warm-greeting scene can be applied to almost every other situation: a person enters a store, before he does anything else he shakes the shop attendant’s hand and would engage in some small talk, before he goes on with the business that brought him there. Before the customer leaves the store, a warm goodbye, as well as greetings to be passed to his family and relatives, are exchanged.

When women meet other women, they also start by shaking hands. Though there are still some communities in Kenya that restrict women from greeting men by shaking their hands. In a sophisticated context, this restriction does not carry as much weight.

A common and important local custom in Kenya is the hand rule. The people of Kenya reserve their left hands for acts you would consider unhygienic. The right hand is used for eating, touching other people and passing things. Pointing at people is considered rude, as is beckoning with the palms up. Doing this, the locals of this beautiful country might get the impression that you are being dismissive.  In a lot of countries, hissing is seen as an improper way of getting attention, but not in Kenya. There, hissing is an entirely acceptable form of getting attention. However, this habit is less common among the urban citizens mainly because of the different backgrounds that they come from, though they would easily hiss at a waiter in a restaurant.

To show respect to someone of a higher status (for example because of age), Kenyans lower their eyes when greeting someone. Meetings usually don't have a set time to end. It is not about the length of the meeting; it is about whether it is concluded in a way that is satisfactory for all concerned. In fact, Kenyans might even laugh when you mention an ending time!


Kenyans are modest and non-confrontational people. For example, when answering a question, you should avoid saying 'no' flat out: it is considered rude. Instead, elaborate on your answer and try to avoid asking negative questions. It is not the local custom to communicate in a direct and frank way. Instead, they will often use metaphors, analogies or stories to make a point. Kenyans will always try to qualify what they are saying; they make sure it is delivered in a sensitive way.

Never hesitate to contact us through our quick address locator should you have any questions. We’re proud to serve any humanitarian who’s willing to help those in need in Kenya or anywhere else around the world. We regularly arrange travel for compassionate, faith-based humanitarian organizations who are dedicated to helping those in dire need of help.