Ten Insights into Ghanaian Culture: #8 – Respect in Ghana
In Ghanaian society, respect for elders is very much ingrained into all social interactions. Within families. Among relatives. Between strangers. Anyone older than you is to be treated with deference––the older they are, the more deference that is necessary: you must be the first to greet them (and greet them, you must); you must offer your assistance in any way you can; you must run errands for them; you must serve them first; you must call them Madam or Sir (never ever by their first name), or Daddy, or Auntie, or Brother (even if they are not related to you) in decreasing order of how much older than you they are, out of respect; and you must always begin your sentences with “please.” For example, a Ghanaian might say to an old lady carrying a heavy bag––“Please, Ma, let me help you;” to an older man entering their place of business, “Good afternoon, Uncle, please how may I help you?;” or to an older sister who has asked for her car to be cleaned (for it is traditional for older relatives and strangers to summon younger ones and send them on errands at will), “Please, Sister Julie, I am coming!”
For this reason, Ghanaians abroad are understandably uncomfortable calling professors, employers, and coworkers by first name, as is common practice in places like North America. They are likely to insist on adding a title––Mr., Mrs., Sir, or Madam when caving to pressure to do so. Ghanaians are also the most likely to jump up and offer their seat to older passengers taking public transportation, and to greet people (a respectful acknowledgment of their existence) with a cheery “Good morning” or “Good evening,” despite city cultures or office cultures where ignoring strangers and coworkers is the norm.
And then, there is the left-hand, right-hand rule. Ghanaians never interact with others using their left hand. The left hand is considered dirty, and its use is reserved for hygienic tasks in the bathroom. The right hand is considered clean and is used for all other interactions. It is therefore extremely disrespectful to offer your left hand for a handshake or to give or take something to or from someone with your left hand.