Most new arrivals in Ghana will be pleasantly surprised by the smiling, helpful locals. But the degree of culture shock in Ghana may be a lot more intense for those who have never been to Africa.

Many foreigners find the stark differences overwhelming and respond by isolating themselves in small enclaves of expat 'safety'. Though these insular spheres can be comfortable, it often means missing out on all that Ghanaian culture has to offer.

Ghana’s capital, Accra, is a modern city with shopping malls, movie theatres and restaurants catering to various tastes and budgets. The smaller cities and villages, on the other hand, are much more traditional and culture shock may be more severe for expats living in rural areas.

Meeting and greeting in Ghana

Ghanaians are generally open and friendly, and it is common for locals to strike up a conversation with foreigners who have recently arrived in the country. They are incredibly hospitable, and expats should take the opportunity to visit acquaintances and colleagues in their homes whenever possible. Ghanaians also appreciate conversations about themselves and their family, and this comes across in business settings, where getting to know one another is valued.

Shaking hands is a common way of greeting. Elders are respected in Ghanaian culture and when greeting people, especially those who are older, appropriate titles such as Sir or Madam should be used.

Traditional food and cuisine in Ghana

Ghanaians love local traditional food. The cuisine is quite different from what many expats will be used to, especially if they have not been to Africa before, and some dishes are an acquired taste. Each meal consists of the main starch alongside a meat stew or soup accompaniment.

The national dish is fufu, which is a pounded ball of starches placed in a large bowl of soup. Utensils are not typically used and sharing one bowl between friends and family is common. Eat only with the right hand, using the thumb and first two fingers to scoop up food.

Languages in Ghana

Although there are more than 30 local languages, English is the official language of Ghana, which means expats fluent in English are unlikely to experience major language barriers. That said, while English is widely spoken in the cities, some rural areas might see people only speak their tribal language.

Akan, with its various dialects, is the most widely spoken local language, and many phrases are quite easy to learn. Expats who do take the time to learn some of these phrases will find that the appreciative responses by the locals make it well worth the effort.

Shopping and bargaining in Ghana

Bargaining is a cultural institution in Ghana and the social meaning of bargaining is as important as the financial benefits. Expats are sure to enjoy mastering the art of haggling and negotiation, and engaging in the associated banter, particularly when shopping in local markets or hailing a taxi.

The seller announces a price. The buyer then responds with a remark about how expensive that is and offers a counter amount, usually less than half the original fee. Expats should be friendly and smile, engaging in some banter and a chat. Bargaining then ensues until a price somewhere between the two is agreed.

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