English is a national language in Uganda and is sometimes referred to as Uglish. Many will speak English as a second language and its useful for native English speakers to have some grasp of the nuances of how English is deployed in Uganda. Visitors will also be surprised at vague communications can be. For example, ask someone where someone lives and the reply will probably be "over there" with an arc being gestured that would cover a vast proportion of the earth's surface. Similarly if there is a crowd outside a building and you enquire as to why, the reply may well be "because they are busy" !
Some words in Uganda also have different meanings.
A taxi in Uganda is
a small seater bus, whilst a single use taxi ie with no other passengers is "special hire" ~ both are driven by a "pilot". Motorbikes which are used for paid transport are called "boda bodas" and can be bicycles whilst walking is "footing" as in "I footed it to the shops".
"thank-you" are not a natural part of Ugandan speech, rather
politeness is inferred by the manner of asking or saying. So for
example, whilst an English visitor might expect someone to say
"please may I have", a Ugandan would just say "you give me". It
sounds rude but its just as polite locally as saying "please".
Similarly the words "thank-you" are not often expressed, just the
look on someone's face shows the appreciation.
As such, if you
insist a child says please or thank-you they will look puzzled as
they believe they have already covered that! It's worth noting
that its common place for Ugandans to ask for something and no
offence will be take with a "no" response. It can be a bit wearing
but that's the culture and you are the visitor.
expressions may seem abrupt but they are not. "We go" means "lets
us go"; "Demand" means "owe"; "First wait" means "let me finish
what I'm doing first" etc. Hotels in Uganda are actually bars that
serve food rather than residential accommodation, a "brother
cousin" is a close relative; farming is called "digging" and
cultivated land/farms are often referred to as "gardens" whatever
their size; a "short call" means going to the toilet; you don't
ask for change having paid for something you ask for the
"balance"; "Lost" often means you haven't seen someone for a long
time and "means" refers to method of transport. So if you could
not catch a bus you had "no means" of getting somewhere.
words are often used in a different context in Uganda, many
younger people are also using text speak just like many across the
world which is degrading the language. It is also worth
remembering African time operates at a different pace than western
You may be familiar
with the Spanish word "mañana" meaning tomorrow. Well there is no
word in Uganda to get things done that quickly! You could arrange
to meet someone for lunch at 1pm and at 2.30pm ring them to find
out where they are. They may reply "I'm on the way" "I'm reaching"
or even "I've reached" only for another hour to pass before they
actually join you! And then when you finally order your meal it
may take an hour or even two to actually cook it!
People will simply
smile and explain they are on "African time" a concept built less
around tasks and activity, rather relationships.