Well, this one is kind of easy to explain when you bear in mind the cardinal rules of living in Kenya:
1. Everyone is your friend. People will always be friendly and welcoming to you and its not weird, it’s part of our culture, but you cannot trust everyone and even though you trust. ALWAYS VERIFY! There are con men and con women who are talented in building your trust in less than five minutes and then make you part with a crazy amount of money for some fake deal, so beware.
2. Almost everyone you meet is religious. Religion here is always on fashion, so if someone asks you if you are religious, don’t take offence because it is common for everyone to follow a religion, and around 80% of the population are Christians.
3. We are religious, but we are not exactly staunch about it. So you will find people who club on Saturday night till the morning and then walk into church on Sunday morning, its very common, don’t be alarmed.
4. Hakuna Matata. It’s the phrase from Lion King and it applies in Kenya. It means there are no worries, and we try not to worry about anything and take everything in stride.
5. African Time. Hardly anything runs on time, with an exception of a couple of business meetings and bank closing hours and most other businesses. Everything runs late, so don’t get pissed off or impatient. Learn to go with the flow, things will happen, just not on time. When you get pissed off at tardiness, people will take you to be fussy, remember, go with the flow.
That said, here are things not to do when you come to Kenya.
1. Do not travel at night alone, especially if you are a girl. That could almost count as suicide, some places are very unsafe. If you have to go anywhere at night, make sure you are in the company of a Kenyan, preferably a man.
2. Avoid talking about matters relating to sex in family settings. It is wrong and is frowned upon and people might not want to be in your company after that.
3. When you go shopping in a second-hand store or when buying from a hawker, never buy at the first price quoted by the seller. ALWAYS BARGAIN! I cannot stress this enough, especially if you are white, they inflate the price to even 5 times the price they would sell to a Kenyan. If you have to go shopping in a second-hand store, go with a Kenyan who can bargain for you, or bargain to half the price that was first quoted. Never buy at the first price. If they cannot take the price you quoted, then walk away. If the seller really wants you to buy, they will run after you. If you are friendly to the seller, he will be nice to you, so be nice and kind and they might just give you a good price.
4. You don’t need to tip waiters and waitresses in a restaurant or bar. We assume they are paid well enough by their employer, the law demands it.
5. You can break the rules, but DON’T GET CAUGHT! The police and city council police men are soooo good at making your life hell when they catch you on the wrong, so don’t get caught. Otherwise you will have to pay a seriously hefty bribe or spend a couple of nights in a jail cell. After that you may get deported depending on the offence, so don’t get caught.
6. Traffic laws can be traffic suggestions. They are not really followed to the letter, so if you driving, bear that in mind. But should you want to flout the rules, remember, DON’T GET CAUGHT.
7. Our politicians are pigs. They’re assholes and all the bad things that there can be, but don’t talk badly about them. We can bitch about them, but you can’t. We won’t like you after that, especially if you compare them to your politicians at home. Nobody cares about how politics works in your country unless we categorically ask you about it. So, don’t bitch about Kenyan politics.
8. Do not disrespect any religion. People will really hate you after that, no one completely likes it when a religion is disrespected.
9. Public display of affection is frowned upon. This includes kissing, touching, holding hands. Young people like to hug each other when they know each other.
10. If you are white, you really stand out in most places in Kenya and especially in the rural areas, so people will say hi to you all the time. Get used to it and find a way to deal with it. If you’d like, you can choose to ignore some.
11. Always call people by their titles! It’s taken as a sign of respect. So Miss, Mrs, Mr., Dr., and Engineer so and so (mostly the surname) are totally accepted. If you want to call someone whose name you don’t know, refer to them as madam or sir. You get quite a lot of bonus points for that. Only refer to someone by their first name if they introduce themselves as such.
12. Avoid wearing short, revealing clothes. This means no short skirts, shorts and clothes that reveal cleavage. Cover up modestly, not like a Muslim in their religious dress, but as if you were going to play at a golf tournament, people like to dress modestly here.
13. When you begin learning Swahili, someone might tell you that “Jambo” is how we say hello. It’s true, but there are barely any Kenyans who use that word as a greeting. Instead we say, “Habari Yako?” or “Sasa.” If you use “Jambo,” everyone will know you are a tourist, and if you are in a fishy place, you might start getting different treatment. Different here could be bad or good, so, try use words as Kenyans use them. It might save you from some situations.
14. If you use public transport in Nairobi or elsewhere in Kenya, DO NOT SHOW OFF YOUR SMART PHONE. If you want to play it safe, leave your iPhone or smartphone at home, or in your country and use a “dumbphone.” Same applies to your laptop and iPads and tablets — they will surely be stolen. If you are seated on the window seat in a matatu, and your phone rings and you want to receive the call, make sure your window is closed first, then put your phone on the ear that is not close to the window. Otherwise, a professional thief will steal it from your hand. Thieves here are that good.