Swahili in Kenya

Greetings and Etiquette

Two people shaking hands

The atmosphere in Kenya tends to be friendly, easygoing and hospitable. When greeting friends, acquaintances, or strangers with whom one is doing any kind of business, one may always shake hands. This gesture is appropriate for all ages, genders and acquaintances. Different communities have different greetings for the elderly and the young. Adult men rarely kiss women in public, whereas younger men sometimes kiss or hug female friends in greeting and parting. Young men who are friends often exchange hugs. When taking leave, one always shakes hands.

A foreigner must understand that shaking hands is an essential sign of courtesy and respect in Kenyan daily life. Even when involved in the smallest business transaction, such as having gas pumped into the car or dropping off dry-cleaning, a courteous customer will always extend a hand to the service-person. When the transaction is over, one shakes hands again in parting. When a visitor enters a house, all members of the household both young and old are expected to shake hands with the visitor who is entering or departing. The visitor should also introduce anyone arriving with him or her to the members of the household. School friends meeting on the street always shake hands, sometimes clasping one hand in the other in a gesture of affection.