Differences between Kenyan and British cultures

UK roads

The competitiveness you see in driving styles in Kenya doesn’t fit with the general culture of friendliness and hospitality.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

A few weeks ago I wrote about crossing physical borders – the borders dividing Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. I am now in the United Kingdom (UK) for a couple of weeks, to say Hello to my new granddaughter. I am going to write about what the Kenyan academic, Ali Mazuri, called a clash of cultures.

When you take over your hire car at Heathrow and take to the M25 motorway, that’s when you realise that you have to adjust to a very different driving behaviour – otherwise, the consequence could be dire. I find driving on motorways in the UK at first quite unnerving. The cars are travelling so fast, and it takes some time to remember that, in the main, British drivers follow the rules of the road.

For example, they respect the difference between the slow lane and the fast lane. It can become quite boring sometimes. You begin to miss the zigzag, dodgem style of driving that you have got used to in Kenya. In my early years here, I used to hoot at lorries trundling along in the outer lane. Now, I don’t do it; I realise it’s pointless. I guess, after over 30 years, I now drive like a Kenyan.

I have written before about what happens when I am driving in the UK with my daughter, Sarah. ‘Where are you looking, Dad?’ she once asked. ’You aren’t looking at the cars coming; you are looking at the road.’ ‘Ï suppose I am looking for potholes,’ I said.

And so it went on:

‘Dad, why are you braking?’

‘Didn’t you see the car coming along that side road?’

’But, Dad, we are on the main road!’

Also, as I drove round a roundabout:

‘Dad! Here, you give way to cars coming from the right.’

‘In Kenya, it’s a matter of who gets to the roundabout first.’

However, the competitiveness you see in driving styles in Kenya doesn’t fit with the general culture of friendliness and hospitality. And these are not qualities I would claim for the community I grew up in – a village on the outskirts of the English Boston in East Anglia. The English tend to be reserved and uncommunicative. In my village community, there was no popping in and out of neighbours’ houses to make sure they were ok, or to borrow something, or just to have a chat.

I say the English rather than the British, because I have found the Scots, in particular, much more open and friendly. I once had a five-person research team, with colleagues from Kenya and Tanzania, Ghana and Sierra Leone. We were evaluating the effectiveness of postgraduate courses for African adult educators in five British universities. One evening in Edinburgh, we were in a pub, and a Scotsman joined us and started chatting. I must have been quite offhand with him, because Joseph, my Tanzanian colleague, took me aside and said, ‘What’s the matter, John?’ ‘I’m wondering what that guy is after,’ I said. ‘He’s after nothing,’ Joseph insisted. ’He’s just being friendly.’

Gerard Hoffnung, the artist and musician, once gave a humorous talk at the Oxford Union. He was giving ‘advice’ to foreigners visiting England for the first time. ‘When you enter a railway train compartment,’ he said, ‘you should introduce yourself and shake hands with each one sitting there.’ If you did that, you would certainly get some amazed and, probably, unfriendly stares.

John Fox is Chairman of iDC Email: [email protected]