General Conduct and Psyche
Perhaps the single most important point of travel culture etiquette to be grasped by visitors to Uganda is the social importance of formal greetings.
Rural Ugandans, like other Africans, tend to greet each other elaborately, and if you want to make a good impression on somebody who speaks English, whether they be a waiter or a shop assistant (and especially if they work in a government department), you would do well to follow suit. When you need to ask directions, it is rude to blunder straight into interrogative mode without first exchanging greetings.
Most Ugandans speak some English, but for those who don’t the Swahili greeting “jambo” or Luganda “oli otya” delivered with a smile and a nod of the head will be adequate.
Displaying Emotions Publicly
Among Ugandans, it is considered to be in poor taste to display certain emotions publicly. Affection is one such emotion: it is frowned upon for members of the opposite sex to hold hands publicly, and kissing or embracing would be seriously offensive.
Oddly, it is quite normal for friends of the same sex to walk around hand-in-hand. Male travellers who get into a long discussion with a male Ugandan shouldn’t be surprised if that person clasps them by the hand and retains a firm grip on their hand for several minutes. This is a warm gesture, one particularly appropriate when the person wants to make a point with which you might disagree.
On the subject of intra-gender relations, homosexuality is as good as taboo in Uganda, to the extent that it would require some pretty overt behaviour for it to occur to anybody to take offence or attack you for that matter. So try and hold back on claiming your gay rights and just enjoy your vacation trip, I can assure you not a single Ugandan will be interested in your sexual orientation.
It is also considered bad form to show anger publicly. It is difficult to know where to draw the line here, because some minibus-taxi conductors in particular act in a manner that positively invites an aggressive response, and I doubt that many people who travel independently in Uganda will get by without the occasional display of impatience. Frankly, I doubt that many bystanders would take umbrage if you responded to a pushy tout with a display of anger, if only because the tout’s behaviour itself goes against the grain.
By contrast, losing your temper will almost certainly be counterproductive when dealing with obtuse officials, dopey waiters and hotel employees, or unco-operative safari drivers.
The Right Hand
One of the main Uganda travel culture etiquette to note is the Islamic element in Ugandan society, particularly in Kampala. In Muslim society, it is insulting to use your left hand to pass or receive something or when shaking hands (a custom adhered to in many parts of Africa that aren’t Muslim).
If you eat with your fingers, it is also customary to use the right hand only. Even those of us who are naturally right-handed will occasionally need to remind ourselves of this (it may happen, for instance, that you are carrying something in your right hand and so hand money to a shopkeeper with your left). For left-handed travellers, it will require a constant effort.