Cracking the Communication Code in Kigali

Phone Monkey

Meeting people in Kigali is fairly easy, but forming actual relationships (platonic as well as romantic) can be more challenging. If you wish to establish a lasting and meaningful friendship, there are certain challenges to be aware of when living in a diverse and fluctuating environment such as Kigali. The main obstacle is communication – or rather mis-communication – and how people of different nationalities and backgrounds express themselves.

The following is a list of phrases you’ll often come across, and what you should expect different people to actually think, mean and do. It’s mostly (read: entirely) based on my personal experience, so if you don’t agree… well, it’s not your website, is it? So get lost. Bz.

“I will call you in two hours.”

  • A German will… call you in two hours.
  • A Rwandan will… call you in four hours.
  • A Congolese will… beep you in four hours, and expect you to call him/her back, then say they’re busy with something, and tell you to call back in a little bit.
  • An American will… want to call you in two hours, but wait an extra thirty minutes so you don’t think he/she is desperate.
  • A French person will… never call.

“So what do you do in Rwanda?”

  • An American really wants to… talk about themselves, and is hoping you’ll ask the same question back.
  • A German really wants to… know in exactly how many ways their job is better than yours.
  • A Belgian really wants to… have you do most of the talking, so that they can nod and pretend they understand English.
  • A Spaniard really wants to… know what you do in Rwanda.
  • A Scandinavian really wants to… know who you are doing in Rwanda.

“I feel like getting a drink.”

  • A Belgian will… go get a beer, run into some francophone friends by the bar and never return.
  • A Rwandan will… get two Primus and give you one. …and never leave your side for the rest of the night…
  • An American will… drag you with them and do shots by the bar.
  • A Scandinavian will… look at you with confusion, not understanding why you aren’t running to the bar to buy them a drink.
  • A French person will… strut off, stop by the bathroom, fix their hair, flirt with some thirsty-looking Scandinavians, make fun of some silly Americans doing shots, chat with their Belgian friend by the bar, and find someone hotter than you to share a drink with.

“I love you.”

  • An American means… “I like you.”
  • A Belgian means… “I love you.”
  • A Scandinavian means… “You’re fun! Yay!”
  • A Rwandan means… “I want to marry you. But I already have a wife/husband. And a girl-/boyfriend. But I still love you. So much.”
  • A West African means… “I’m horny. I already have a wife/husband. And a girl-/boyfriend. But I’m still horny. So much.”

“How much is the bill?”

  • A German actually… really wants to know how much the bill is, and will calculate how much each person at the table owes, then pay their part and wait for the change.
  • An Italian actually… couldn’t care less about the freakin’ bill, and will throw some money in the near vicinity of that silly-looking basket they keep the bill in, and continue drinking their red wine while laughing and gesticulating wildly.
  • A Rwandan actually… would never pose that question, but rather pay the entire bill discretely, or put in a bit more than they think they owe.
  • An American actually… wants you to look at the bill so you know exactly how much he/she is spending on you.
  • A Scandinavian actually… is wondering why you haven’t paid the bill yet.

“You’re really special.”

  • A Rwandan means… I want to sleep with you.
  • An Italian means… you are beautiful and intelligent. And I want to sleep with you.
  • An Israeli means… I’ve never met anyone like you before, and I hope I will get the opportunity to get to know you. I really like you, and I can tell you are intelligent, kind, and passionate.
  • A Scandinavian means… you’re good enough to hang out with me.
  • An Irish person means… you are mentally handicapped and might benefit from being put in an institution where your special needs can be met.

“Let me drop you off.”

  • A Rwandan will… drive you back to his/her place.
  • A West African will… find a taxi and drive you back to his/her place.
  • An Irish person will… drive you home.
  • An American will… ask the designated driver in the group to drive y’all home.
  • A Brit will… most likely be muttering this phrase from a gutter, too drunk to drive anywhere.


  • A Canadian is…  saying this because they feel they have stepped out of line and thus should apologize
  • An American is… either on heavy drugs or held at gunpoint by someone forcing them to utter this unfamiliar word.
  • A French person is… saying this with a strong accent because he/she knows you won’t be mad anymore when you hear the rolling r’s…
  • A Rwandan is… thinking “sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry…”
  • A Scandinavian is… only sorry that you’re not as cool as them.

“I never want to talk to you again!”

  • An Israeli will… never talk to you again.
  • A Rwandan will… text you two days later: “Hi! How are you?”
  • An American will… call the next day to demand an apology for your bad behavior.
  • A Belgian will… text one hour later to apologize for making you behave badly.
  • A Scandinavian will… throw a big party the following week end, inviting everyone except you, and tell all the guests how sad it is that you were born a hermaphrodite.

“See you around!”

  • A Rwandan means… I’ll come to your house tomorrow.
  • A Spaniard means… Hope to see you soon!
  • A German means… I’ll give you a call tomorrow and we can discuss when we can meet next time.
  • An American means… Next time I see you I will scream “Oh my GOD! So nice to SEE you! How ARE you? We HAVE to meet up sometime!” very loudly in the middle of Bourbon, while flashing both rows of teeth in a dazzling smile.
  • A French person means… Drop dead.

“Oh yeah, I’m really good friends with her.”

  • A Rwandan girl… might have talked to this person twice
  • A Rwandan guy… is sleeping with this person on a regular basis
  • A French girl… hates this person
  • A French guy… slept with this person. And her friends. Possibly at the same time.
  • An American girl… hangs out at Mr.Chips with this person
  • An American guy… wants to sleep with this person
  • A British girl… actually likes and respects this person
  • A British guy… tried (and failed) to sleep with this person
  • A Scandinavian girl… loves and trusts this person
  • A Scandinavian guy… loves and trusts this person
  • A German girl… is hoping you’ll tell her that she’s better than this person
  • A German guy… works in the same developmental organization as this person.

“Sorry I didn’t answer your text last night, but I ran out of credit. And then my battery was dead and I couldn’t find the charger. And then I forgot my PIN code. Then my monkey ate the phone. And someone at Sundowner stole my monkey.”

  • A French person… read your text last night, but finds you so uninteresting that they would rather go to bed than answer, and hopes this obvious lie will scare you away forever.
  • An American… was trying to get with someone else last night, and now that it didn’t work, is hoping this silly story is enough to charm you back.
  • A Rwandan… was busy sleeping with someone last night, didn’t read your text until this morning, but is confident you’ll believe the story about the monkey because you already believed the stories about the exploded car and the thieving giraffe.
  • A Canadian… had his/her phone-eating monkey stolen at Sundowner last night, after having forgotten the PIN code, losing the charger, and running out of credit.
  • A Scandinavian… had his/her phone transformed into a glittering bird by fairies last night, but had to make up the lie about the monkey since you probably don’t believe in magical creatures, and would think he/she was living in a fantasy world…

About the Author

Related Posts

16 thoughts on “Cracking the Communication Code in Kigali”

    1. I have plenty of both, and I love them dearly! they still live upto their stereotypes regularily, however… as do I!

  1. “A very fun, educational and interesting article”, meaning: “Why (the f*ck) are there no more spaniards mentioned on it?”.
    I was also missing what is the meaning of “Mmmmmmmmmm…” for a rwandese, a german, a spanish, italian, french, congolese, etc.
    I also have a question, not being expert in scandinavianology, neither on internal escandinavianology: is there any real difference between norvegians and swedish? Both keep saying “oh, my God, yes…” but I cannot really find them. A clarification on this would be much appreciated…

    1. My deepest apologies for not having more Spaniards mentioned, but in general they are warm generous people who usually say what they mean. This is great in a friendship, but does not make for a very entertaining article. The difference between Norwegians and Swedes is that Norwegians love going for walks. And Swedish people tend to be more beautiful. …yeah, that’s about it. Oh, and Swedish people like singing, while Norwegians make strange noises at all hours of the day. I’ll look into the meaning of ‘Mmmmmm’. Thanks for pointing it out!

  2. Kimberly Coats

    Funny….however, where is the Rwandan you know that pays the entire bill discreetly? Never met one in my circle…I only meet the ones that want to marry you after the first 30 seconds!

    1. People are magnets for different types of people. But hey, it’s better to attract those that want to marry you than those who wants you to buy them a new computer! If you want a ‘discrete payer’, however, spend some time at Serena or Mille Collines. An upcoming article on Sugar Daddies might be useful to you as well…

      1. @Inga..true, in those hotels..u can easily find those ppl with lots of money who may wish to seduce you. and the ones wanting you to buy them laptops of course are poor ones.
        But for sure, i don’t know if you realized it, people tend to be curious of other different races. i think that’s why u will find some forks staring. i was once in India and people could look at me like someone coming from moon.

    2. @Kimberly Coats..hahahah those who will want to marry you in 30 seconds aren’t real Rwandans (they aren’t people who were given well cultured by their parents)..and if you would accept, that love wouldn’t last a while before divorce.
      Am Rwandan and i know those people too who run after girls.

  3. I like that!
    Two remarks:
    1- You got your Hebrew friend right on the spot.
    2- Your best buddy must be Italian….confess!

  4. Greetings, Inga. I’m Rwandan. After reading your portrayal/stereotyping of different societies, I read it to my children and we had some real good laughs. However, I’m taken aback by the depth of the ‘stereotyping’. Are Rwandans that much lacking in ‘amour propre’? When all is said and done, your article gives one to think that Rwandans are generally devoid of character, culture & social etiquette .. As a Rwandan who got to know her country in her mid-20’s, I do have reservations with regard to my own society. Nonetheless, the abovementioned aren’t among them.
    Second question: Are the French really that cold-hearted as a people? Maybe you need to run a ‘socio-economic status’ test on the people you socialise with in Kigali.

  5. Brilliant and actually true!!
    ‘An Irish person means… you are mentally handicapped and might benefit from being put in an institution where your special needs can be met.’

  6. I ‘m planning to go to Rwanda, and i found your site, very good by the way, and this section made me laugh so much…(even if i’m french…). Thx!

  7. You Nailed it.

    I was actually laughing for the most part in my office while reading this.

    One last thing to add is how much the community that unites Rwandans and Expats keeps changing and it s gets even Wild and weirder. This whole life is draining.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *