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…
Written by Inga
Born and raised in Norway, culturally transformed in the US, and now residing in Rwanda. Studied biology, but teaching English in Kigali while finishing up my Master's, and debating future career options. At the moment starting up a cocoa plantation is at the top of my list, closely followed by founding an improv society. Severely technologically challenged, but somewhat creatively gifted. A great lover of the Universe, as well as cakes and salt. A passionate hater of small concrete rooms.