Is it bad manners to visit people empty-handed?

Wednesday March 18 2020

A Woman carries recommended shopping bags in Nairobi on August 28, 2017. Whenever my mother visited someone, she never went empty-handed. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


I debated for quite a long time on whether to write this or not, just in case people who identify themselves here blacklist me and refuse to talk to me ever again.

After much introspection however, I have decided that this is a matter that needs to be discussed. One that should have been discussed ages ago. So here goes.


Whenever my mother visited someone, anyone, she never went empty-handed. Never. Not even when she was broke. She would carry a simple loaf of bread or even sukuma wiki from the kitchen garden that every home in the rural area had those days.

Lessons that stay with you are those that you observe, not those that are instructed. Decades later therefore, when I was all grown up and made friends I could visit, and could finally visit close relatives on my own, I made sure that I took my host some shopping — cooking oil, tea leaves and the like, something that I observed my mother do all those years ago.

I have never visited anyone “standing” as we put it in my mother tongue. I would die several times of embarrassment if I did.



That is why I always get perplexed when a friend or relative visits me empty-handed. I normally wonder who their mother is because I was taught that this is bad manners of the highest order. Very unAfrican behaviour. It shows how inconsiderate and stingy you are, and implies that were I in need of help, you would probably turn your back on me.

If you expect someone to feed and entertain you at their expense in their home, it only makes sense to go bearing a gift.

Not as payment, but as simple courtesy. Even a bunch of bananas or a lollipop for the child of the family would do. It shows that you appreciate your host.

A friend recently told me how her grandmother once turned away one of her uncles when he went to visit empty-handed. This friend comes from Gilgil in Nakuru County.


Then, like in many rural homes, she and her family lived in their grandfather’s compound on a small parcel of land that her grandfather had bequeathed her father. So did two of her father’s brothers and their families.

This uncle, the eldest child of the home and significantly well-to-do, lived in Nairobi and would periodically visit. Each time he visited, he arrived ‘standing’.

As usual, he drove into the compound with his big car and alighted holding only a newspaper. Only to be welcomed by the scowling face of his mother, hands akimbo.

“Shame on you!” she told him.


“Look around you, don’t you see your brothers’ children? How can you visit these children empty-handed? Drive back to the shopping centre and bring them something they can remember you by …” she finished, and then turned on her heels and got into her house.

This friend tells me that her greatly embarrassed uncle meekly got into his car and drove out of the compound. When he returned two hours later, the boot of his car was filled with shopping bags holding all manner of goodies.

She says that from then on, this uncle quickly became their favourite because of the “tum” he came bearing every time he visited.

Food for thought, isn’t it?