You are welcome. That has become my favorite phrase since visiting Uganda, and will definitely be one I repeat and share in the United States (trend alert). Before I explain the sentiment behind my new favorite phrase, please allow me to digress for a moment.
When you walk into a retail store or restaurant in the United States, what is the first thing you hear? Hello? How are you? How can I help you? Or the awkward silence you may be familiar with when you’re simply not acknowledged? Oftentimes, my experience is the latter, and this is exactly why “you are welcome” has impacted me.
The first time a Ugandan said this to me, I responded, “thank you…?” (slight head tilt) not really understanding the meaning. Even the words themselves didn’t tip me off because I was so stuck on the American meaning of “you’re welcome” as the conditioned response to someone saying “thank you.” But these two phrases are not at all the same. “You’re welcome” is completely different than “you are welcome.” The latter phrase alone is not what makes it special though, it is the sincerity behind it that makes it my favorite phrase. Because when a Ugandan says, “you are welcome” it means they are genuinely welcoming you into their home, restaurant, work, or life as a friend. It is not obligatory, and it is not fake. It is a mix of authentic hospitality and a culture that is truly happy to welcome others, whether it is for a 5 minute visit or a weekend stay.
A prime illustration of this involves my new friend, Ritah, and her family. Ritah and I were on the same team during the Prison Project; we spent the entire week sharing meals, stories, and frustration regarding our Ugandan advocate. After the prison project Ritah visited the Pepperdine family at Mosa Courts and casually invited a few of us to her Auntie’s house for a graduation celebration. Little did I know, this celebration had a protocol (like many Ugandan events), and we spent the evening in a specific order: making introductions, socializing, dancing (yes, everyone had to dance), eating a delicious home-cooked meal, dancing some more, sharing cake, making speeches, and throughout it all – laughing. It was the first time I had walked into a Ugandan home, and the first time I realized the impact, depth, and sincerity of “you are welcome.”
Ritah’s family not only made us feel like VIPs of Uganda, but they opened their hearts and home to welcome the Pepperdine family. We had so much fun that a
larger group visited the following week. The icing on the cake, though, is that the Pepperdine family has the honor of welcoming Ritah and her Auntie to Family Dinner this week at our Ugandan home, Mosa Suites. Looking forward to
practicing my new favorite phrase on Auntie and Ritah this week: “you are welcome.”