I’ve hosted a few visitors from Europe here in Kenya recently which has exposed a bit of a cultural difference: how people make bookings.

In the UK/ Ireland/ Denmark it’s pretty common to now use “a system” when organising things. i.e. you’ll go on a restaurant website and book a table for a certain time. If you need to change the booking, you’ll go back online and make the adjustment there. You then have trust that if you turn up at the revised time, your table will be waiting for you.

In Kenya, because “the system” is less reliable (for a number of technological/ cultural reasons) it’s much more common to organise such things with by talking with a person.

“Where are you? Where are you going?”
A common frustration for new arrivals in Kenya is the need to repeat information when ordering an Uber. 98% of the time, once connected, the driver will call you up to confirm where you are.

The first few times, it’s common to respond “erm… just drive towards the pin..?”, but after a while, one learns that explaining with words how to get to the location is just the way it goes.

From the drivers’ perspective, there’s enough reason to doubt the location is wrong, and so they’d rather get confirmation from a person at the end of the phone. 

Will we have enough time?
On one evening, the visitors and I arranged a boat tour that was scheduled from 4-7pm at which point we’d be dropped at a restaurant.

We could only start at 4.30pm which, interestingly, led to two different reactions.

European residents: does this mean we’ll be late for dinner?
Kenyan residents: we’ll just ask the guide to shorten the trip by 30 minutes

I’m not sure if I’ve interpreted this correctly, but my sense is that it at its root, the difference lies in whether someone treats the information they’ve been given from “the system” to be fixed, or whether there’s room for flexibility.

In Kenya, at least, it’s helpful to keep in mind that it’s almost always possible to make something happen, even if the computer says no.

If you find yourself in a situation where “the system” is frustrating you, consider picking up phone.