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Ethiopia Customs & Etiquettes
 
 
 

General

Ethiopia is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country. Religion is a major influence in Ethiopian life. Nearly half the population belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church but there is a also large Muslim population. Others adhere to an ancient form of Judaism.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is proud of its origins. The country embraced Christianity in the 4th century, long before Europe. The feast of the Epiphany (Timkat) is the largest festival of the year. The Orthodox Church dominates the political, cultural and social life of the population. It was the official religion of the imperial court and of the establishment until Haile Selassie was deposed in 1974.

Muslims are important in the business community. They tend to live in the eastern, southern, and western lowlands, although there are considerable numbers in Addis Ababa.

In Ethiopia, the extended family remains the focus of the social system. It includes relatives on both sides of the family as well as close friends. Quite often the husband’s parents will live with the nuclear family when they get older and can no longer care for themselves. When people marry, they join their families, thus ensuring that there will always be a group to turn to in times of need.

Individuals achieve recognition or social standing through their extended family. A family's honour is influenced by the actions of its members. Family needs are put before all other obligations, including business.

Meeting & Greeting

Ethiopian greetings are courteous and somewhat formal. The most common form of greeting is a handshake with direct eye contact. The handshake is generally much lighter than in Western cultures.

After a close personal relationship has been established people of the same sex may kiss three times on the cheeks. Across genders, men should wait to see if a woman extends her hand. Greetings should never be rushed. Take time to inquire about the person’s family, health, job, etc.

People are addressed with their honorific title and their first name. “Ato", "Woizero", and "Woizrity" are used to address a man, married woman, and unmarried woman respectively. Elders should be greeted first.

It is customary to bow when introduced to someone who is obviously older or has a more senior position. Children will often be seen doing so.

Gift Giving Etiquette

Gifts may be given to celebrate events of significance or religious occasions. Since Ethiopia is an extremely poor country, expensive gifts are not the norm. In fact, giving a gift that is too expensive may be viewed negatively. It may be seen as an attempt to garner influence or it may embarrass the recipient as they will not be able to match it in kind.

If you are invited to an Ethiopian’s home, bring pastries, fruit, or flowers to the host. A small gift for the children is always appreciated. Do not bring alcohol unless you know that your host drinks – most Muslims and Amharic people do not.

Gifts are not opened when received. Gifts are given with two hands or the right hand only; never the left hand.


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