Afghan Culture

Do's and Don'ts

Do’s

  • Be sensitive to the experiences that Afghan refugees have endured. There is a high occurrence of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder among those that have witnessed the loss of their family and friends. Many Afghans that have fled to Western countries have had their entire home/village destroyed by the Taliban or other forces, and do not possess any memorabilia. Furthermore, the trauma of some may have been intensified in Australia’s detention centres.
  • If the opportunity arises, offer sympathy regarding the current situation in their home country. Afghans are likely to deeply appreciate the gesture and respond with warmth. However, be sensitive not to push for details of their personal experiences in Afghanistan.
  • Recognise that experiences of persecution differ between ethnicities and be aware that members of minority ethnicities may prefer to identify by their ethnic affiliation overseas (e.g. Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, etc.). Pashtuns are much more likely to identify solely as “Afghan”, as it is historically synonymous with “Pashtun” (see Ethnicity in the Core Concepts).
  • Be aware that individuals who have been the target of religious persecution may prefer not to discuss faith.
  • If you are a man, wait for an Afghan woman to initiate a handshake or conversation before doing so yourself. If you are a woman in Afghanistan, wait for your male accompaniment to introduce you to another man before engaging with him (be that shaking his hand, speaking to him or making direct eye contact).
  • If in a group of Afghan men and women in public, expect the males to talk to each other without the females engaging in conversation after introductions. They may only feel comfortable talking to their own gender once they are together alone.


Don’ts

  • Do not call Afghans “Arabs” or “Middle Eastern”. Afghanistan is not located in the Middle East. It is a South Central Asian country composed of many different ethnicities, none of which are Arab.
  • Avoid mentioning the topics of ethnic tension, politics, the Taliban, warfare or women’s rights unless your counterpart initiates the conversation or you have a close relationship with them. These are sensitive subjects in Afghanistan and such discussions can lead a person to recall negative experiences.
  • Do not assume that all Afghan Muslims follow a conservative interpretation of Islam. The official position of many Afghan religious leaders does not reflect the interpretations of all Afghan people. For example, not all Afghan Muslim women living in other countries wear the hijab.
  • Avoid asking questions that assume Afghan people are uneducated or uncivilised, such as “Do you have phones in Afghanistan?”. Many Afghan migrants living in English-speaking countries are skilled, educated, urbanised and familiar with the technologies of the developed world.
  • Avoid telling dirty jokes or making fun of someone in a humiliating way. Such humour is unlikely to be appreciated.
  • Avoid losing your temper or complaining about petty things that are not overly significant. Afghans are very resilient and stoic people. Struggle is constantly put into perspective in light of those still experiencing extremely violent and dire conditions in Afghanistan, as well as those who have passed away. Therefore, people are expected to control their emotions, be patient and composed. 
  • Do not push an Afghan to tell you about their family. Some people have been separated from relatives or had family members killed. Others may be hesitant to talk about the family they have left in Afghanistan out of fear that it could endanger them.
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