Afghan Culture

Communication

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Verbal

  • Communication: Afghans tend to speak both directly and indirectly depending on whom they are interacting with. When the person is older than them or of the opposite gender, communication tends to be quite indirect, deferential and respectful. However, for people their own age or younger, conversation can become more direct and open. Afghans generally admire people who are articulate. 
  • Hierarchy: The language people use to address one another varies depending on their age difference, status and relationship. For example, men that are of the same age bracket generally refer to each other as “brother” and act quite informally. Meanwhile, those who are clearly older than oneself are treated with utmost respect.
  • Raised Voices: Raising one’s voice at someone in public is very disrespectful and likely to make everyone around feel intensely uncomfortable. In Afghanistan, raised voices can make surrounding people scared that something dangerous (e.g. an attack) is about to occur.
  • Blessings: Blesses and curses are said on a daily basis in Afghanistan. These are short expressions that wish for God’s intervention depending on the situation (e.g. “May God give you health” or “May God curse your soul”). Blessings are often said instead of a ‘Thank you’. 


Non-Verbal

  • Hands: There is a separation between the functions of the hands in Afghan culture. This custom is tied to Islamic principles that prescribe the left hand should be used for hygiene purposes. Therefore, it is considered more unclean and should not be used for functions such as waving, eating or offering items. Always use the right hand to gesture, touch people or offer items.
  • Eye Contact: Afghans lower their gaze and avoid sustained eye contact with members of the opposite gender. Younger people may also lower their gaze from elders. This is considered respectful and observant of differences in status. However, when talking to people of the same age, gender or status, direct eye contact is expected.
  • Physical Contact: It is inappropriate to be physically affectionate with any person of the opposite gender outside the house or in the company of those one does not know well. After an initial handshake (if there is one), there should be no contact between genders. It is generally acceptable for male friends to show physical affection in public – for example, it is normal to see male friends walking whilst holding each other’s hands. However, women are generally not allowed to show any kind of physical affection to anyone unless they are out of the public eye. This does not apply in necessary circumstances (e.g. a mother holding the hands of her male son when crossing the road). It is okay to touch friends and family in a friendly way (such as backslapping) when in the confines of the home.
  • Personal Space: Afghans usually give people of the opposite gender a respectful amount of personal space – usually around an arm’s length. However, people often sit/stand very close to those who are of the same gender. Some Afghans may stand at proximities that you consider uncomfortable or within your personal space. It is likely they have not been made aware of the discomfort some Westerners feel with it and do not realise the awkwardness.
  • Gestures: Hooking the index fingers together signifies agreement. The thumbs-up gesture is considered rude and has the same connotation as raising one’s middle finger for traditional Afghans. The “OK” sign with the hand can symbolise the evil eye or something more lewd. Stroking one’s beard or pounding a fist into one’s hand may signify revenge.
  • Feet: It is considered insulting to show or expose the bottoms of your feet to other people. Do not point your feet towards other people when sitting down. 
  • Winking: Winking at a member of the opposite gender is considered extremely inappropriate. A man would likely be highly offended and angry if he saw his female relative being winked at.
  • Nodding: Consider that nodding may not necessarily indicate that an individual understands or agrees with what you are saying. An Afghan may nod out of politeness. Follow up crucial information with questions so they can show they know and understand what you said.
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Afghanistan
  • Population
    34,124,811
    [July 2017 est.]
    Note: Statistical estimates on the population of Afghanistan may be unreliable.
  • Languages
    There are over 30 distinct languages spoken across the country. The most widely spoken are:
    Dari - including other Persian variants (80%)
    Pashto (47%)
    Uzbek (11%)
    English (5%)
    Turkmen (2%)
    Urdu (2%)
    [2017 est.]
    Note: Data represents more than 100% because many Afghans speak more than one language.
  • Religions
    Sunni Islam (85%)
    Shi'a Islam (14%)
    Other (0.3%)
    [Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2017]
  • Ethnicities
    Pashtun
    Tajik
    Hazara
    Uzbek
    Baloch
    Turkmen
    Nuristani
    Pamiri
    Aimaq
    Others
  • Australians with Afghan Ancestry
    53,082 [Census, 2016]
Afghans in Australia
  • Population
    46,799
    [Census, 2016]
    This figure refers to the number of Australian residents that were born in Afghanistan.
  • Average Age
    30 [Census, 2011]
  • Gender
    Male (61%)
    Female (39%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Religion
    Islam (91.1%)
    Not Stated (6.9%)
    No Religion (1.3%)
    Other (0.8%)
    [Census, 2011]
  • Ancestry
    Afghan - nondescript (66.3%)
    Hazara (16.3%)
    Not Stated (9.3%)
    English (2.0%)
    Other (6.1%)
    [Census, 2011]
  • Language Spoken at Home
    Dari (50.3%)
    Hazaragi (20.7%)
    Persian [excluding Dari] (12.1%)
    Pashto (7.2%)
    Other (9.7%)
    Of those who speak a language other than English at home, 64.6% speak English fluently.
    [Census, 2011]
  • Diaspora
    Queensland (34.8%)
    New South Wales (31.3%)
    Western Australia (13.7%)
    South Australia (11.5%)
    Other (8.7%)
    [Census, 2011]
  • Arrival to Australia
    Prior to 1996 (9.5%)
    1996 - 2005 (23.4%)
    2006 - 2015 (61.1%)
    2016 (3.4%)
    Not stated (2.5%)
    [Census, 2016]
    Note: Arrivals up until 9 August 2016.
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