Do's and Don'ts
- Make sure you spend some time getting to know an Ethiopian before talking about a serious matter or business. This generally makes people feel more comfortable. It can seem impersonal to discuss a topic without asking the person any questions.
- Be aware that tasks can take a long time to complete in Ethiopia and the pace of life is generally slower. For example, it takes hours to brew coffee in the traditional Ethiopian way. Plan to allow more time for engagements and be patient if things last longer than expected.
- Try to refer to the Ethiopian nation, nationality or culture specifically when possible, rather than “African”. It is appreciated when foreigners recognise that Ethiopia is culturally distinct from the rest of Africa.
- Show interest in the well-being of an Ethiopian’s family whenever you see them (e.g. “How are your children?”). However, it is best not to enquire about a person’s private life (e.g. relationships, parenting) unless they open up to you first. Innocent curiosity about certain family matters can make people feel uncomfortable as there is quite a strong emphasis on people’s public presentation in Ethiopia (see Yilugnta in Core Concepts for more information).
- Show greater respect to elders in all circumstances and situations. Their age is thought to indicate wisdom, knowledge and experience.
- Remember that Ethiopians see themselves as progressive people and pride themselves on their country’s legacy of independence. Avoid invoking stereotypes of Africa to form conclusions about Ethiopian culture.
- Do not assume that all Ethiopian migrants have experienced conflict or lived in refugee camps. While this is the case for some, it does not apply to all people. Many Ethiopians migrate as skilled workers or on family visas.
- Do not criticise Ethiopia’s developmental challenges. While certain things may not be as convenient to access in Ethiopia, it does not mean the culture or people are less sophisticated.
- Avoid asking questions that assume Ethiopians are uneducated, uncivilised or impoverished, such as “Do you have the internet in Ethiopia?”. Most Ethiopian migrants living in English-speaking countries are skilled, educated, urbanised and familiar with the technologies of the .
- Do not assume that Ethiopians suffer from food shortages or famine. The country has not experienced famine since the 1980s and stereotypes of the people as ‘starving Africans’ can be offensive.
- Avoid offering your opinion on local politics, tensions or Ethiopia’s relationship with Eritrea. There are a lot of political overtones in Ethiopia. If the topic is raised, it is best to simply listen.
- Do not disrespect religion, be it Christianity, Protestantism or Islam.
- Avoid directly asking someone what they belong to. This can come across as an insensitive or divisive question. In Ethiopia, people generally ask one another what region they are from or language they speak, and make an informed guess about the person’s tribe or from there.
- Avoid complaining, raising your voice or showing public anger/frustration about petty or minor inconveniences. Ethiopians are generally tolerant and stoic people, and are very unlikely to make a scene if something aggravates them (see Stoicism in Core Concepts).
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