North Sudanese Culture

Etiquette

Basic Etiquette

  • Use your right hand or both hands together to gesture or offer anything. The left hand is used for cleaning and hygiene purposes and should not be used to gesture or touch things (e.g. food/people). See more under Non-Verbal Communication.
  • Wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees to respect the modesty of your Sudanese counterpart. Women especially are expected to be modest in their behaviour and dress when in public. 
  • It is very inappropriate to openly flirt with a Sudanese girl or woman if you are a man. 
  • Sudanese men may find it particularly dishonourable and disrespectful for other men to enquire about their female family members specifically, unless you know the family or person well.
  • Lateness does not imply rudeness or disrespect and is common among friends. Sudanese people tend to be extremely patient and have a more relaxed approach to timekeeping. 
  • When something does not happen according to plan due to one’s error, one can say “Malesh” (Sorry). This offers regret whilst saving one’s reputation at the same time.
  • Do not walk in front of someone or interrupt them whilst they are in prayer.
  • Avoid eating, drinking or smoking in front of a Muslim during the fasting month of Ramadan.
  • It is rude to show, point or expose the soles of feet your feet to another person whilst sitting.


Offering and Complimenting Items

  • In Sudan, people generally extend an offer multiple times. It is expected that you politely decline the gesture initially before accepting on the third offer. This exchange is polite as the insistence to extend the invitation shows hospitality and the initial refusal to accept shows humbleness and that one is not greedy. 
  • Be sure to offer everything multiple times in return. If you only offer something once, a Sudanese person may respond, “No, it’s okay”, out of modesty and politeness even though they meant to accept on the second offer.
  • Be careful when you compliment an item in a Sudanese person’s house, as they may feel compelled to offer it to you as a gift. If they try to give it to you, insist that you appreciate their gesture but do not want to take it. A Sudanese person is likely to offer the object out of politeness, and if you accept, they may end up giving you something they wished to keep.
  • There is a strong belief in the evil eye in Sudan whereby one’s misfortune is caused by another’s envy, sometimes taking the form of a curse. Do not compliment something more than once or continue to praise it once you have acknowledged it. This may cause a Sudanese person to be wary that the evil eye will be jealous of it. 
  • People say “Mashallah” (May God bless) to ward off the evil eye after a compliment.
  • Show gratitude and humility when offered a compliment. This is done by responding with an equally respectful compliment on the same subject. If they are Muslim, you may wish them Allah’s (God’s) blessings.


Visiting

  • Hospitality is central to Sudanese culture. It is considered shameful to be a bad host or give a poor welcome. People feel a duty to offer anything else within their means. Even if a family has no food to provide a guest, they are expected to at least offer water.
  • It is very important to accept any refreshment (typically coffee/tea) as a mark of friendship. Non-acceptance would be perceived as highly offensive and could create misunderstanding even if you are simply not thirsty.
  • Social visiting and hosting has a great importance for building and mending relations among friends and family members. Not visiting someone for a long period of time is considered a sign of the relationship’s insignificance. People may also choose not to visit someone on purpose to indirectly reveal that they are angry/offended at something the person has done.
  • If you are unable to visit a friend for a long period of time, make contact by phone to keep the relationship alive and put their mind at ease that you are not ignoring them.
  • Close friends, family and neighbours may visit one another frequently unannounced, especially in rural areas. However, busy schedules mean that most visits among broader friends are planned in advance.
  • Friday is the most popular day for visits, as it is a holy day of rest in Sudan.
  • Guests usually arrive at mid-morning or early evening to avoid interrupting a family meal. If you do happen to arrive during meal time, you will be asked to join them at the table. In this case, only accept a small amount of food.
  • Make sure your house is clean before inviting a Sudanese person over. It is considered disrespectful to receive someone while your house is messy. They may feel that you do not care about their opinion of you.
  • Be mindful that a Sudanese person’s home is also their private place for prayer. Therefore, it is important to be clean and respectful. 
  • Remove your shoes when entering someone’s home unless advised otherwise. 
  • Dogs are considered unclean in Sudan and are not meant to be let into areas where people pray (i.e. homes). Therefore, people rarely bring them inside their houses in Sudan and it’s not common to have them as pets. Let your Sudanese counterpart know in advance if you have a pet dog. Do not ask them to sit in a place where your dog has just been resting. For example, it would be seen as rude for you to tell your dog to get off the couch and then offer someone to sit in its place. 
  • Often an entire family will come to a household and visit at once. Men and women will usually converse separately whilst children play in an area that does not disturb adults.
  • In Sudan, many households have two living rooms (one for each gender) where people socialise separately.
  • The Sudanese do not sit on the floor as is customary in some neighbouring cultures. They sit on chairs and couches in their living rooms. 
  • When it is time for a visitor to leave, the host usually walks them out to the door or gate. Conversation can continue here for a long time before the person actually leaves.


Eating

  • Men and women generally eat at separate tables at social occasions.
  • You are expected to eat with your (right) hand from the same dish as other guests. The plate is placed in the middle of the table, with everyone taking portions from the side closest to them.
  • It is rude to reach for food over another person’s hand.
  • Everything will be placed in front of you by the host at one point during the meal. It is rude to ask for people to pass a particular dish in advance (e.g. “Could I please try that?”). 
  • Pass and offer all food with your right hand. Avoid eating any food with your left hand, as this hand is considered unclean and generally reserved for personal hygiene.
  • Alcohol and pork are prohibited in Islam and rarely consumed in Sudan. Do not offer alcohol or pork to your Sudanese counterpart if you know that they are Muslim.
  • Hosts generally serve more elaborate meals for esteemed guests. They may have special cutlery and crockery that they save for certain occasions.
  • Common Sudanese dishes include ‘mullah’ (a stew), ‘kisra’ (flatbread) and ‘asseeda’ (thick porridge).

 

Gift Giving

  • Gifts are given and received with both hands together, or the right hand only.
  • The gift is usually refused at least once or twice by the recipient out of modesty and politeness before being accepted. Therefore, be sure to persist in offering your gift multiple times if you get a refusal on first offer.
  • Do not gift anything that contains alcohol, pork or pig-leather-based items.
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