North Sudanese Culture

Greetings

  • Greetings are very important to building relationships in Sudan. Importantly, greetings can vary significantly depending on the person’s age, status and the social context.
  • Stand up to greet people, especially those that are older than you.
  • The common greeting between relatives and people of the same gender is to tap each other’s left shoulder with the right hand before shaking hands and taking a step back. This is repeated a few times. Some Sudanese may also give warm hugs depending on the relationship. 
  • People generally do not touch those of the opposite gender during greetings unless they are a close family member. Therefore, men should wait until a woman extends her hand first before extending his own hand for a handshake.
  • The correct way to greet a large group of Sudanese Arabs is to lift your right hand up and loudly announce “Salam”. This greeting is appropriate for both acquaintances and strangers.
  • To use the traditional Arabic greeting, say “As-Salam Alaykum” (May peace be upon you). The more informal way of saying this is simply “Salam” (Peace).
  • Refer to people by their titles, such as ‘Uncle’, ‘Aunt’, ‘Doctor’ or ‘Haji’ (a Muslim who has completed their pilgrimage).
  • It is best to follow up the initial greeting with personal questions asking about the other person’s background to build familiarity. This is appreciated even in professional contexts.
  • Expect some greetings to be quite prolonged. People often shake hands multiple times, ask many questions and express their gratitude to see you. Some of the questions asked may seem quite personal in nature by Western standards (e.g. Are you married?).
  • In Sudan, people usually ask about one’s family, clan or tribe to determine their background. This allows them to assess how they should appropriately interact to avoid causing offence. Asking similar questions to a Sudanese living in another country could come across as rude.
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