Pakistani Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • Indirect Communication: The Pakistani communication style is generally indirect as they often seek to avoid confrontation or offence. Conversations are usually long and drawn out; people tend to speak in a roundabout way that reaches their point more delicately. This speech style is to be taken with patience, as there might be long pauses. The best way of reaching an understanding is to ask open-ended questions that allow them to reach their answer in their own time and give agreeable and accepting responses that do not directly disrupt the speaker’s discussion. Avoid cross-questioning them as this might bring about an ambiguous response.
  • Language Style: Pakistanis generally have exaggerated speaking expressions. They often come across as strikingly earnest and sincere as they tend to strongly assert what they mean through large statements.
  • Refusals: Giving a direct refusal is considered rude and may indicate that the person wishes to end a relationship. It is best to go about saying ‘no’ to requests in an indirect way, such as “I’ll see what I can do”. Often Pakistanis reply with “Inshallah” – meaning ‘if God wills it’ (i.e. perhaps, but if it doesn’t happen, it is the fate of God).
  • Criticism: Criticism should always be approached sensitively. It can quite easily be mistaken for mild personal offence unless presented in an indirect way. Therefore, always offer any suggestion of improvement with praise at the same time. Direct comments should only be spoken to those you have a longstanding relationship with and in private.
  • Group Discussion: Pakistanis tend to prefer conversing in groups. One-on-one communication between two individuals may be approached with trepidation as the directness of it is usually reserved for those that they have a familiar relationship with.


Non-Verbal

  • Personal Space: Pakistanis are generally not concerned with personal space and will stand closer to their subjects than in Western culture. However, more distance is kept between those of opposite genders.
  • Physical Contact: It is common for people to be physically affectionate with those of the same gender. For example, men may put their arms on each other’s shoulders and quite comfortably touch each other. However, public displays of affection between opposite genders are considered to be very inappropriate.
  • Hands: There is a separation between the functions of the hands in Pakistani culture. This custom is tied to Islamic principles that prescribe the left hand should be used for removal of dirt and for cleaning. It should not be used for functions such as waving, eating or offering items. Therefore, one should gesture, touch people or offer items using the right hand or both hands together.
  • Eye Contact: It is rude to look someone directly in the eye while talking to them. It signifies arrogance and also can be perceived as seeking validation. Lowering one’s gaze  is respectful and shows that one is not yearning for attention.
  • Gestures: Pounding one’s fist into a hand or stroking one’s beard/moustache signals revenge. Tapping your hand on your head (as if frustrated) can be interpreted as meaning you feel disdain for the person you are talking to. The thumbs-up symbol and the symbol for ‘Okay’ (with the forefinger and the top of the thumb meeting to form a circle, with the other fingers stretched out) can both be considered lewd or rude; however, many Pakistanis have become familiar with their Western meanings.
  • Ears: Holding onto one’s ear can signal remorse or repentance when feeling guilty.
  • Beckoning: Beckoning should be performed with the palm of the hand facing the ground and using all fingers. To use a single forefinger is considered extremely rude.
  • Pointing: Pointing and gesturing at objects and people should use the whole hand or palm. A single finger is considered rude.
  • Winking: Winking has sexual connotations and should be avoided altogether.
  • Smiling: Pakistanis tend to have quite a serious front and may not smile at strangers often. Don’t expect to receive many smiles until you have gotten to know them.


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