Samoan Culture


Basic Etiquette

  • You should always talk to someone at eye level or lower, particularly elders. For example, if an elder is seated, you are expected to sit down before conversing with them. Failing to do so is seen as a sign of great disrespect.
  • If you are standing and the person you wish to speak to is sitting, you are expected to bring yourself down physically to the same level as them.
  • It is considered rude to be standing when others are sitting.
  • Generally, the only time when it is acceptable to stand in an area where a group of people are sitting is when one is serving or leaving the group.
  • Always excuse yourself if your movements obstruct the view of others. To excuse yourself, say “tulou(“excuse me”) and perform a small bow.
  • You would also excuse yourself in the presence of people you respect when you are sharing a story that may include offensive (but instrumental) content.
  • The top of the head is considered sacred. It is insulting to pass something over the top of someone’s head or to touch or pat the head of an adult.
  • Avoid wearing any revealing clothing when walking through villages. Women should take particular care to avoid showing their knees and shoulders.
  • There is an evening prayer curfew in most villages (usually between 6pm and 7pm). During this time, most families will say family prayers. It is customary for everyone to honour this time.
  • Pointing one’s feet at someone is rude.
  • Samoans tend to have a relaxed view of time and may refer jokingly to things running on “Samoan time” when it comes to social situations. In a business setting or an appointment of importance, punctuality is highly valued.


  • It is common for people to visit each other unannounced and people may stay long into the night.
  • Usually, shoes are left outside before one enters a dwelling. Always ask permission to enter with shoes on.
  • When you enter a Samoan house, people will likely be sitting on the floor around the perimeter of the room. Beginning at the highest-ranking person, walk up to the individual, meet them at their level and greet them. You would then repeat this as you move around the room.
  • The best floor mats are often laid out for visitors.
  • When sitting on a floor mat, people generally sit cross-legged or with their legs tucked behind them.
  • Legs should be stretched out if they are covered properly. However, mind your feet are not pointing at another person.
  • Speaking to someone in the house while standing is thought to be impolite.
  • Once guests have entered the home, the host will often make a speech of welcome and the guest makes a formal response.
  • Hosts may offer refreshments such as coconut, biscuits and soft drinks.
  • Allow the host to seat you. Guests are often asked to sit in the middle of the table so they may converse with everyone more easily.


  • It is considered rude to eat while standing indoors or when walking around outdoors.
  • Bringing food to an event, even a small side dish or dessert, can cause great offence because it implies that the host has not prepared enough food for everyone.
  • Prayers are generally said before meals are eaten.
  • The elders of the family eat first. After they have completed their meal, it is acceptable for the other generations to dish themselves a plate of food.
  • Do not begin eating until indicated to do so.
  • Many Samoans eat with their hands, but will often offer cutlery for guests.
  • Taking a second serving is thought to be rude. Take everything you plan to eat  on the first serving.
  • As a sign of appreciation and respect, try every dish offered.
  • Most Samoans eat a small breakfast. For those who do not work or attend school, lunch is the largest and longest meal of the day.
  • For those who do work or attend school, dinner is the largest meal and tends to be shared with family.

Gift Giving

  • A Samoan may politely decline a gift out of humbleness. If a gift is not accepted at first, give it to a daughter or son or somebody that lives with the family. It is thought that this is a better alternative than having to take the gift back.
  • There is no need to buy an expensive gift, particularly if you can’t afford one. For many Samoans, it is the thought behind the gift that is more important.
  • If you feel your gift is inadequate, apologise that the gift may not be enough but that you have brought it as a token of your appreciation.
  • When accepting a gift, it is customary to bow your head slightly and place the gift above your head with both hands for a moment.

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