Somali Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • Direct Communication: Somalis generally communicate quite openly and directly. They tend to speak straight-to-the-point and are very honest. People may be more when delivering criticism or corrective remarks to avoid offence. Women may also be more in an effort to be modest and maintain proper decorum.
  • Volume: Somalis can be quite loud. Men are expected to speak up and be verbal, although women may be quieter and slightly more reserved. A low volume of voice is recommended in religious settings and gatherings.
  • Swearing: Swearing is uncommon and inappropriate in almost all situations. Such behaviour is considered to be uncivilised, and may affect a Somali person’s impression of your character. For example, if a taxi driver heard his passengers swearing, he may mutter “O ask the forgiveness of god to force them to clean up their act”.
  • Blesses and Curses: Blesses and curses are said on a daily basis in Somalia. These are short Arabic expressions that wish for God’s intervention depending on the situation (e.g. “May God give you health” or “May God curse your soul”). Blessings are often said instead of a ‘Thank you’.
  • Humour: Somalis joke by telling stories. You can indulge in gentle humour to soften difficult conversations. However, be aware that sarcasm and wit may not translate across cultures and languages. Avoid making jokes that have sexual or rude undertones with anyone you do not have a very close relationship with.


Non-Verbal

  • Physical Contact: People are usually comfortable hugging and touching friends of the same gender. However, physical contact between two people of opposite genders is inappropriate in Somalia. It should be avoided altogether unless you can see that your counterpart is accustomed to touching members of the opposite gender.
  • Personal Space: A Somali person’s standard of personal space may differ depending on the context. If the person is a friend of the same gender, the distance is often smaller than what Westerners are used to. For example, two friends may nestle together when sitting. However, it may be bigger in instances when there is a difference of authority or when the other person is from the opposite gender. It is best to keep at least one metre distance between you and a Somali person to respect the modesty of the other person if you do not know them well.
  • Eye Contact: eye contact is important, but it should not be prolonged. It is best to make short, infrequent eye-to-eye contact and avoid steady gazes. People may lower their gaze from those of elders out of respect. Staring is considered an act of intimidation.
  • Body Language: Somalis may be animated when speaking and may use large hand and arm gestures to emphasise their speech.
  • Hands: There is a separation between the functions of the hands in Somali culture. This custom is tied to Islamic principles that prescribe the left hand should be used for hygiene purposes. Therefore, it is considered more unclean and should not be used for functions such as waving, eating or offering items. Always use the right hand to gesture, touch people or offer items.
  • Expression: Somalis are generally quite animated people. Their emotions are openly expressed through their facial expressions.
  • Beckoning: It is rude to beckon someone with a single index finger. Wave them over with your whole hand.
  • Feet: It is considered insulting to show or expose the bottoms of your feet to other people. Do not point your feet towards other people when sitting down.

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