Somali Culture

Do's and Don'ts

Do’s

  • Try to refer to the Somali nation, nationality or culture specifically when possible, rather than “African”. It is appreciated when foreigners recognise that Somalia is culturally distinct from the rest of Africa.
  • Show greater respect to elders in all circumstances and situations. Their age is thought to indicate wisdom, knowledge and experience.
  • Repeat any offer multiple times to show that you are being genuine and not just being polite. For example, if you offer to drive a Somali home, they are likely to initially decline the gesture out of even if they have no other form of transport. You should insist that you want to help.
  • Make sure you are respectful, modest and follow the correct etiquette when visiting a Somali person's home (see Etiquette).
  • Remember to show real personal interest in your Somali counterpart. Somalis generally see everyone as their friends (instead of acquaintances) and will be prepared to open up their lives to you on a personal level very quickly after meeting you. Downplaying your friendship or ignoring them when you see them can be extremely hurtful and offensive (see 'Social Life' in Core Concepts).
  • It is advisable to exercise sensitivity talking about their homeland and migration journey. Most Somalis hold their country and people very close to their hearts. However, be aware that some may still experience trauma associated with memories of their time in Somalia.
  • Expect to be asked about your private life and well-being if you show strong outward emotions (e.g. anger, sadness, excitement). Somali society is very communal and people will often want to help you when you’re in distress or share in your happiness.


Don’ts

  • Do not openly criticise the religion of Islam, Somali cultural practices or their way of life. Somalis are generally open people, but such remarks are unlikely to be appreciated.
  • Avoid asking questions that assume Somalis are uneducated, uncivilised or impoverished, such as “Do you have the internet in Somalia?”. Most Somali refugees and migrants living in English-speaking countries are skilled, educated, urbanised and familiar with the technologies of the .
  • Avoid offering your opinion on politics and rivalries. issues can be emotionally charged. It can be very disruptive to get caught up in dynamics or being perceived as ‘taking sides’. If the topic is raised, it is best to simply listen (see 'Political Sensitivities' in Core Concepts).
  • Do not blame Somalia’s conflict and political turmoil on the Somali people and culture. Remember that foreign interference played a significant role in creating the conditions for the civil war and refrain from voicing your own view unless asked. 
  • Avoid referring to Somalia as a “failed state”. Such descriptions discount the fact that the situation in Somalia has improved markedly over the past few years and also perpetuates the negative idea that the country is a lost cause.
  • Do not assume that Somali Muslims follow a conservative, interpretation of Islam. The actions and beliefs of extremist groups such as Al-Shabaab do not represent the religious interpretations of average Somali people (see Religion).
  • Do not make jokes that Somali refugees are criminals or pirates. Such stereotypes are ill-informed and can be offensive.

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