South Sudanese Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • Formal Communication: The South Sudanese communication style is generally very formal. People usually speak quite respectfully and seriously, and in return tend to take everything said quite literally. However, even in the most formal interactions, communication is interlaced with affection and familiarity. For example, people address one another as “Aunty”, “Uncle”, “Brother” or “Sister” to show camaraderie and fondness. 
  • Indirect Communication: Communication varies between being direct and indirect depending on one’s relationship with the person. When talking to strangers or acquaintances, South Sudanese people tend to answer personal questions in an indirect way to protect their privacy. Closer friends tend to be more straightforward about what they believe. However, overall, the South Sudanese tend not to be very open about their emotions. For example, if you offend someone, you are unlikely to be made aware at the time. Rather, they usually take a subtle approach to making their feelings known by slowly ignoring the offending person and no longer visiting them.
  • Humour: South Sudanese humour usually involves joking about situational circumstances and storytelling. It is often described as cheeky. However, it is generally understood that there is a time and place for it. For example, it is considered inappropriate to introduce humour to lighten a serious situation. Furthermore, it is not always polite to joke around elders. Men and women tend to joke more when surrounded by those of the same gender. It is best to avoid being sarcastic as this can be misunderstood by South Sudanese and taken literally.
  • Swearing: Swearing is very uncommon among South Sudanese communities. Youth are generally strictly reprimanded if caught using obscene language. If someone swears, it is usually interpreted as the beginning of a fight.


Non-Verbal

  • Physical Contact: It is very rare to see open displays of affection between couples in public. 
  • Personal Space: It is important to keep a fair amount of distance from those of a higher status.
  • Eye Contact: It is a sign of respect to divert one’s gaze in South Sudan. Direct eye contact can be interpreted as rude and as a sign of disrespect for another’s authority. Hence, some South Sudanese may keep it to a minimum when talking to superiors and elders. It’s best to make short and infrequent eye-to-eye contact and avoid steady gazes at those of the opposite gender.
  • Nodding: A single nod of the head downwards usually means “yes”, while a movement of the head upwards means “no”.
  • Expression: It is not commonplace to smile at strangers in South Sudan. Therefore, some South Sudanese may have quite a serious exterior upon first meeting people, reserving smiles for friends. Once they are familiar with someone, they generally become very animated.
  • Pointing: It is rude to point at people with a single index finger. However, people may do it to indicate ill feelings towards that person. They may also point with their tongue or with the back of their closed fist.
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