Do's and Don'ts
- Show a genuine interest in ‘anga fakatonga’ (the Tongan way). Tongans are quite proud of anga fakatonga and enjoy explaining various parts of their customs and traditions to people.
- Take care when admiring something owned by your Tongan counterpart. Although compliments are appreciated, they may feel compelled to offer the object to you as a gift. A good approach is to compliment the person or the whole home, as opposed to highlighting a single particular object.
- Be patient and accept the slower pace of ‘Tongan time’. Tongans tend to prioritise the present moment and socialising with people over maintaining punctuality or worrying about the future.
- Always show respect to someone of higher rank. Tongans tend to show deference through their body language, such as keeping their head lower than people of higher rank or by averting eye contact.
- Try and show an awareness of the complex Tongan social structure. Acknowledging the intricate nature of Tongan society and the importance of age, gender, status and rank will help build rapport with your Tongan counterpart.
- Avoid boasting or outward displays of wealth. Tongans place a high value on ‘loto to’ (humility). Everyone is expected to be humble, including the king. Some common practices of humility include self-deprecatory speech. Parents also avoid praising their children for accomplishments as a way to promote humility in the family.
- Do not gossip or speak ill of a person (or their family) to their peers without the individual’s knowledge. You may respectfully raise issues to them whilst they are present. However, gossiping is considered to be profoundly disrespectful and inconsiderate.
- Avoid asking a Tongan to participate in demanding or laborious work on Sundays. Many Tongans observe the Sabbath, meaning that Sunday is reserved as a day of rest.
- Do not assume all people from the Pacific Islands are the same. There are a variety of distinct cultures and countries within and among different parts of the region, especially between Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. Thus, try not to homogenise those from Tonga with their neighbouring countries.
- Consider dressing modestly when interacting with Tongans, particularly those from older generations. Modesty is a highly valued trait, especially during more formal activities such as attending church.
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