Zimbabwean Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • Indirect Communication: Zimbabweans are indirect communicators. They generally seek to avoid friction in any conversation. Thus, to be blunt and frank is not advisable. In an effort to be respectful, Zimbabweans come across as quite agreeable and accommodating. They rarely openly express criticism and prefer to take an indirect approach to any corrective remarks. The level of directness in conversation will vary depending on your relationship with a person. For example, if there is a large age difference, the younger person will adopt a very deflective and respectful tone. Among two peers of the same age, a Zimbabwean is likely to be more open about how they feel. Generally, if a Zimbabwean disagrees with something or is discontent, they are more likely to show it nonverbally. For example, they may become colder to you and choose not to follow your instructions. 
  • Humour: As Zimbabwean culture is quite formal, humour can be misplaced and seen as a lack of respect. Be careful in how you introduce it, who is around to hear it, and avoid making fun of others. Around family, those who are older or members of the opposite gender, jokes should not have any inappropriate undertones. Their humour generally relies on telling anecdotes and stories. It’s best to avoid being sarcastic as the Australian style of sarcasm can be misunderstood by Zimbabweans and taken at face value.


Non-Verbal

  • Personal Space: It’s common to keep an arm's length of personal space. However, Zimbabweans from rural areas may sit and stand slightly closer together. Men and women usually keep their distance from one another.
  • Physical Contact: Physical affection between men and women can embarrass Zimbabweans, especially those from rural areas. Holding hands is acceptable. However, if you are a man, do not touch a married Zimbabwean woman even in a friendly way. This is socially unacceptable in Zimbabwe.
  • Eye Contact: Direct eye contact is normal during conversation, especially in casual situations. However, people divert their gaze from those who are older or of a higher status than them and women generally lower their gaze from men. It is best to look away intermittently to avoid appearing disrespectful. To stare directly at someone older than you is considered disrespectful.
  • Gestures: People salute a political party (Movement for Democratic Change) by raising a the hand with fingers spread and palm forward. This can look similar to the ‘stop’ signal or waving, so be aware of this when using these gestures.
  • Kneeling:  Zimbabweans commonly kneel down to show humility and respect when talking to people of a higher authority or age. This involves keeping one’s head lower than the other person’s and avoiding direct eye contact. The gesture usually continues until they leave the room. Women generally kneel quite often in different settings. For example, Shona women may kneel when talking to their father or husband and when serving a meal. However, some men may also kneel to their mother-in-laws, brothers or older sisters.
  • Expressions: It is considered rude to frown, stick out one’s tongue or make a hissing sound with one’s mouth. It’s very rude to lick one’s lips whilst looking at a person of the opposite gender.
  • Body Language: Slouching and having one’s hand in one’s pockets are considered bad manners.
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