Zimbabwean Culture

Etiquette

Basic Etiquette

  • Stand up to greet people who have recently entered a room.
  • Respect is shown by physically lowering oneself below another person’s stature. When meeting or interacting with someone older or of a higher status, it is polite to lower one’s head or body below theirs. Women commonly give a slight curtsy or bend at the knees, whilst men bow slightly.  
  • People should address elders and those of a higher status first, using their title and surname and formal pronouns.
  • It is extremely rude to talk back to an elder or challenge their opinion, even if they are incorrect.
  • Offer guests hot water to wash their hands before giving them tea.
  • Gratitude is often shown nonverbally with claps to show respect. People clap twice to say “thank you” if someone is passing them something. If one hand is full, they may clap a hand on their chest instead.
  • It is respectful to pass and receive items with both hands together. If being more casual, use the right hand only.
  • When passing something of value to another person, touch the forearm of the right hand holding the object with the left hand. This is meant to give the impression of supporting the deep value (weight) of the object.
  • It is considered bad taste to wear provocative clothing. Skirts and pants should reach the knee; shoulders and midriffs should be covered.
  • If wearing a hat, take it off when talking to someone or entering indoors.
  • You can expect to be asked questions about your personal life and family when initially meeting someone. For example, they may ask whether you have a spouse and how many children you have. 
  • Timekeeping is quite fluid in Zimbabwe and people are commonly late. Appointments rarely begin punctually and engagements often run overtime. Avoid being offended if someone does not arrive or forgets to apologise for being late as it is rarely a reflection on the personal relationship. People are more punctual surrounding business.

 

Visiting

  • When visiting a Zimbabwean’s house, it is the norm to arrive with a small gift for the host. Food is usually appropriate.
  • It is not usually necessary to take off your shoes when entering a home. However, remove your hat.
  • Expect to be offered refreshments of tea or coffee at any visit and accept the gesture out of politeness.

 

Eating

  • People say “Pamusoroi” in Shona before eating. This is similar to saying “Bon Appetite” before a meal, but it means something similar to “Excuse me while I eat”.
  • In Zimbabwe, people usually sit to eat on low stools or gather around a mat on the floor.
  • Utensils are commonly used, but it is also normal to eat with one’s fingers.
  • Water is always provided to wash one’s hands before and after a meal. Women give men a dish to wash their hands so they don’t have to get up and do it themselves.
  • The host usually serves everybody individually.
  • Do not talk whilst you are eating/have food in your mouth.
  • It is rude to be on your phone at the table.
  • Ask people’s permission as to whether it is okay to leave the table when you are done.
  • The national dish of Zimbabwe is called ‘sadza’. It is a maize paste similar to a cornmeal dumpling.
  • Some Zimbabweans may not eat pork for religious reasons.
  • Beer is popular in Zimbabwe.
  • If eating out, it is expected that the oldest or wealthiest male will pay for everyone's meal. If everyone present has the same earning ability and age, they will split the bill.

 

Gift Giving

  • There is a big gift-giving culture in Zimbabwe. A gift represents a gesture of friendship; thus, refusing a gift can seriously offend the person who offered it. It is taboo to do so. Always accept a gift given by a Zimbabwean.
  • Zimbabweans may directly ask you if you have a gift for them if they’ve been expecting it. For example, if you are coming home after travelling, they may ask if you brought them back something. Avoid perceiving this as presumptuous, rude or greedy.
  • If you are visiting Zimbabwe for the first time, you can expect that they will give you something to bring back home.
  • The most common occasions for giving gifts are births, birthdays, weddings, graduations, installations of pastors, Christmas and farewell services.
  • Gifts may be wrapped or given unwrapped. There is no strong cultural preference regarding the presentation.
  • Give and open gifts in front of everyone in attendance.
  • People commonly show gratitude by clapping, whistling, jumping or even dancing. A verbal “thank you” may not actually be said.
  • Food is a common gift that is appropriate to be given at all occasions.
  • Consider that Zimbabwe struggles with corruption and very expensive gifts may be interpreted as bribes.
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