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Etiquette and Customs in Ethiopia
Ethiopian greetings are courteous and somewhat formal.
The most common form of greeting is a handshake with direct eye contact.
The handshake is generally much lighter than in Western cultures.
After a close personal relationship has been established people of the same sex may
kiss three times on the cheeks.
Across genders, men should wait to see if a woman extends her hand.
Greetings should never be rushed. Take time to inquire about the person’s family,
health, job, etc.
People are addressed with their honorific title and their first name.
“Ato", "Woizero", and "Woizrity" are used to address a man, married woman, and
unmarried woman respectively.
Elders should be greeted first.
It is customary to bow when introduced to someone who is obviously older or has a
more senior position. Children will often be seen doing so.
Gift Giving Etiquette
Gifts may be given to celebrate events of significance or religious occasions.
Since Ethiopia is an extremely poor country, expensive gifts are not the norm.
In fact, giving a gift that is too expensive may be viewed negatively. It may be seen as
an attempt to garner influence or it may embarrass the recipient as they will not be
able to match it in kind.
If you are invited to an Ethiopian’s home, bring pastries, fruit, or flowers to the host.
A small gift for the children is always appreciated.
Do not bring alcohol unless you know that your host drinks. Most Muslims and
Amharic people do not.
Gifts are not opened when received.
Gifts are given with two hands or the right hand only; never the left hand.
Ethiopians are hospitable and like to entertain friends in their homes.
An invitation to a private home should be considered an honour.
Punctuality is not strictly adhered to although considerable lateness is also
You may have to remove your shoes at the door.
Shake hands with each guest individually.
A woman should offer to help the hostess with the preparation or clearing up after a
meal is served.
You will always be offered a cup of coffee. It is considered impolite to refuse.
Ethiopians are relatively formal and believe table manners are a sign of respect.
Do not presume that because food is eaten with the hands, there is a lack of decorum.
Expect a small earthenware or metal jug to be brought to the table before the meal is
served. Extend your hands over the basin while water is poured over them.
Only use the right hand for eating.
Hierarchy dictates that the eldest person is the first to take food from the communal
Guests are often served tasty morsels by another guest in a process called "gursa".
Using his hands, the person places the morsel in the other person’s mouth. Since this
is done out of respect, it is a good idea to smile and accept the offering.
Expect to be urged to take more food. Providing an abundance of food is a sign of
The meal ends with ritual hand-washing and coffee.
The Kaffa province in Ethiopia is renowned for its coffee.
Coffee is a national drink and its drinking is a ritualized process that generally takes at
least an hour.
If invited for a formal coffee you may be seated on pillows or grass and flower-strewn
floor with frankincense burning in the background.
A woman or young boy enters the room to wash and roast the beans over charcoal.
The roasted beans are then hand-ground and added to boiling water.
Sugar is put into small cups without handles and the water/coffee mixture is added.
Inhale the aroma of the coffee before sipping.
The first round (called "awol") is served, starting with the eldest.
When the first cup is finished, the "jebena" (coffee pot) is refilled with water.
The second round (called "tona") is then served. It is weaker than the first since the
same ground beans are used.
The third round (called "baraka") is served after boiling water is again added to the
Always sip the coffee slowly.
Business Etiquette and
Greetings are formal and courteous.
Handshakes are somewhat prolonged and not
They are always combined with strong, direct eye
There is generally no touching between the sexes;
however, if a foreign businesswoman extends her
hand, a cosmopolitan Ethiopian may accept it to
avoid causing her offense.
Never rush greeting; enquire about people’s
families, health and work.
Government officials may be addressed as
"Excellency" without using their name.
Wait to be invited before moving to a first name
basis without the honorific title.
Business cards are given without formal ritual.
Present and receive business cards with the right
hand only or with both hands.
Ethiopians can be very sensitive when it comes to
communication. Since they have only recently
begun working with foreigners in business situations
they are still getting used to new ways of doing
business and communicating.
As a general rule, they are humble and respect that
quality in others. They generally speak in soft tones.
Loud voices are seen as too aggressive. Ethiopians
pride themselves on their eloquent speaking style
and expect others to speak clearly and use
metaphor, allusion, and witty innuendoes. They
often use exaggerated phrases to emphasize a
As a rule, Ethiopians tend to be non-
confrontational and offer what they believe is the
expected response rather than say something
that might embarrass another. Honour and
dignity are crucial to Ethiopians and they will go
out of their way to keep from doing something that
could bring shame to another person. Therefore, it
is important to treat your Ethiopian business
colleagues with utmost professionalism and never
do anything that would make them lose dignity and
Meeting schedules are not very rigid in Ethiopia.
There may be an agenda, although it is not part of
the local culture. If one is used, it functions as a
guideline for the discussion and acts as a
springboard to other related business topics.
Since relationships are extremely important,
meetings start with extended social pleasantries.
You will be offered tea or coffee and will be
expected to ask questions about the other person
and respond to questions about yourself.
Meetings seldom have a scheduled ending time
since it is considered more important to complete
the meeting satisfactorily than be slavishly tied to
the clock. The meeting will end when everyone has
had their say and the most senior Ethiopians decide
that there is nothing left to be discussed.
Performing favours indicates friendship. Therefore,
Ethiopians feel obliged to do something if asked by
a friend. Since they generally only conduct business
with people they consider friends, they have
difficulty saying "no" to requests from business
associates. This does not indicate that they will do
what they have agreed to do, however.