Saturday, April 14, 2012

Greetings and Meetings

You've just arrived in the beautiful Congo! Now that you're here, you will need to know how to present yourself to and interact with new people you will be meeting...

"Keeping up appearances..."

In general, Congolese people really value a clean and tidy appearance, especially within urban centers and when hosting guests. We might be inclined to assume that most of the population within a third world country such as the DRC wouldn't make this a priority, but we couldn't be more inaccurate! And this is just one of many examples that illustrate how vital it is to be as open minded and removed from presumptuous thought as possible.

When you're spending time in the city, it is safe to wear western style clothing and it is common to see most of your Congolese brothers and sisters wearing it as well. Most often these clothes are imported second-hand from the United States or other developed countries.

Temperatures will be much hotter than you are used to, however it is extremely uncommon for adults to wear shorts. So, be sure to bring your pants! If you are concerned about the heat, a linen fabric will breathe easier than denim and/or some business trousers. 

Male staff, Men Can Stop Rape [MCSR], Congo

In terms of urban vs. rural dress code, do be prepared to dress a bit more casually when visiting villages. A nice t-shirt or collared polo are more appropriate than a button down business shirt. But don't forget your pants here, too! You will find that a lot of Congolese men will pair sweatpants with a nicer shirt. Within respectful limits, wear what is most comfortable!

You may want to bring a visor and/or hat for protection from the sun, as well as sunglasses! Parts of the DRC are right along the equator, a temperature and intensity we are not used to here in the United States. 

It is a good idea to keep the sundresses and short skirts at home, even those that are ordinarily acceptable to wear to the office here in America. Most older women will be wearing long, tailored skirts called pagne, sometimes paired with a more western-styled top or fully traditional top.

Woman selling bananas, Goma 

It is suggested that you observe a similar style of dress in urban areas, but even more importantly in rural settings. It is respectful to mirror this fashion, even if it requires you to stretch yourself and try different kinds of clothing items. Modesty is highly respected - since your desire is to build valuable relationships, it is important be respectful in this way!

You may want to bring a visor and/or hat for protection from the sun, as well as sunglasses! Parts of the DRC are right along the equator, a temperature and intensity we are not used to here in the United States. 

Be flexible.
Be considerate. 
Be respectful.
Be openminded.
Leave that sense of entitlement [we all have] at home. 
Cultural knowledge is incredibly valuable. When combined with the above, it is priceless!


It's important to remember that gender roles and interaction between males and females will be different from what you are used to. In America we tend to value a sense of equality, regardless of gender. While this doesn't express itself in all situations and regions in the United States, you will find that what we Americans find to be appropriate will differ from that of the Congolese.

It is likely you will be spending some time in both urban and rural areas, so you must take note of differences between the two. Many people think of Africa and overgeneralize what the entire continent looks like - lots of dirt roads, little technology, mud huts get the picture. In reality, Africa has many thriving cities with advanced technology and successful economies. It is inevitable that there will be more traditional values and understandings observed in rural areas than in urban areas.

If you are in a city... 
  • Greet everyone with a handshake when entering a room
    • if you are a male, it is safe to shake the hand of a female, and the reverse is true for females.
  • If [hopefully when] you become close friends, the acceptable greeting will change
    • a handshake, followed by a hug and three alternating kisses to the check
      • for men, these "kisses" are typically just a brush to the cheek
  • It is appropriate to use the French "Hello" - "Bonjour"

When you are visiting a village...
  • If you are a male, it is appropriate to shake hands with the other men in the room
    • in most situations a woman will greet a man by clapping the hands, sometimes accompanied by a slight bow
    • if a woman approaches you for a handshake you may accept
    • ***REMEMBER to mirror those around you, but be careful not to go overboard as this could be seen as disrespectful
  • Females may shake hands with one another 

For travel anywhere inside of the country, it is highly suggested that you try to employ a translator. This was noted in the "Language" section of our cultural review, but a translator not only aides with understanding spoken communication - they will also help you understand nonverbal communication through body language!