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Firstly it does help you to mix in well if you are aware of certain facts about the country you are working in.
Its capital is Kabul which is also the capital city of Kabul Province. It is the largest city in Afghanistan with the population estimated at just fewer than 4 million.
The predominant religion is Sunni Muslim, with a small percentage of the population Shi’a Muslim It is very important that as visitors to a Muslim country you acquaint yourselves with the many do’s and don’ts, as they must be strictly adhered to least you offend your hosts.
Most Muslims will pray five times a day with Friday being the holy day you may well find that some businesses and Government offices will close on the Thursday so that then becomes your weekend.
Ramadan 2012 will start on 20th July and end on 18th August. Muslims are not permitted to eat from dawn till dusk and are unable to work more than six hours a day. They also cannot chew gum, smoke or drink during these periods of fasting. Whilst as a visitor you are not required to fast, you may not eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public dur4ing Ramadan.
So let’s look now at how you should respect the Afghan culture and etiquette,
Family life and honour are fundamental to the Afghan, If you dishonour someone you have dishonoured their entire family, their business associates, in fact anyone they are associated with. So it is very important to understand your boundaries.
To most Afghans, their roles are very clearly defined. The man is the breadwinner, the woman the home maker. They live together in family units and their personal business, and that of their family is just that, personal. Asking probing questions is seen as an infringement and should never be done.
Having said that, the Afghan peoples are extremely hospitable and if invited into their homes you will be shown every courtesy, tea in plenty and snacks are commonplace. Your cup will be continuously filled so if you have had enough, just place your hand of top of the cup.
The most common greeting is a handshake; also some may also place their hands over their hearts and nod. At this time you can enquire on their health, their family and of their business. Remember that women do not shake men’s hands and you should also avoid eye contact with your male host too long, and never engage in eye contact with a woman.
On your first visit to someone’s home it is polite (much like western society) to bring a little gift, but never bring alcohol even if you know the recipient does have an occasional drink. What happens in a man’s house, stays in his house and any visitor openly showing to have knowledge of this can cause honour to be lost. Your gift should be pastries, sweets, or fruit, packed in a nice box. On arrival place the gift on a table near to the door, or you can take it to the table and place it near to where you sit.
On entering the home you should be ready to remove your shoes and leave them by the door, by doing so you show respect for your host and their customs. Unlike our highly polished dining tables and matching chairs, the Afghans prefer to sit on cushions on the floor. A vinyl tablecloth will be spread out in front of you where all wondrous dishes will be placed.
Generally it is best to sit cross legged, but as long as your feet are not facing anyone, you can really sit however you like. You will be expected to take, also pass food with your right hand, so if you are left-handed it is maybe a good idea to practice this a little before you go.
The traditional method of eating food is by using your hands, so do not show surprise, (as my mother did) and ask for a knife and fork. Remember at all times that you are a guest and to respect your host’s way of life. Finally as in many other cultures an empty plate indicates you are still hungry, so leaving a little food on your plate will avoid your refusals for more food, and also avoid any misunderstanding.
The etiquette between sexes is far different from the west and you do need to remember the do’s and don’ts.
These apply to females working in Afghanistan.
Do’s: Wear the appropriate clothing, never short skirts, or bare arms. Wearing loose trousers under a dress or skirt will ensure that your legs are not seen. It is also advisable to wear a headscarf in public. You must at all times to show that you are a woman whose reputation cannot be questioned.
Don’t. Do not look at a man directly, keep your eyes lowered at all times when out. Make sure you are never alone with a man, do not speak to a man directly in any social context. If working with male colleagues, make sure that you keep to the rules above, as t is very easy to lose your reputation over the smallest infringement.
There are women in larger cities who do very well in business, but they also will follow the above rules, have family honour and still have a good career.
To protect a female’s honour you must never be in a room alone with a female unless the door is left open. Never touch a female; never start a conversation with a woman, do not ask a male colleague about his wife or female relatives. Never talk to a woman in the street or socially. If unsure, take your lead from others around you.
So those are the basic rules which I hope you find helpful. The important thing to remember is that each culture has its own customs, rules and way of life.