We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.
In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:
A primer on how to avoid mistakes in
Although the Comoros are a rather liberal Muslim country, it is disrespectful for women to expose their shoulders, much of their chest, knees, and especially stomach and lower back. Wear shirts or shawls that cover these areas. Locals will not expect foreign, non-Muslim women to cover their heads. When swimming, local women are fully dressed.
Foreigners are not expected to do this, but shorts and a swimming shirt is more respectful than a bikini or topless swimming. Men should wear shorts below the knee, though this is less offensive than a woman doing so. Public affection between men and women is not acceptable, though one may rarely see a Comorian man and woman holding hands briefly (in the nightclubs some locals seem to ignore Muslim convention). Non-Muslim religious proselytizing is illegal, as is giving Bibles to locals. Locals are very tolerant and friendly towards non-Muslims, but avoid appearing as if you are trying to convert them. Drinking alcohol in public is disrespectful, though it occurs in nightclubs. Restaurants generally do not serve alcohol unless they cater to foreigners.
To greet an elder, you say “kwesi”. The elder says something like “mbona, mkana baraka” to which you respond “salaama”. It is a big mistake to hand out candy to children on the street. Since locals are unused to tourists, this rarely occurs and they are usually just happy to talk with you, children included. Once tourists begin handing out gifts and money, locals will see Westerners as rich and free with money, destroying many opportunities for a human connection with them.
Children will harass tourists for candy and money (they occasionally do now). Tourists who do this are showing themselves to be disrespectful of locals (by assuming that money/candy is what they want from tourists and by putting that in between them rather than making an effort to get to know locals) and ignorant of the consequences of their actions. Since, allegedly, it was discovered that a Western man, resident of Grand Comore for 14 years, had been making pornographic videos and photographs, as well as violating children on the islands, the residents are quite averse to being filmed or photographed. Individual reactions may vary upon being photographed, but visitors must be advised that taking unauthorised photographs of the locals will, at best, offend an individual and, at worst, cause irrational and potentially violent reactions in the subject.
With this, you had the primer on key facts about Comoros, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Comoros food and drinks:
Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Comoros? Please comment below.