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
As with most of West Africa, greetings are very much a part of daily life in Guinea. A simple, “Ca va” will often suffice. However, Guineans appreciate if you ask about their family, health and job/studies: “et la famille, la sante, le boulot/les etudes.” Before getting to the point in a conversation, e-mail, etc it is common and expected to greet somehow and ask how they are doing. Greet, eat and exchange money only with your right hand; the left hand is used for bathroom purposes and is considered unclean.
The gender issue is quite complex in Guinea to say the least. Even though Guinea is a slightly conservative, Muslim, male-dominated society, foreign female travelers will rarely face any sort of difficulties. Don’t be surprised if you are proposed to a million times! Cat calls, whistles and other similar forms of harassment are rare in Guinea and frowned upon.
Guinean males often give up their seat to females as a sign of respect, especially in people’s homes, outdoor settings, etc. In general, men are still higher up the social ladder than women and this is prevalent in all aspects of Guinean society (education, jobs, etc). Don’t be surprised if men are shown more consideration than women in daily life. Once it’s known that you are a foreign woman (especially if you are a Black foreign female coming from the US, Europe, etc.), and not a local, you will usually be granted a higher level of consideration).
For women it is NOT advisable to wear clothing showing anything from the stomach to the knees! Shorts, see-throughs, mini skirts, bare midriffs are considered tasteless if worn in public. It’s not uncommon to be met with hostile stares or looks of disapproval from local Guineans or even worse. Tattoos and body piercings are not common and visitors are advised to cover them up when possible. A head scarf, however, is not necessary. Jeans (while still not very popular among Guinean women), long skirts and dresses, tank tops and short or long sleeved shirts are perfectly acceptable. There is a Christian minority (mostly concentrated in the southern forest region); however, Muslims, Christians and others tend to co-exist peacefully with tolerance and respect. Guineans will often invite you to eat at their home.
This is a sign of respect and consideration for the visitor. Accept the invitation where possible. If you are unable, it’s better to politely respond with a simple “next time” or “prochainement”. Simply showing up without an appointment at the home of a Guinean is not considered rude or impolite as it can be in the West. Don’t be alarmed if you find Guineans popping over to see how you are. Overall Guineans are warm, friendly and hospitable and will come to your assistance where appropriate.
With this, you had the primer on key facts about Guinea, 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 Guinea food and drinks:
Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Guinea? Please comment below.