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
Liberians are very friendly and sociable. However, they do not take kindly to being ignored and will call you “rude”. Make sure that you greet as many people as possible and smile when you do so. Make friends with any guard, cleaner etc that you come across, introduce yourself and remember their names. Your security will also improve as the locals will warn you of security threats if they know you and know that they can talk to you. Handshaking is the normality, usually followed by a finger snap.
Shake hands with people you meet, even fruit sellers. As Liberia’s economy is not at its best, you will inevitably be asked for money or help of some kind. Usually the most persistent beggars are former combatants. Giving money to the elderly or the physically disabled will not go amiss. However, with most children and others, it’s best to spend a little time with them, play a game, take digital photos (loved here) and then possibly give something as a gift to your friends. Liberians are proud people and their desperate need is no reason to treat them as beggars.
School fees are expensive (up to a $100/year) so often foreigners are asked to pay for school, but this can also be used as a ploy. Most people in Monrovia, with the exception of internally displaced people, are relatively well-off in Liberian terms. The worst conditions are in the countryside, where help is also most needed. Rather than saying “no” to the requests, considered rude here, say “later” or “tomorrow” or “I will see what I can do”. Do not ignore people. However, be assertive when answering as they’ll often pester you and call you “boss” until you give in. It is advisable to bring some business cards. They are given out at every function.
The wars of the 1990s and 2000s are very fresh in MANY people’s minds so it is advisable to stay away from the topic. The higher the social status of an individual, the more respect is due to them, even though that does not mean you don’t give any respect to the extremely poor or bathe the wealthy with gifts of gratitude.
With this, you had the primer on key facts about Liberia, 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 Liberia food and drinks:
Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Liberia? Please comment below.