Behavior and Etiquette – Social Engagements and Visiting

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In Afghanistan, as in the rest of the wider Islamic World, hospitality is a cherished tradition and an essential aspect of Afghan culture.  Hospitality is considered a sign of family honor, pride and integrity, and should be readily accepted.   Visiting with family, friends and neighbors is a mainstay of Afghan life.   Afghan adults work very hard, but also do extensive visiting or entertaining during weekends and sometimes on weekday nights. Women with small children may remain at home; however, they are also very busy with household responsibilities and entertaining relatives and friends.

If an Afghan acquaintance expresses a wish to entertain, or to invite an American to tea, the men will socialize with the men, and the women will socialize with the women. Separate-sex entertaining is the norm. Homes contain separate visiting areas for males and females.  Due to Purdah, the wife may never be visible to male visitors.

Afghans typically view guests as having been sent by God.  The more guests a family receives the more respect they are afforded by society.  Visitors to an Afghan’s home will be given the best the family has to offer. For instance, when dining, guests receive the best cuts of meat.  This requires elaborate food preparation and a very clean house. Even the poorest Afghan families who can hardly feed themselves go to any length to make a visitor feel welcome and valued. This relates back to the idea of gaining honor. Showing hospitality and providing one’s best elevates the host in the eyes of others.  An Afghan’s good reputation is related to the generosity he shows towards visitors to his home. Being perceived as unwelcoming can be a serious affront to an Afghan’s character.  They love to give and receive praise in the company of guests as well.

Muslims can become puzzled at American customs involving the necessity of invitations and giving notice before visiting another’s home. An Afghan family in America might issue a general invitation, not realizing that they must pin down a specific time and place, leaving them to wonder why Americans are so unsociable. Westerners who have lived in an Islamic country for any length of time have likely had many experiences of hospitality extended freely by their Muslim friends, without any expectation of return.  The experience is shared with much fellowship, laughter, and affection.

Afghans do not expect gifts, but they are very much appreciated.  Sweets such as chocolate are ideal, particularly when ornately wrapped.  Any food item makes a good gift also.  Afghans will not open gifts in front of the giver or others. Gifts are reciprocated – so one should not “overdo” or “outdo” their hosts.  Gifts should be small enough that the hosts hospitality and company serves as the reciprocal. Exchanging expensive gifts is the domain of the wealthy who are able to reciprocate – avoid this.

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