Behavior and Etiquette – Conversational Etiquette

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Afghans may talk much louder than what Americans are accustomed to. Additionally, while Americans generally prefer to avoid pauses in conversation, Afghans often pause between thoughts.  There may be long periods where nothing is said, so be a patient listener and let hosts initiate conversation. Afghans speech may be quite “flowery,” indirect, and laced with metaphors and analogies.

Although some have been hardened by war, Afghans are typically warm and friendly people.  Good topics of conversation include general inquiries about overall family welfare, friendship, culture, food, education, agriculture and traits such as bravery, honor, courage and loyalty. Bad topics of conversation generally include anything related to Islam, religion and spirituality.  Regional politics, war and the Taliban are a close second.  Areas such as women’s rights, equality and things you may not agree with about the region are taboo as well.  Detailed family matters are completely private and only discussed with other family members.  Any criticism is highly offensive. The bottom line is that highly charged and emotional issues are best left alone. While Afghans may engage in discussions relating to religion and politics, these subjects can be provocative. To avoid conflict, it would be best to avoid such topics in conversation. As discussed earlier, homosexuality (or, at least, homosexual conduct) is actually quite common in Afghanistan, but a very taboo subject for discussion.

Some things to remember regarding conversational etiquette with Afghans include:

Avoid profanity in the presence of Afghans. Many Muslims can be sensitive to bad language. Further, it is essential to avoid any references that Afghans may find derogatory. Remember that Afghan people are not part of the Middle East, nor do they consider themselves Arabs. It is their shared Islamic religion which accounts for many of the similarities in culture between Afghan and Arab countries.

Winning the Afghan people over to the American cause is a central component of the United States' mission.  A good strategy is talking with village elders and explaining Americans' intentions in Afghanistan. It is also important to sit down together as this invokes a sense of togetherness and equality.

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