This post will cover a few basic rules of culture, manners and etiquette in Malawi.
As a foreigner, you will be observed by most Malawians, especially in the more rural areas as rather strange, with lots of money and some odd habits. There are of course customs and etiquette that should be observed, not least to surprise those Malawians you come into contact with.
Here are some general musings and comments:
- When you shake hands with someone important e.g. ministers, chiefs, school committees, older members of the community/village, bend your knees slightly to show deference, and as you shake put your free hand beneath the other arm, as if you’re propping it up.
- Expect to pray before everything: meals, journeys, meetings etc.
- Before a meal, the host or hostess will give you a bowl and a jug, to wash your hands in. As most people eat with their hands it is important that you ensure your hands are clean before eating.
- If you are having a meeting, expect to sit in silence for a long time. When the chair is speaking, there will be many formalities including welcoming you, thanking everyone for coming and asking after various different parts of the attendees families. You will be expected to speak and say how pleased you are to be there and thanking the hosts for their hospitality.
- Don’t expect anyone to be on time. Malawians operate under GMT (General Malawi Time!) so make sure you are not just waiting around, and have something to do. It's not unheard of to arrange to meet someone at 8am and they turn up the next day!
- If you visit a school, you will not have to lift a finger. The children automatically do everything for you in the same way as a host in their house. Don't try to stop them they will get offended.
- Try not to give anyone money who begs for it. If they do something for you or take you somewhere then give them a little bit as they have earned it.
- Don’t walk through a village or school openly eating as you will be mobbed by children asking for your food. It is also seen as rude if you openly eat while others aren't and you will be often asked to join people eating, to share with them.