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Turkey: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Melissa Chang |

Cultural Sensitivity, Middle East, Turkey, Turkey


Mosque in Turkey
Photo by David Spender

little mapLocation: South Eastern Europe and Asia Minor; bordered on the Northeast by Armenia, Georgia, and the Black Sea, in the East by Iran, in the Southeast by Iraq, in the West by Syria, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Aegean Sea, and in the Northwest by Greece and Bulgaria.

Capital: Ankara Climate: Typical Mediterranean climate of hot summers and mild winters Population: 71,158,647 according to 2007 estimates. The economy is industry and agriculture based. A growth spurt in private sector has added to the economic strength. Unemployment stands at about 10%. Ethnic Make-up: Turkish 80%, Kurdish 20%

Turkish PortReligions: Muslims 99.8%, Christians and Jews 0.2%. The secular government guarantees freedom of worship. It grants all religious groups the right to carry out evangelistic missions, but arrests of Christian missionaries by the police are common.

Language: Turkish, Kurdish, Dimli, Azeri, Kabardian Government: Republican Parliamentary Democracy

Travel Issues: Citizens of Austria, Belgium, Brazil, British passport holders of Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, U.K., and U.S. require a visa to enter Turkey but can get them at major ports of entry at the border, with a valid passport at hand. This would be for a maximum stay of 3 months. Anything longer requires a visa application.

Health & Safety: Visitors to Turkey are advised to take immunization shots against hepatitis A, typhoid, hepatitis B, MMR, tetanus and diphtheria. Malaria might be a risk if you intend to leave the trodden path and travel in the rural areas.

Brian Snelson
Photo by Brian Snelson


2 boys in TurkeyThe People: For the Turkish people, hospitality is a way of life and goes way back in tradition. They often go out of their way to accommodate a guest and make them welcome. They are very proud about their rich history and heritage and are happy to talk about it.

The Religion: The major religion is Islam and Christians are a minority.

Role of Family: They have very close and possessive family relationships. The seniors are respected and taken good care of till the end. Children continue to live with their parents till they get married and often their financial needs are met right up to then. This care and concern is returned in the old age of the parents.

Whirling DervishRecreational Activities: Strenuous physical sports such as mountaineering, winter sports such as skiing, and water sports in the Mediterranean coast are widely popular.

Anything else important for this culture: Always acknowledge and greet the senior-most person first. Jumping queues is not considered particularly rude, so it’s best to be patient.


Meetings & Greetings: Shaking hands is the ordinary form of greeting. Traditional values and norms of Islam guide everyday manners and behavior. If interacting with traditional people and elders, the Islamic greeting of Asalaam um alaikum is more acceptable. Women are less conservative than in other Muslim nations and may shake hands with males. Close relations kiss on the cheek as greeting and leave-taking.

Turkish Coast
Photo by Kusadasi Guy

ladies in IstanbulCourtesy: It is rude to sit with your legs askew. Always cross them or keep them together, especially if someone is directly opposite you. It is not courteous to inquire about female relatives, but it is acceptable to talk about family and children.

Gift Giving: This is not a particularly Turkish custom. But if you’re invited to someone’s home, it would be a nice gesture to carry some chocolates or candies for the family, especially if there are children in the house. Alcohol should not be gifted to Muslims unless you’re sure they imbibe.

Dress Code: Being a conservative community that values tradition highly, you would be well advised to abide by the prevalent dress code. For formal occasions and business meetings, men wear business attire complete with tie. Women may wear business suits that ensure their skirts are knee length or longer. Informal wear for women should cover shoulders, arms, and legs. In rural areas, a head scarf is advised.

Turkish HousesDining Etiquette: Always leave your foot wear outside when invited to dine at someone’s house. Take along a gift that is not too ostentatious. This should be discreetly offered to the host. Wait to be shown to your seat. There is a protocol to this based on hierarchy where the senior most person is seated furthest from the entrance.

If it is a traditional affair, you will be seated on carpets on the floor and eating from a communal dish. You will have to eat with your hands, and for this you should only use the fingers of your right hand. There will be a ritualistic washing of hands before and after dining.

Vendor in TurkeyVisiting a home: When visiting a home, you need to show your appreciation for the honor by giving a suitable gift. Do not offer flowers, but chocolates, sweets, and fruits are acceptable. Leave your footwear outside. You should accept the hospitality graciously and never decline any offer of food and drink.

Communication Style: A ‘Yes’ is indicated with an upward nod, and a ‘No’ is the same gesture with raised eyebrows followed by a hissing ‘tsk’. You can address a man by his first name, followed by ‘bey’ and a woman by her first name and ‘hanim.’ If the person has a professional title, make sure you use that.

Dos and Don’ts: Being a secular state, alcohol is freely available. But you have to keep in mind that Muslims fast in the holy month of Ramadan from dawn to dusk and it would be a good move on your part to not indulge in their presence. Refrain from conversing about contentious politics or current affairs.

Spice Market Istanbul
Photo by Brian Snelson

Man smiling by cocate
Houses by Veyis Polat
2 ladies by sly06
Dancer and boats by Kivanc Nis
2 boy by Alexander De Luca

Language Need Not Be a Barrier

by Beverly Cooper |

Cultural Sensitivity, Language Acquisition

Sign languageOkay, we can probably all agree that trying to learn as much of a language as possible before visiting another country is the best case scenario. Not only will it help you get around, but it shows your hosts that you care about them and took the time to try to learn language on their terms. Unfortunately, there are some situations where learning a language beforehand is just not possible. For example, I knew one missionary who had prepared long and hard for her life in Chad. One week after her arrival, civil unrest caused her to be evacuated to Cameroon.

What if you have to leave suddenly and don’t have time to learn the language, such as in a disaster response situation? What if you are on a trip that requires you to travel to several different areas? You might be able to learn a few simple greetings in each language, but more in depth language learning might not be possible for every country you are visiting. Sometimes you might spend years learning the language but are faced with situations where you just aren’t able to communicate at the level the conversation requires.

In whatever language situation you do happen to find yourself, just don’t panic. Communication issues are totally normal when visiting or even living in any new country. There are all sorts of ways to communicate with others besides language. Below are some suggestions:

Say it without words

Most of us have played charades at some time in our lives. Use hands, arms, legs, facial expressions, and anything else you can think of to get your point across. There is a little drama king or queen in all of us.

Draw a picture

All of us are not artists, but we can draw something simple to get our point across. If we can’t draw, we can show. Once on a trip to Mexico, we had brought shoes to an orphanage. The house mother was desperately trying to tell me in Spanish of a problem with a pair of the shoes. I just wasn’t getting it until she actually drew me a picture. Then, there it was, obvious on paper— two right shoes. The moral to that story is to check gifts for problems before you haul them across the country. But that is another story.

Ask for help

If there are other people around, ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask kids. Many kids are taught other languages in school. They also pick language up from television. I have depended on kids more than once to translate simple things for me.

Speak and write the words

If the languages are from the same root language, such as Latin, some words could be similar or even the same. They may sound a little different, because of a person’s accent, but still mean the same thing. If possible, write the word out. The spelling may offer a clue. Of course, if you are in somewhere far from Latin roots, this is not going to work at all for you:)

Carry a pocket dictionary

This is a great tool to have on hand. If there is something you really need to say, but can’t, look it up in your dictionary and show your non-English speaking friend the word in their language. I once was at a dinner with some friends in East Asia. They were desperately trying to tell me what it was that I was eating, but I just couldn’t understand them. They had their own pocket dictionary on hand and looked up the word to let me know that my delicious meal was made from pig ear.

Be patient

Yes, all this can be frustrating and downright tiring, but patience is the key. Hopefully, the above points will help when you are in situations where verbal communication is limited. Be patient, relax, and have fun with it. Communicating with those from other languages can also be extremely rewarding.

Next week: How to teach yourself a new language

Thailand:Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Asia, Cultural Sensitivity, Thailand

Photo by René Ehrhardt


mapLocation: Southeast Asia; bounded on the West by Myanmar and the Indian Ocean, on the Southeast by Malaysia and the Gulf of Thailand, on the East by Cambodia, and on the Northeast by Laos.

Capital: Bangkok

Climate: Hot summers with tropical rain and cool winters

Population: 63,038,247 according to 2007 estimates. The Thai economy has recovered from a major slump in 1997 and now sees a steady growth due to a rise in exports, industry, tourism, and private consumption. Unemployment rate is just about 2%.

Ethnic Make-up: Thai 75%, Chinese 14%, Others 11% Religions: Buddhist 94.6%, Muslim 4.6%, Christian 0.7%, Others 0.1%. The government guarantees freedom to practice the religion of your choice, and evangelism is legal.

swimLanguage: Thai, English

Government: Constitutional monarchy

Travel Issues: For a 30-day stay, visitors hailing from U.K., U.S., Australia, Canada, EU, and Japan do not require a visa, but must have a valid passport and a confirmed return ticket. Others can obtain an entry visa at the immigration checkpoints at major ports of entry. You need to note that queues for this service may be interminably long.

For visits longer than 30 days, you need to apply for a visa at the Thai Consulate in your country. Submit a completed application form, with 2 passport-sized photos, visa fees, stamped, self-addressed special delivery envelope, an international health certificate, and a letter from a Thai business partner if requiring a business visa.

Health & Safety: Immunizations against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Tetanus, Diphtheria, MMR, and Japanese encephalitis are strongly recommended. You should also be aware of the risks of avian flu, traveller’s diarrhoea, malaria, and HIV/AIDS infections.

Dehydration is something you should watch out for when being out in the tropical sun. There is a smoke haze hazard in the northern states which might trigger respiratory ailments. Watch out for jelly fish stings while swimming in the sea.

Photo by Butch Osborne


fruitThe People: Thais are very informal, friendly people famous for their smiling countenances. Traditional values and conservative behavior mark rural life, while the cities are epitomes of modernity. They are very hospitable and eager to please, and make visitors welcome.

The Religion: The religion of the majority is Buddhism, followed by minorities of Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others.

eyesRole of Family: Families in rural areas continue age old lifestyles based on farming and agriculture. Women take up the duties of running efficient households and bringing up children. They are subservient to the rule of the male but have total control of the home economy. Men rarely interfere in home affairs and often have no clue as to the intricacies of household management.

Ancestors: Thais have enormous respect for their ancestors and have various rituals and commemorations to honor their dead forefathers. The ancestors are counted on to help in times of need and bring good fortune, if suitably venerated.

Anything else important for this culture: Under the smiling countenances lie deep rooted traditional values of respect, discipline, and manners. Respect for elders is palpably shown in greeting and body language.

Photo by RussBowling


Meetings & Greetings: The traditional greeting is called a wai, and you do this by holding your palms close in front of your chest and bowing slightly. The higher you hold the palms, the more the respect. The highest is reserved for monks, elders and senior family members. Hello and Good mornings are equally acceptable in business circles. It is customary to shake hands as a form of greeting. Handshakes are never vice-like but rather limp. The former is considered aggressive and insulting.

soupCourtesy: Thais believe it is rude to disagree outright, and so always seem to agree even when they are not inclined to do so. It takes practice to discern their covert disagreement. It is considered rude to talk ill of monks, the royal family, or important persons.

Gift Giving: It is customary to give gifts to cement a relationship, though it is never done in the initial stages of a meeting. If after you have reached an agreement and find that everything is going well, you can consolidate your new relationship with a gift. A gift is also considered appropriate when invited to someone’s house.

Never use black or white gift wrappers; red is considered auspicious. Do not gift leather items to Hindus, or alcohol to Muslims.

hutDress Code: In spite of a reputation of a frivolous nature, the Thais are a surprisingly conservative society. Especially when travelling through rural areas it is recommended that women cover their shoulders, arms, and knees. Men can get by happily in shorts. In business circles your casual attire might not raise eyebrows but you would most certainly be considered low brow. It is best to suit up to impress your Thai counterpart.

Dining Etiquette: Dining is serious business and seen as a means of consolidating relationships than a mere exercise in consuming food. Traditional seating involves sitting on the floor and eating off low tables. While seated on the floor you need to keep your legs folded by your side. If you find that uncomfortable, you can sit any which way you like but make sure the soles of your feet are not pointed at anyone. Some foods are best eaten with your hands, but others can be eaten with a fork and spoon.

Visiting a home: When visiting a home, take along a suitable gift. Leave your footwear outside the home. Thais are extremely hospitable and will bombard you with their care and concern.

Photo by RussBowling

Communication Style: Thais have a placid bonhomie that makes conversing with them a lesson in relaxation. Aggression is considered a sign of weakness according to Buddhism and so you’ll be hard pressed to find them lose their tempers as often as the rest of us. They go to great lengths to not lose face, which means to avoid being disgraced in public either through arguments or shouting matches.

monkDos and Don’ts: When visiting temples, make sure your attire is suitable. You need to be fully covered and dignified in your behaviour. All statues of Buddha, even those in a state of ruin, are considered sacred. You should not indulge in frivolous behavior in their vicinity. Women should avoid looking at monks or making eye contact with them. Do not touch people on their heads or point your foot in anyone’s direction. This is the height of ill manners

It is important to note that the king of Thailand is deeply revered by the Thai people and should never be insulted.  Even when folding money, it is polite to make a 3-way fold so as to not create a crease on the face of the king. On certain days, a majority of people will wear yellow shirts to show honor to the king.

Photo by tootafunk

Map by Steph & Adam
Monk by Akuppa
Soup by joaquinuy
Village hut by Mot the barber
Fruit by Alaskan Dude
Floating kid by hélê
Boy’s eyes by Sarbil Olivier

Peru: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Cultural Sensitivity, Facts and Stats, Peru, South America, Travel, Travel Health & Safety

snow mountain peru
Photo by Rick McCharles


map of peruLocation: South America, bounded on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil and Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean.

Capital: Lima.

Climate: Tropical in the east to dry desert weather in the west and temperate to frigid in the Andes.

Population: 29,180,900 as per July 2008 estimates. About 44.5% of the population live below poverty line according to 2006 estimates. A 2007 statistic puts the rate of unemployment in Lima at 6.9% while the rest of the country faces widespread underemployment. Peru’s economy is affected by a lack of modern infrastructure to support investment leading to overdependence on traditional avenues of income such as metals and minerals. However, the period between 2002-06 saw some stability with a growth spurt in 2007. Other than metals and minerals, Peru’s economy depends on exports in agriculture, textiles and newly developed natural gas projects.

peru manEthnic Make-up: Amerindian 45%, Mestizo 37%, White 15%, Others including Black, Japanese, and Chinese 3%.

Religions: Roman Catholic 81%, Other Christian denominations 2.2%, Others including Judaism, Baha’i, Islam, and Hinduism 16%. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and citizens may practise their faiths unrestricted. Evangelisation ministries and charity works are carried out by various Christian denominations all over the country.

Language: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, other Amazonian languages.

Government: Constitutional Republic

peruvian marketTravel Issues: You require a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining validity to enter Peru. North and South American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and most West European nationals can obtain a visit visa on arrival for up to 90 days stay. You will be given a tourist card which has to be kept safe and returned when you leave the country. It is very important to not lose or misplace this card as it can cause quite a lot of grief if you do so. For a period longer than 90 days for a tourist visa you need to exit the country for at least 2 days, possibly to a neighbouring country such as Chile or Ecuador, and obtain another 90 days validity. You may also renew at the Department of Immigration in Lima or Cusco for a period of 30 days and a maximum of 3 renewals.

Health & Safety: Visitors to Peru need to watch out for and be immunized against high risk of infectious diseases such as Hepatitis A, cholera, malaria, typhoid, dengue fever, Oroya fever and yellow fever. An International Certificate of Vaccination for Yellow Fever is required if you are arriving from an infected region.

machu picchu in fog
photo by kudumomo


girls with lamas peruThe People
There is a distinct difference between the various cultures, none more so pronounced as the one between the white creoles of Spanish descent who inhabit the cities and the local indigenous people of the mountains. Cities such as Lima have most modern conveniences suited to a western lifestyle while the rural areas continue a more traditional life. Most families are dependent on farming for sustenance.

dancers in peruThe Religion
The population of Peru is predominantly Roman Catholic due to their Spanish colonial history. Other religions such as Buddhism and Baha’I have established themselves due to the influx of migrants from the East. Modern day missionary works have resulted in various Christian denominations such as the Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans, and others taking root in Peru society.

lima slumsRole of Family
Family structure is distinct in the indigenous culture and the European people of Peru. Among the Inca people, for instance, social duties such as work, marriage, and property ownership are focussed within the members of a large extended family. They perform as a unit with the onus being on interdependence rather than individuality. Among the European Creole culture, the values are more along the lines of the modern nuclear family living in the cities.

Ancestors are revered and worshipped by all indigenous people. Burial grounds are held as sacred grounds and elaborate rituals are held in remembrance of ancestors. Respect for the dead and all of life is an integral part of their beliefs that are based on the need to assure enqa, or the eternal life force, that ensures fertility and harmony.

ancient peru maskRecreational Activities
Football (Soccer) is a national passion enjoyed by all ages. The dramatic landscape of Peru naturally encourages outdoor sports such as hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, white water rafting, surfing, paragliding, and sandboarding.

Anything else important for this culture
The culture of Peru dates back 10,000 years and is still rooted in it to a large extent. This is a vibrant society that celebrates about 3000 festivals a year and has a huge variety of indigenous arts, crafts, music, and dance. Spanish colonisation and Asian immigrants have added elements to this ancient culture that give it a universal appeal. It is wise to avoid discussing ancestry with people, especially with indigenous Indians.

 schoolgirl in peru
photo by tinou bao


Meetings & Greetings
Handshakes are an acceptable form of greeting; however, there is a difference when greeting an Amerindian and a Peruvian. The former are less extroverted and may not actually shake hands but rather brush hands with minimum of contact. Peruvians are more exuberant in their greetings and shake hands on meeting and taking leave. The common form of greeting is a cheerful Buenos dias (good day), buenas tardes (good afternoon) or buenas noches (good night) depending on time of day. Conversation on first meeting should hover around light, non-controversial topics such as health of family, the sights you’ve enjoyed seeing, or food you liked particularly.

smiling woman in peruCourtesy
In a country that has various cultures there are many local names for the different cultural groups that may have connotations not obvious to the outsider. For instance, the word indios refers to Amerindians but is not considered as polite as indigenas which is the acceptable form. Gringos denote any foreigner and need not be considered an insult. Cholos refers to Peruvians of colour but is racist. To be on the safe side refrain from using any of this sort of descriptions to address people or refer to anyone.

Gift Giving
Peruvians are very friendly hospitable people and have no qualms inviting friends to their homes. If you receive such an invitation, it is acceptable to arrive with a gift. This gift should not be too expensive or flashy. Rather than going for local fare it would be a better idea to gift some souvenir or packaged goodies from your own country.

Dress Code
Dress code hovers around neat casual for business and formal occasions. Show of skin is considered unclassy, especially when visiting churches, museums, and other sacred or historical places.

peruvian train
photo by  exfordy

Dining Etiquette
If you’re invited to dinner, it’s wise to remember that this could be rather late. Have a little snack to prevent hunger pangs till meal time gets underway. If you initiate an invitation to dinner, it is your turn to pick up tabs. If on the other hand you have been invited by a Peruvian friend, you could offer to pay your share but this would inevitably be turned down.

Visiting a home
When visiting a home it is proper to arrive with a suitable gift. This could be a box of chocolates or a good bottle of wine. Punctuality is not a virtue in Peru and people may be late by a better part of an hour. So be prepared to dine late.

 peru town square
photo by 00dann

Communication Style
Spanish is widely spoken and so it would be helpful to learn a bit of useful phrases to get you through. Use greetings to break the ice an start conversations. Peruvians are very friendly and helpful and any effort you make at conversing will be appreciated and encouraged.

Dos and Don’ts
Do not discuss politics, drugs, or indigenous groups unless you have developed close relationships or understand the culture. You are bound to cause offense without even realizing it if not. Amerindians do not make eye contact when communicating unlike the less reserved Peruvians. Do not use your index finger to motion to people, rather use your palm facing downwards and beckon with all fingers sweeping down. Do not discuss money, wages, financial prowess or status with locals. If faced with such questions deflect them diplomatically and talk in general terms.

kids with lamas by Phillie Casablanca
slums by James Preston
map by  thejourney1972
dancers by  Miguel Vera
smiling woman by quinet
market girls tinou bao
mask by

Rwanda: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Africa, Cultural Sensitivity, Rwanda


Beautiful African Road
Photo by d_proffer

Location: Central Africa; bordered by Burundi in the South, Uganda in the North, Tanzania in the East, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the West.

Map of RwandaCapital: Kigali

 Climate: Surprisingly cool due to the high altitude. Hot in summer, with two rainy seasons

Population: 9,907,509 according to 2007 estimates. The economy of the land is mainly agriculture based, but the ethnic massacre of 1994 took a massive toll. Lately extraction of natural gas and other industry have given a boost to the flagging economy. With generous amounts of international aid and privatization programs there is a 6% annual growth which bodes well for the future of the country.

Boys in RwandaEthnic Make-up: Hutu 85%, Tutsi 14%, Twa 1% Religions: Christians (Roman Catholic) 70%, Muslim minority 5%, Indigenous 25%

Language: Kinyarwanda, French, English, Kiswahili used for trade and commerce

Government: Republic

Travel Issues: A valid visa is required for travel to Rwanda by all visitors except nationals of Tanzania, Uganda, and the U.S. for up to 3 months stay. A completed application form, along with a valid passport, 2 passport-sized photos, statement of reason for visit, and visa fee is to be submitted to the Consulate in your country. You can extend your visa at the Immigration office in Kigali.

Skulls in RwandaHealth & Safety: Immunization against Yellow fever is mandatory. Cholera, Typhoid, Polio, Malaria, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B vaccinations are strongly recommended. If you plan to visit rural and forest areas and may come into contact with wildlife, a rabies shot is advised. Clean water is scarce and water for all use from brushing teeth to drinking should be boiled or bottled. Avoid swimming in fresh water to prevent Bilharzia, which is the case of miniscule worms entering your body through the skin. Other risks include Trypanosomisasis (sleeping sickness), onchocerciasis (river blindness), and meningococcal meningitis. Be warned that in the event of an emergency, medical facilities are limited. Border areas, especially the one with the Democratic Republic of Congo, are said to be dangerous and any travel outside of the capital, Kigali, is best avoided.

smoke on the mountains africa 
Photo by d_proffer


boys in rwandaThe People: The Hutus are the majority population and are mostly an agrarian community. Each family cultivates its own land and live on it. They do not form communities but live apart. Rwandans are known for their soft-spoken nature and polite mannerisms.

The Religion: Christianity is the major religion in Rwanda, with a large Roman Catholic following. Their worship is however tinged with their traditional beliefs and rituals. About a quarter of the population are animist, in that they do not worship any deity, but believe that there is a soul in all things, including animals, plants and other entities.

Rwanda Gorilla ParkRole of Family: Traditionally, the families are patrilineal. There is a great degree of reverential fear for the older generation who take control of the whole extended family. The oldest male has the last word and is seen as closest to the ancestors. Children belong to the whole family and are brought up as such. Paternal uncles are referred to as “the other fathers.”

Ancestors: Rwandans have great respect for their ancestors and consider them the link between God and the living. They worship their ancestors and propitiate them with sacrifices and prayers.

Recreational Activities: Wildlife safaris are a favorite recreational activity. Next in line of popularity is mountain climbing. In the rural areas youngsters have a passion for athletics and football. Traditional singing and dancing are part of routine life and taken part by all ages with gusto.

 Rwandan Children
Photo by genvessel


Rwanda BicycleMeetings & Greetings: In business circles, a firm handshake is the accepted norm of greeting. When meeting the opposite gender, a slight bow with a courteous Good morning should suffice. Small talk should pave the way for what’s to follow. When in doubt, take your cues from your host. Do not expect Western-style expansiveness and casual body language.

Courtesy: Normal social courtesies should see you through comfortably. Keep your voice levels low and your movements slow and dignified. Eye contact between males is a sign of confidence.

African BusGift Giving: Though there is no gift giving concept, it may be considered courteous to carry a simple gift when visiting a family. If involved in business deals, learn to distinguish between gift and bribe.

Dress Code: If on business, it is advisable to wear a lightweight suit and tie. Appointments should be made well in advance and confirmed closer to the date. Some French may help you get ahead, as most Rwandians do not speak English. Women should preferable be well-covered with shoulders, arms, and legs appropriately covered.

boy in central africaDining Etiquette: In cities like Kigali, dining at restaurants may not involve anything more than normal table manners. For other situations, take your cue from your host. While there are no rigid rules or formalities, you would need to tread with caution if dining with an elder.

Visiting a home: If invited to a home, arrive with a simple gift of chocolates, fruits or some toys for children. Chances are your host will have simple circumstances that he is eager to share with you. Show adequate enthusiasm and appreciation by sharing a meal with the family.

Communication Style: A simple, direct mode of communication should see you safely through. Do not engage in arguments or unnecessary comparisons that will hurt the sentiments of your host. Rwandians can be quite emotional and can easily be agitated by unwarranted condescension. It is best to keep things simple and uncomplicated.

Dos and Don’ts: However close you feel to your host, do not bring up contentious topics such as politics or religion. The society is heavily patriarchal and there is no concept of women being treated anywhere near as equal as men. Therefore, a single woman attempting discussions or meetings will not be taken seriously unless accompanied by a male.

downtown kigali
Photo by d_proffer

Skulls, Gorilla sign, Bicycle, and Bus photos by d_proffer
3 boys by loufi
Two closeup boys by genvessel
Smiling Boy by TKnoxB

Coconuts, Sweet Potatoes and Communion

by Heather Carr |

Contextualization in Missions, Cultural Sensitivity

coconut treeWhen I went away to college, I thought receiving Holy Communion was radical stuff. Little did I know, the world of the Blessed Sacrament is about as varied and diverse as the people who receive it. Filipino Christians have been known to replace bread and wine with coconuts, which are a mainstay in their diet. The coconut is broken, and the recipients drink of its milk and eat of the fruit’s flesh, though some have complained about the milk’s pale color. In Taiwan, a communing Christian may encounter a duo of sweet potatoes and tea while partaking of the Body and Blood.

Indonesia offers an interesting twist. Theologians there tried using chicken meat in the sacrament. The popular bird is considered to be a symbol of God’s love, based on the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 23:37, “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings …” The rooster also serves as a reminder of our vulnerability. A warning that we, too, could deny Christ as Peter once did. Strong rice wine is also used to replace traditional wine or grape juice. Now that would make for an interesting Sunday morning service.

The unique ways in which Christ’s command to take and eat are put into practice today are a beautiful reflection of God’s creation. No matter what the means of receiving Holy Communion, we all share the common reminder of the sacrifice Christ made for us, a sacrifice which bonds us to Him for eternity.

Coconut tree photo by Swami Stream

The Struggle of Contextualization

by Melissa Chang |

Contextualization in Missions, Cultural Sensitivity, Muslim Contextualization

boy prayingOne of the most difficult struggles in church planting and missions in new cultures isn’t just the culture shock, it’s figuring out the fine line between respecting the culture of a people without watering down the gospel or compromising its message. For example, according to a blog called LeakeSpeak, here are a few questions faced when Muslims become Christians:

  • By what name do you call God? Do you tell people that Allah is not God and then try and introduce them to the one true God, giving him some other name? Or do you say that Allah is the one true God and then try and help lead people to a clearer understanding of his true nature?
  • Can a believer worship God in a mosque? Or should s/he never go to a mosque again after beginning to follow Christ?
  • Muslims customarily kneel and pray five times a day. Is this an okay practice for a follower of Christ to continue, or should a Muslim-background believer be encouraged to avoid it?

In a comment posted later, the author tried to show us what the line might look like from an Americna perspective. Here is his comment:

Taking it back to an example in our own culture, which of the following would go over better with you if you were a non-Christian parent in the U.S.?

–Your kid comes home, says he’s accepted Christ, he continues to live in your community as an American, and you see a radical change in his life, OR

–Your kid comes home, says he’s accepted Christ, he’s therefore no longer of this world, so he renounces his U.S. citizenship, refuses to salute the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance, burns his passport, will never watch a baseball game again because it’s the American passtime, and abstains from apple pie because that’s also too American.

Obviously, it is of utmost important to find that line that continues to maintain culture, without compromising what the very basics are of becoming a Christ follower. The services might change, the music will certainly change…but there is so much more to consider.  What is the bottom line of what it means to follow Jesus and how can we only pass that on to the new believers without forcing our own culture upon them?  That is the question.

Photo by Terminalnomad Photography

Egypt: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Africa, Cultural Sensitivity, Egypt


Location: North-Eastern Africa; Bordered by the Red Sea and Israel on the East, Sudan on the South, Libya to the West, and the Mediterranean Sea to the North.

map of egyptCapital: Cairo

Climate: Summer is hot and dry, while winters are mild in the day and extremely cold at night. Hot spring winds known as sirocco can rise up to sandstorms during the months from March to May.

Population: 80,335,036 according to July 2007 estimates. The Egyptian economy is propped up by agriculture, industry, crude oil and petroleum products. About 23% of the population are plagued by poverty which is directly attributed to overpopulation. The official unemployment rate stays at 12%.

bedouin girlEthnic Make-up: Eastern Hamitic 99% including Egyptians, Bedouins, and Berbers; Minorities 1% including Nubians, Armenians, Greeks, Italian, French

Religions: Muslim 90%, Christian 8%, Others 2%. Islam is the official religion. Evangelism is illegal, but there is considerable missionary work being carried out mainly by Protestants and the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Language: Egyptian Arabic is the spoken language while Standard Arabic is the official written form. English and French are also used in business and education.

Government: Arab Republic

egypt pyramidsTravel Issues: Visitors to Egypt require a visa and this can be obtained from the Embassies or Consulates in your country. You can also get an entry visa upon arrival at major ports of entry. Applications forms may be obtained from the airlines prior to landing in Egypt.

Health & Safety: Yellow fever immunization is mandatory. Others recommended are against hepatitis A, polio, tetanus, typhoid, malaria, and rabies. Protect yourself against contracting Schistosomiasis or Bilharzias which is caused by tiny worms entering your body through the skin, by not swimming in freshwater. If you do get wet, dry off immediately and thoroughly and change clothes.

Though crime is not as rampant as in other areas, you still have to watch out for petty thieves and pickpockets, as well as scamsters out to make a quick buck.

SOCIETY & CULTUREEgyptian Family Meal

The People: Egypt is an ancient civilization that has happily accepted modern conveniences while deeply rooted in traditional values and customs. Men and women have well-defined roles and equal importance is accorded to all responsibilities. Children are valued and brought up with deeply inculcated values. Both boys and girls take up household chores as soon as they are old enough. Boys herd sheep and farm the land, while girls learn to cook, sew and run the household.

Sailboat on NileThe Religion: Religion is a way of life and strong deterrent against waywardness. Islam is the official religion and has about 90% followers, the majority of whom belong to the Sunni sect. Christianity is practiced by about 8% and this includes Catholics, Protestants, and the Coptic Orthodox which are the majority. The Baha’i faith is also followed by a small minority, and there is a miniscule Jewish population.

Role of Family: Strong family bonds exist in extended families that include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The consequences of any disaster or good fortune are shared by all. It is considered a duty to stand by a family member in times of need. Elders take care of grievances between family members and they are obeyed without question.

man smoking shishaAncestors: The pyramids stand testimony to the Egyptian belief in afterlife. There are numerous festivals that attempt at bringing the dead and the living closer, marked by boisterous dancing and feasting. It is firmly believed that the ancestors, if propitiated well, could gain favours for the living from the gods.

Recreational Activities: Football is a national favorite, while boxing, wrestling, basketball, volleyball and weightlifting are highly popular too. In rural areas wrestling, weightlifting, ball games, and stick fencing are firm favorites.

Anything else important for this culture: Though not very superstitious as a rule, a belief in the evil eye is widespread. They go to great lengths to ward this off, and it is important to not try and contradict their efforts.


Meetings & Greetings: A traditional Muslim can be greeted with the formal Asalaam um Alaikum. A not too firm handshake while making eye contact is the best way to greet folks of the same gender. If you’re on more friendly terms, a kiss on both cheeks may be called for. This is never so in the case of the opposite gender. When greeting a woman, wait for her to extend her hand first. If she does not do so, simply bow your head in greeting instead of a handshake.

boys in egyptCourtesy: It is common courtesy to bring along a gift if invited to visit someone’s house. When inviting an Egyptian to your home, a first invitation may be declined to show respect, but the second one will be accepted gracefully. Remove your footwear before entering a home. Punctuality is highly appreciated.

Gift Giving: Gifts are offered when visiting or during feasts and festivals. For visiting a home, chocolates, pastries, or a box of candies makes the perfect choice. Do not give personal items such as clothes, jewellery, perfumes, etc. Flowers are not usually gifted. Give and receive with the right hand or both hands.

Gate in EgyptDress Code: Egyptians set great store by appearances. A neat, dignified appearance goes a long way in endearing you to the others. A good business suit is a must for men to make a good impression. Casual clothing is acceptable, and light clothing is recommended in summer. Women are advised to keep shoulders, arms, and knees covered at all times.

Dining Etiquette: Seating at a table follows a hierarchy that might not seem obvious. Therefore it is wise to wait till you’re invited to be seated. Food is eaten with the right hand. Do not salt your food at the table as this is considered insulting, especially in a home. You need not finish all the food on your plate, as a little left over indicates that you are satiated. A second helping is considered a compliment.

man at egyptian pyramidVisiting a home: When invited to visit a home, you could demur a little. A second invitation should be accepted. It is customary to carry a small gift as a token of your appreciation. Chocolates, pastries, fruits, and candies make good gifts. Avoid personal and very expensive items. Leave your footwear at the door, and wait to be shown to your seat.

Communication Style: Most Egyptians speak or at least understand English. But it is important that you speak to them clearly, enunciating each word to avoid misunderstandings. It does not have to descend to a mime show, but should be kept to a natural rhythm without artifice. Egyptians are highly emotional people and it is best to keep conversations off controversial topics such as religion or politics. They have a great sense of humor but avoid jokes of a political or sexual nature.

Egyptian Cart Boys

Dos and Don’ts: Do not gift flowers. Do not serve pork if you’re entertaining Muslims. You do not have to pay the bill or tips if you’re the guest at a restaurant dinner. On the other hand if you are the host, it is your duty to discreetly take care of the bill. Respect the prayer time schedules and Friday prayers, as well as the holy month of Ramadan when the Muslim population will be fasting from dawn to dusk. It will be insensitive on a visitor’s part to be seen smoking, drinking, or even chewing gum in their presence.

Pyramid photo by Tom@HK
Gate and Skyline by  Kris*M
Shisha photo by  simonkoležnik
Family photo by  7_70
2 Boys, Nile, Dresses by molajen
Man by Pyramids by eviljohnius
map by elicrisko ?
Bedouin Girl by
Paolo Camera
Smiling kids by mshamma

Does Handing Out Tracts Do Any Good?

by Melissa Chang |

Asia, Cultural Sensitivity, Evangelism, Stories from the Field, Thailand

This is an article originally posted by Thailand missionaries, Karl and Sun.  They write a blog titled Gleanings from the Field. 

thai temple
Photo by René Ehrhardt

“Before I came to Thailand in 1999, I had never handed out a tract in my life. The practice of handing out tracts is not very common in the U.S. anymore and even among evangelical Christians it seems to be regarded as some kind of weird unnatural activity that only really over-the-top religious nuts engage in. Perhaps the current emphasis on friendship evangelism and building relationships in order to share the Gospel (which is good and proper as the primary method of personal evangelism) has contributed to the disdain which has fell upon handing out tracts. Tracting can seem very impersonal and artificial, but it IS one means among many that God uses to reach people with the Gospel. It really shouldn’t be a stand-alone method of evangelism, but just one link in a chain of Gospel sowing that can contribute to people understanding and accepting the Gospel. Granted, lots of tracts end up in the dustbin or along the roadside, but God does use tracts as the following story illustrates. A fellow missionary gave me permission to share this encouraging story:熊出没攀岩滑梯

Buddhist Monk“This past Sunday two visitors came to church at In Grace Church: Colonel Surasak Banjukaew and his wife, Wanpen. I know them a bit (he attended SEANET this past year), but as I sat eating lunch with them I was able to learn much more about them. Surasak is the founder of a ministry among members of the military and the police force. Being a Christian in the military or police cannot be easy in this country. I find myself very encouraged that someone of his rank serves Christ so openly.

What I took special note of, though, is how Surasak and his wife became Christians. Back in the 80’s Geoff Case, an OMF Missionary in Bangkok, was going door to door, handing out tracts, and came upon Surasak’s home. At the time he was a clear Buddhist, rising in the ranks of the Thai army. Wanpen’s interest grew, and as she studied the Bible with Geoff’s wife, Surasak became interested too. They both turned to Christ and immediately started going out with the Cases doing open air evangelism and tracting.

It is this two part involvement that we aim for: Sowing with things like tracts, and saturating through Bible study with seekers. Often we don’t feel very good at either of these. Surasak’s and Wanpen’s words this weekend have encouraged us to keep our aim and press on. Thank you for backing us in prayer.”

Monk photo by Akuppa

Japan: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Asia, Cultural Sensitivity, Facts and Stats, Japan


 japan map

Location: East Asia, a group of islands located between North Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan, and the Korean Peninsula.

Capital: Tokyo

Climate: Cool temperate in the Northern regions to tropical in the South.

Population: 127,288,416 as of July 2008. An almost routine familiarity with high technology in almost all walks of life, a disciplined work ethic, and comparatively small allocation towards defence funds have seen Japan rise to be one of the most powerful economies in the modern world. Agriculture, seafood, electronics, domestic appliance industries, automobiles, and tourism are the strong foundations that rule its economy. Japan has an unemployment rate of under 4% as of 2007 estimates and no citizens below poverty line.

street in japanEthnic Make-up: Japanese 98%, Koreans 0.5%, Chinese 0.4%, Others 1.1% (includes Brazilians of Japanese origin who returned in the 1990s).

Religions: Buddhism and Shintoism 84%, Others 16%, Christianity 0.7%. The Japanese Constitution guarantees freedom of religion but no religion shall be privileged over an other not attempt to influence politics.

Language: Japanese

Government: Constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government.

Travel Issues: Travel to Japan requires a passport that is valid for at least 3 months beyond intended period of stay, and a return ticket or ticket for onward travel. Countries such as USA require no visa for up to 3 months of visiting. Other categories such as Business, Diplomatic Missions, Sports, Education, etc have specific requirements and current information can be had from the nearest Embassy or Consulate.

Non-US citizens should have a passport with at least 6 months validity remaining. They need to submit 2 completed and signed visa forms with 2 recent passport photos, a completed Cover Page and Credit Card Authorization forms, copy of itinerary or return ticket, and a business letter stating purpose of travel if on business.

Health & Safety: No vaccinations are asked for when travelling to Japan. However, it would be wise to check up on specifications close to date of travel in case of epidemics.


Mount Fuji

The People
The Japanese people are an amazing amalgamation of a millennia old civilisation and an ultra-modern culture, especially so in big cities such as Tokyo. They exemplify a deep respect, politeness, discipline, and responsibility in their undertakings supported by a harmony that pervades social behaviour.

The Religion
The Japanese practice a form of syncretism which means an easy synthesis of elements of various religions. Practitioners of Buddhism have no qualms celebrating Christmas or incorporating Shintoism in their rituals just as philosophies such as Taoism or Confucianism. Shinto is the original religion of Japan but it was more a way of life with no formal founder, holy book, or fixed rules. Buddhism came to Japan from India in the 6th century and easily took over from Shintoism. Protestant missionaries came to Japan in the 19th century and spread Christianity. There is a smattering of Hindus, Sikhs, and American Jews in addition to the main religions.

snow monkeysRole of Family
The conservative family structure involving generations living together has undergone a shift in modern times. But the family ties are strong and the elderly are still considered the responsibility of the progeny. Children are taught the values of interdependence with in families rather than encouraged to strike out on their own. Families are seen as a source of support as well as a unit of pride and honour that has to be maintained.

Japan celebrates Respect for the Aged Day as a national holiday. Old age marks a period where individuals willingly relinquish reins of control to the next in line and retire to less strenuous options. They are then in the care of their kin and treated with respect and care simply due to their seniority. This duty normally falls on the daughter –in-law of the household.

In modern societies however, most pensioners are happy to remain by themselves as far as possible and most continue to work well past retirement age. This has brought about a dramatic rise in the number of nursing homes and retirement centre, a concept which was non-existent about fifty years ago.

Recreational Activities
From manga, anime, ikebana, origami, to karate, karaoke, and video gaming, Japan has a range of recreational and sport activities that have avid followers of all ages.

Anything else important for this culture
Japanese customs may come across as strange to outsiders and this is understood and accepted by them. But it earns you a lot of respect if you attempt to follow their etiquette and manners.


 downtown japan

Meetings & Greetings
In Japan you greet people with a low formal bow from the waist down. The depth of the bow depends on how much respect you intend to convey. The more senior the person you’re greeting, the lower you bow. Foreigners can make do with a slight bow or even shake hands instead.

It is considered impolite to introduce yourselves unless pushed to do so. You do not make direct eye contact with seniors. There is a great deal of emphasis on good manners, quiet conversation, and polite behaviour. For instance, it is considered rude to interrupt, disagree blatantly, or argue. There is a subtle play of body language to express these things without insulting or hurting the sentiments of others. There is also a great need to save face or avoid humiliating anyone or putting anyone in an embarrassing situation.

soba noodlesGift Giving
Gift-giving is no spur of the moment thing in Japan, rather, it is a well thought out and planned gesture that speaks volumes about both presenter and receiver. Chocolates wrapped well should do for most occasions. The colour of the wrapping is also significant as they are associated with good or bad fortune. Get advice from a local friend or the shopkeeper to be on the safe side. Gifting flowers can be quite a bother as some flowers such as lilies and lotuses are considered inauspicious. Potted plants are unlucky but bonsai is good. If its something countable, make sure it adds up to an odd number. However, avoid 9 as it is unlucky.

Dress Code
Formal suits are ideal for business meetings for both men and women. Conservative is key.

Dining Etiquette
Wait to be seated at the table for this is based on seniority. And again, do not start eating till the honoured guest or the eldest member has begun. If using chopsticks make sure you do not point them directly at anyone. Place them on the chopstick rest between mouthfuls. They should be placed parallel and never crossed. It is okay to slurp soup

 Japan Castle

Visiting a home
If you’re invited to dinner at a home, make sure you leave your footwear outside and put on slippers provided by the family. If you need to visit the toilets they have special footwear for that. Bring an appropriate gift and give it unobtrusively without drawing attention to the act. Avoid being very late or very early.

geisha in japanCommunication Style
Very few Japanese speak fluent English and it would serve you well to learn a few useful phrases to make life easier. Non-verbal communication is another thing that you should be acquainted with in order to interact better. Japanese people are quick to catch nuances in body language and base opinions on that. Japanese people usually maintain an almost expressionless face as they speak in order to avoid conveying any hidden meaning. If someone is frowning slightly as you speak, it means disagreement. Maintaining eye contact conveys impudence. Inhaling through clenched teeth and scratching the eyebrow are all signs to watch out for.

Dos and Don’ts
As in most eastern cultures, the Japanese have strong beliefs about good and bad fortune. They have definite dos and don’ts where these are concerned and it will serve you well to know what’s taboo and avoid it. Business dealings are decidedly easier if they trust and respect you. So your first priority should be to earn these invaluable credit points. It helps to learn a bit of the language and formalities as it helps to integrate faster into mainstream society.

Click here to take the quiz: How Well Do You REALLY Know Japan?

Geisha photo by ~ezs
Castle photo by Freakland – ???????
Snow monkeys by Marc Veraart
Noodles by ~MVI~
People by tata_aka_T
Downtown by OiMax

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