by Fikirte Teka

Ethiopia, with a very long and rich history, is a home for a population of up to 93.8 million by some estimate and it is  the second most populous nation in Africa.

Ethiopia is a land with diverse cultures of different ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds ranging from Cushitic and Nilotic, like other East African countries, to Semitic like those found in the Middle East. There are more than 80 ethnic groups in Ethiopia, and the country’s name has been mentioned several times in the Bible.

With a hospitality that has transcended time and generations in Ethiopia, visitors truly feel warm welcome and home while they are on visit in the country.

A few words of a local language, no matter how broken they may be, will go a long way in the kind hearts of the people. The day-to-day rituals of the diverse cultures, the traditional ways of eating, using fingers, of Injera (wide and flatbread) with delicious and spicy sauces, and the wholesome aromas of Ethiopian coffee ceremony can only be fully experienced by indulging oneself in these delights.

Ethiopia is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country. People behave in way that is considered as an acceptable norm in their respective cultures. Religion is a major influence in Ethiopian life. Their dressing code is also influenced by their religions and cultural backgrounds. People in different parts of the country display different cultures of dressing style, wedding, mourning, and even foods.

Ethiopian greetings are courteous and somewhat formal. Ethiopians greet each other with sense of respect, and especially the greetings are done in more respectful manner with elders or with guests. Bowing is a sign of respect and most people in Ethiopia bow while greeting people.

The most common form of greeting is a handshake with direct eye contact. Greetings should never be rushed, and one takes time to inquire about the person’s family, health, job, etc. If someone is in rush, he has to explain that he is so, that the other side excuses for the rush greetings.

People are addressed with their honorific title and their first name. “Ato”, “Woizero”, and “Woizerit” are used to address a man, married woman, and unmarried woman respectively. Ethiopians call an elderly man, in Amharic, “AbAba”, and an elderly woman “Emama”. A boy can be called “mamush” and a girl “mimi”.

Elders should be greeted first; and it is customary to bow when introduced to someone who is obviously older or has a more senior position, and children are often seen doing so.

Ethiopians are hospitable and like to entertain friends in their homes, for this they invite others to a private home, which should be considered an honor. Punctuality is not strictly adhered to although considerable lateness is also unacceptable.

You may have to remove your shoes at the door. Dress well. Shake hands with each guest individually. A woman should offer to help the hostess with the preparation or clearing up after a meal is served. You will always be offered a cup of coffee. It may be considered impolite to refuse.

Ethiopians are relatively formal and believe table manners are a sign of respect. Do not presume that because food is eaten with the hands, there is a lack of decorum. Expect a small earthenware or metal jug to be brought to the table before the meal is served.

Extend your hands over the basin while water is poured over them. A group of people sit around a table for eating food served in a communal plate. Hierarchy dictates that the eldest person is the first to take food from the communal plate.

Nowadays, especially in urban areas, people can be served, at private homes, with a separate plate, despite there are still households that keep the tradition of previous times of eating in a communal plate.

Guests are often served tasty morsels by another guest in a process called “gursha”. Using his hands, the person places the morsel in the other person’s mouth. Since this is done due to respect, it is a good idea to smile and accept the offering. Expect to be urged to take more food. Providing an abundance of food is a sign of hospitality.

The meal ends with ritual hand-washing and coffee ceremony.

Fikirte Teka

Fikirte is a regular contributor on the blog. She is  a graduate on Ethiopian languages and literature from KETC and in Business Administration and Information Systems from AAU.
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