Ethiopia

Cultural Information

Answers to your intercultural questions from a Canadian and a local point of view.

Cultural Information - Conversations

Question:

I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?

Local Perspective:

As is the case in every society, Ethiopians come from different ethnic, family background, life style, education and work experience and individuals have their unique characteristics. However most Ethiopians are very welcoming, friendly, generous and respectful and expect the same in return. In certain cases, Ethiopians will go out of their way to please or entertain others, including strangers.

Ethiopians appreciate warm greetings, handshakes, positive body language (smile or showing a sign of happiness) and a show of respect. They offer the best they can afford and give priority to their guest. For example, in most cases, Ethiopians will not take a seat before their guests. Things like this should not be interpreted as anything other than a sign of respect. Ethiopian society is very hierarchal i.e., age, wealth, education and social contribution plays a role.

Asking about work, life and family is a very common approach to start a conversation. How are you (Tena-Yestelegn or Endmenot)? How is your family, kids, etc., is part of the daily greetings. Ethiopians are not usually comfortable talking about private or personal matters outside of their family circle. Therefore, it is preferable to avoid discussion about family matter unless advice is solicited (either by you or by the other person). They always speak highly of their family and friends.

The question ’Where are you from?’ can be interpreted in a negative way and it is advisable to avoid such a question. This line of questioning can be interpreted as what is your ethnicity and there are very many people who consider this line of questioning as divisive.

It is advisable to avoid discussion on religion, sex or sexuality and local politics because it is hard to tell where people stand on these topics. Most Ethiopians seem to be indifferent, at least in public, about politics. However, it is possible your comments might be taken as criticism. Most Ethiopians show self pride and do not accept easily being seen as less worthy.

Most of the time a topic for discussion will depend on the age and gender of the person and the popular topic in the city or the country. For example, if you happen to be in Addis when the World Cup is in progress, you can chat with anyone about it, men and women, young and old. Most Ethiopians are soccer fans.

Avoid humour during first contact and if the person you are talking to does not seem to have a good command of the English language or\and you do not speak the local language. It is hard to tell how it can be interpreted. But Ethiopians love humour.

Canadian Perspective:

Ethiopians tend to exhibit traditional values—they are conservative and modest. It is important to be polite and respectful. Ethiopians generally pride themselves as a culture of hospitality (ie., the traditional coffee ceremony). Greetings are very important and it is very appropriate to ask about family—do you have children, do they go to school, etc etc. Asking about work is less common but depends on what class or background the person has. As Westerners we tend to be more inquisitive than Ethiopians—and sometimes our questions are not that appreciated as they wonder why we want to know so much and may feel suspicious. One has to carefully watch body language to know how the other is feeling.

It is also important to bear in mind that Ethiopia is a large country with a large population. There are clear distinctions between urban vs rural; between rich vs poor; between highland populations and lowland populations; between people who depend on agriculture as a way of life and the pastoral way of life. Of late there has also been more emphasis placed on one’s ethnic origin—the emphasis being on one’s distinctness as Oromo, or Amhara, or Tigrean, or Somali etc. However, many do not like these distinctions, as they realize the dangers of pulling apart their nation. One should not directly ask what ethnic group someone is from. It may come up that they mention they speak a certain language—and then you can ask if they were born in that area.

There are political overtones to most aspects of life in Ethiopia and therefore, politics is a common subject of discussion. However, one should be very careful as opinions can be very strong and there are risks involved in talking in public about ones political views. As a general rule, be a good listener. Only ask a few broad questions or comments about politics unless you really know the person. They will tell you what they want to—don’t pry. Political issues generally do not really involve foreigners—and it is risky to take sides unless one really knows what is going on.

Humour is generally fine—and everyone loves a good laugh. It is often at the expense of someone else. Laughing at oneself is good. As in all cultures, one has to be careful of ’insider’ jokes.

Funerals are important events. If someone dies it is very important to give your condolences—even to go to a wake/funeral for a few minutes is important. If appropriate, a financial contribution may be considerate as funerals cost a lot of money.

Cultural Information - Communication Styles

Question:

What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?

Local Perspective:

It is good to keep a fair distance when speaking with someone and is acceptable to have an eye contact. Actually total avoidance of eye contact could be interpreted as a sign of hiding something. It is good to speak in calm, soft and audible voice. Touching on the shoulder or on the arm when talking face to face with someone of the same sex is okay but touching or holding the opposite sex with some degree of intimacy and looking straight to the eye is not advisable. Pointing fingers at someone or speaking in a loud and angry manner is considered very rude. High voice is a sign of anger or disappointment.

Kissing and hugging is part of the normal greetings and is not, in anyway, an expression of sexual affection. It is common to see women kissing women, women kissing men, and men kissing men on the check in public including in the office. This does not mean they hug and kiss a person whom they have never met before.

Canadian Perspective:

Greeting people is an important and somewhat lengthy (many variations of how are you) ritual. Not only is it important to ask, "How are you?", but it is also important to ask how the children are doing, and to ask about the situation of the home (especially if something out of the ordinary is happening in the family). It is also important to show respect of fellow employees/staff at all times. One way in which respect is demonstrated is to address people with a title—for example, Woizero (Mrs.) Azeb; Ato (Mr.) Solomon; Doctor Tesfaye; Engineer Gebreyes etc.

Most foreigners do make a modest attempt to learn some Amharic. Very few are successful in speaking any of the local languages fluently. This is unfortunate as it does tend to limit the level of engagement with people (and understanding of the culture)—especially in the rural areas. Fortunately, most Ethiopians in the urban areas do speak quite good English—however, one does have to appreciate that English will be their second language.

Everyone shakes hands—it becomes automatic. If you know someone, kissing 3 times on the cheeks is common. If you haven’t seen them for some time kissing 4-5 times is good. For some Muslim’s this may not be as common between men and women—it really depends on the person and the relationship. In some areas and especially with me—a shoulder-to-shoulder kind of greeting is common. If one is not sure, it’s better to make an effort to shake hands and then see what the other person does. Physical space is quite close—no need to keep a certain distance from people. Touching in normal, friendly ways is fine. Canadian children may find everyone wants to kiss them. Parents must decide what they want their children to do, explain it to them and then support them. If your child doesn’t like to be kissed by strangers, or picked up then explain to the Ethiopian that she/he doesn’t like it. It can be rather embarrassing as the intent is a good one (they love children) but it’s better than having your child screaming at the person!

One must be very careful with anger—it’s generally not appropriate in public places. It is considered especially comical if a foreigner loses their temper in a public place; it is not at all appropriate. Also, enduring the bureaucracy, for example, to get your drivers licence can test ones patience. Getting angry will only slow down the process. All the Ethiopians around you who are also waiting for their licence are also very frustrated, they just don’t show it. Try to use the opportunity to engage in a little conversation with the person next to you... try a little humour or comment about the weather. It can be a way to meet interesting people. Chances are they feel sorry for you because they know foreigners get very frustrated with such idle waiting!

Cultural Information - Display of Emotion

Question:

Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?

Local Perspective:

It is not common to see lovers kissing in a sexual manner in public. Most people are shy about expressing their love to each other even in family circles. Sex is one topic that is still considered personal and private. On the other hand, people express their anger in a loud and emotional way on business or personal matters. Most people use their hands and other body language to express approval, disapproval, satisfaction, consent etc. It is good to watch their body language. Ethiopians are not shy about expressing their opinion on matter of their expertise. Most like to argue and at times they can be stubborn. This again much depends on the individual’s personality and self-confidence.

Canadian Perspective:

Controlled affection is fine—kissing on the cheeks, hugging, being happy to see others are all common. Public demonstration of romantic affection is not that common not that acceptable. However, one may see young people walking with their arms around each other. Men often walk hand in hand if they are friends. Homosexuality is culturally not accepted—some think that it is against the law...or that it should be. Overt homosexual behaviour would probably not be tolerated.

Cultural Information - Dress, Punctuality & Formality

Question:

What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?

Local Perspective:

What you wear depends on where you work. In an office environment, bureaucrats are expected to wear formal attire, i.e. a suite with a tie for men and formal dress for women. Women can wear pair of pants at the office and are not expected to cover their head unless their religion dictates it. It is common to see young women with a short skirt and a dress that shows the upper part of the body any time of the day. Casual wear in the office is not regarded positively.

Canadian Perspective:

Ethiopians are a proud people with a sense of history and culture. This pride of person and a grounded sense of self, is also evident in the workplace. It is important to be dignified in one’s behaviour and comportment. Western styles of dress are known through out all of Ethiopia. The way one dresses makes a statement and reflects one’s attitude and behaviour. Given that Ethiopians are a conservative society in general, dress also tends to the conservative and modest. It would NOT be appropriate to go to an office job in jeans or something so casual. It is also quite common to see staff come to work in ’traditional dress’ around the time of important religious/state holidays.

Greetings are important—as noted above. In a work context, it would be very important to address another person with their title (Ato for man or Weziro for woman). Once you get to know them better—you may feel it is time to drop the title but whether or not this would be appropriate or not needs to be assessed. Some elders really prefer to be addressed by their title.

Paying attention to the ’little’ things goes along way. For example, bringing in a cake to celebrate a local holiday that is important to staff would be very appreciated.

Attitudes to time can be quite variable and context specific. Generally speaking, there is respect and value in being punctual, although not necessarily the same value that ’westerners’ place on ’being on time’. When meeting times and reporting deadlines are agreed to, it is usually understood to be precisely at that time or on that date. However, one does also need to appreciate the difficult circumstances that most people live under and that there has to be some understanding of their circumstances (lack of transport, sickness in the family). It would be quite understandable that a parent needed to miss a meeting due to a funeral, sick relative, etc. This doesn’t mean they don’t feel bad missing a meeting—it just means that many personal issues cannot be given over to someone else. On the other hand, people love it when your children come in the office so they can meet them; everyone loves children! The attitude towards children tends to be much more tolerant of a child being in the workplace than our western way; it’s nice.

It is important to note that Ethiopia operates on the Gregorian calendar (13 months to the year) and that the day is divided into 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. For example, a 9 AM meeting means 3 o’clock; or a dinner engagement at 8 PM is 2 o’clock in the evening. This does from time to time create confusion and a need to double check the agreed-to time.

Cultural Information - Preferred Managerial Qualities

Question:

What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?

Local Perspective:

Ethiopians give high value to education, work experience and inter-personal skills. They appreciate hard working, smart or intelligent coworkers. Good leaders who are keen in delegating responsibility and promoting teamwork are highly regarded by their colleagues.

Most of the bureaucrats have at least some college education and are hardworking, highly dedicated to their work, open to new ideas and are eager to learn but there is a limitation to what they can implement. Their effectiveness depends on their power to make decisions, their access to the power of the day, financial and human resources.

A significant portion of the Ethiopian economy is dependent on foreign aid and expatriates are associated with the continuity of the aid. Because of that, they are regarded highly, but not feared. In most cases, expatriates come as advisors and experts to fill a gap and they are expected to be more knowledgeable and productive. They are also expected to lead in the area of their expertise.

People express their dissatisfaction in variety of ways—some speak out if and when they get an opportunity. In general, you can see change of attitude if they are dissatisfied with a decision, performance or personal actions. Acceptance of instruction does not necessarily mean approval. If approval is sought one has to ask for it in clear terms. Ethiopians respect and to some degree fear authority figures and will consent even though they do not agree.

Canadian Perspective:

Ethiopia is considered as a class-oriented society, hence one’s status is often more ascribed than earned through merit or performance. One’s ascribed status could be derived from a history of family wealth; from the type of company one associates with; one’s achievements in school or workplace; links with people of political or economic influence etc.

Reflecting an ’outsider’ opinion, leadership is a challenging concept in Ethiopian society. Due to Ethiopia’s imperial past—steeped in feudal models of leadership, ideas of leadership are somewhere between the past and the present. Based on observation, the following qualities appear to be most highly regarded in management/employee relations: someone who is firm but is understanding; someone who takes decisions and yet shows respect for staff members. Management is often associated with power (and abuse of power is not uncommon). However, the leader that is admired is one that leads by example.

Expatriates tend to be put into a separate category. Generally speaking, foreigners are almost always accorded immediate respect in the workplace just because they are foreigners; this relates to Ethiopia’s tradition for showing hospitality to visitors.

Although Ethiopians might readily express an idea or opinion on some technical matter, they would be much more reserved in expressing an opinion about a person—especially if it was a negative opinion. Discovering someone’s true feelings about you is a challenge. Ethiopians tend is to hide their true feelings. If a staff person feels a need to express an opinion about someone else, he or she would share it with others—not directly with you. Alternatively, the staff person might make some cryptic remark that could be interpreted in various ways—hence ensuring that no offence is taken.

Foreigners often do not have a real sense of the office intrigues that go on—partly because it is deliberately hidden—partly because as foreigners we neither speak the language nor REALLY understand the culture.

Expats are respected for working hard—as long as they are not stepping on ’someone’s toes’ or being rude or unfair. However, personal characteristics are just as important—being friendly, understanding, listening, and showing you care about the country and its people. If you spend too much time glued to your computer you won’t build strong office relations.

Cultural Information - Hierarchy and Decision-making

Question:

In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?

Local Perspective:

This is a very hard question and the answer depends on the type of the workplace and the political and economic impact of the decision. In general, in government circles, most decisions are made by people at the upper the echelons with the major factor of consideration being politics. What does that mean politically?, Who is the beneficiary?, What does this mean in regards to future relationship? are some of the factors they want to answer. Priority is given to political allies. The public has limited say in the government’s affairs.

In the small-scale business sector, as is the case in other societies, owners have the final say and decisions affecting profit and long-term benefits are theirs to make. In both sectors technical ideas can be generated by the technocrats but implementation of the ideas depends on their access to the people at the top and the resources they command.

Most Ethiopians, I can say, are quick in pointing out errors and are reserved in expressing their appreciation. They do not take criticisms easily and one needs to be careful and tactful in expressing opinions regarding one’s work or lifestyle.

Generally it is acceptable to go to immediate supervisors for answers or feedback but at times decisions are made by people who are too high up and immediate supervisors may not have the answer.

Canadian Perspective:

As stated above, principles of decision-making are quite variable—due in large part to Ethiopia’s past experience in leadership. In this regard, the dynamics of the workplace can be significantly altered when an expatriate is inserted into the staff—especially into a management position. Top-down decision-making is considered the normal, expected practice. Nevertheless, many people who have been exposed to other means of decision-making would probably foster some resentment by this autocratic approach. Nurturing a collegial work environment is a challenge, but it is understood and welcomed. Be aware though of the traditional ways of thinking can put up roadblocks. Maintaining the status quo—especially when it comes to one’s position in the organization is a preoccupation.

Ideas are usually communicated by people with status and rank/position in the organization. Lower level staff may have ideas but they would feel awkward in expressing them for fear that their ideas may be misinterpreted (seen as a threat) by people at higher levels in the organization. Many people also remember very well the suppression of ideas and initiative that was so common during the ’Dergue’ government (1973-91).

In smaller organizations where people know each other it is easier to approach each other for answers and feedback. Larger organizations tend to be very bureaucratic and officials will revert to using cumbersome policies and guidelines that do not lend themselves to quick decision-making.

Cultural Information - Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender

Question:

Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?

Local Perspective:


Gender:
Ethiopian women are fully engaged in the production and distribution of goods and services of the economy but the majority of them are not fully compensated for their contribution to the economic development and social welfare of the society. Even in Addis Ababa and among the well-educated, liberal members of the society, men’s opinions are valued more than women’s. In the workplace, Ethiopian women are paid equal amount for equal work, experience and education but when it comes to promotion to a higher position, men seem to be favoured. Women are seen as soft and delicate and are not seen as capable of making tough decisions and carrying hazardous duties.

Religion:
Ethiopia is a multi-religious country with the domination of the two religions: Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Islam. These two religions account for 95% of the population. So far, there have been no major religious conflict within major cities, though incidents of orthodox thinking and ultra right tendencies being influenced by external forces are being observed in some localities.

Class:
It is hard to say that class exists in Ethiopia society and more so after the fall of the land tenure system and the 1974 Ethiopian revolution. However, Ethiopian society is a very hierarchical society and wealth brings respect and recognition. The role of community leader and elders, in the urban areas, had diminished but is still very relevant in rural areas.

Ethnicity:
Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic society. The present structure of the government—a federation of ethnic based states—has created more tension. It is public knowledge that those who belong to ruling ethnic group have better access to services and can get things done or decisions made in a relatively shorter period of time than others.

Gender and religion have very limited influence in workplace. On the other hand, ethnicity could affect the work environment, in particular, when it is used as means of associating with a manager or supervisor. This could limit interaction and openness among co-workers and isolates those who belong to other ethnic groups. Ethnicity is causing a significant problem in the present-day Ethiopia and it is being used as a means of gaining power and privilege.

Canadian Perspective:


Gender:
Ethiopia is a traditional patriarchal society. Women exhibit strong character and make a significant contribution to the welfare of the household and community. However, they live their lives very much in the shadow of the dominant male. Some government departments and the NGO community in general are working at breaking down the gender stereotypes. Gender issues in office settings are common—where, for example, a woman may be of higher ’rank’ but if someone needed to serve food, the men wouldn’t think of this. In some situations this can be noted and people can laugh at the strict gender division of labour.

Women tend to be mainly responsible for house and children. This can be very difficult when they also have many expectations at work. Consideration of this double/triple burden is appreciated.

In meetings or group settings, women are often quiet. This applies both in rural and urban settings. One must be sensitive to this and find ways and means for women to express themselves. There may be gender based office politics which can be very difficult to understand as an outside. Effort should be made at the beginning to establish a couple strong communication points—with women and men and use them regularly to check in on what’s happening!

Religion:
The spiritual life of the household and community is a foundational aspect of Ethiopian society. Whether one adheres to the Muslim faith or to the Christian faith (the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian Churches in the world) or practices traditional religion, the faith dimension and the spirit world factors prominently in the lives of the people. It is important to understand the importance of God in your colleagues’ lives and respect the rituals that go along with their faith. For example, Orthodox Christians do not eat animal products on Wednesdays and Fridays (fasting days). This is a simple thing to remember and being sensitive to it is important. Religious discussions are pretty relaxed, though with the state of the world currently, one does need to be somewhat cautious.

Class:
Ethiopia is structured as a class-oriented society. Of course, Ethiopians that have been exposed to ’western influence’ may not subscribe to the continuation of this type of society, but nonetheless it is there. Not even the Marxist-Leninist revolution of the 1970s and the indoctrination of a generation of school-aged children has eliminated the bonds of identity based on one’s place or position in society as determined by wealth or lineage.

Ethnicity:
Ethiopia is a rich mosaic of ethnic groups (some 85 groups—both large and small). There is also the distinction of ’highland societies’ and ’lowland societies’. Some groups trace their origins from Sub-Saharan Bantu or Nilotic influences. Other groups find their origins in Kushitic and Middle Eastern influences. The highlands count for the bulk of the population—dominated by the Oromo (some of whom are also lowlanders); the Amhara and the Tigrayan populations. Of late the party in power has promulgated a new constitution, which is based on ’ethnic regionalism’. Some critics have claimed that this has resulted in the politicization of ethnic origin.

Asking ones’ ethnic origin right away, or at all, is not appropriate. Many Ethiopians realize that such divisions are not helpful for their countries peace and development, and resent how the current government has made ethnic origin so much of a political issue. Of course, many do feel certain feelings towards other ethnic groups—but these might be very personal and hidden feelings. It is good to always support the concept of one country and work on ways to build bridges rather than break them. The issue of language can emerge—but choosing to learn Amharic can be justified by the fact that it’s the national language. Learning a few words in other languages where frequent contact is made is good.

To state the obvious, all of the above attributes have a bearing on workplace dynamics. Attitudes regarding these issues are quite situation or circumstance specific and hence it is difficult to make generalized statements. In general, there are many dynamics here which can make the workplace a wonderful, or difficult place. Establishing mechanisms to understand some of these dynamics is important—and should be done sincerely. Work is important to people who often have a large extended family to support and who do not have a social safety net that we have in Canada (unemployment insurance) Colleagues should be supported to be able to do their work well, and to improve themselves so they can do their work better. On the other hand, problems at work can stem from factors unrelated to their abilities—such as gender or ethnicity—so thoughtful attention really needs to be given to these issues.

Cultural Information - Relationship-building

Question:

How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?

Local Perspective:

It is very important to establish personal relationship with colleagues or clients to get things done. The best way to establish a good relationship is to win their trust, show respect, listen to what they say, and try to understand things from their point of view. The political and economic environment is not always conducive to accepting expatriates’ views or to performing activities as fast and as efficiently they desire. Ethiopians take personal relations seriously and will go out of their way to help a friend; they will do the same for a total stranger.

In establishing a relationship it sometimes helps to create a social occasion or an environment to talk about non-work related matters. Having coffee or lunch with co-workers can help. It is normal to see Ethiopians fighting over who should pay for the coffee or lunch—everyone volunteering to pay. Some people may feel insulted if their guest offers to pay. It is good to say, "let me buy you coffee or take you out for lunch" rather than "let’s go out for lunch" and fight over who pays.

Canadian Perspective:

Relationship dynamics are extremely important in all aspects of life—whether as a neighbour, a client, or a colleague. Moving straight into business related discussions without making proper introductions and ’small talk’ would be considered as rude and ’typically the western approach’. Lengthy introductions and a brief discussion related to things of personal interest would make the environment more collegial and conducive to business discussions later on. In order to be seen as being cultured and sensitive to the person you are dealing with, it is important to show an interest in that person—completely apart from the business that has brought the two of you together in the first place.

Investing in some social time with colleagues or clients will also pay off! Accepting their efforts for social contact is also important. Even if the social event feels a bit awkward at first, it will be appreciated. Kindness will always be admired. People are assessed as a whole person perhaps—so that knowing someone only in an office setting means you only know one side of them. To have a sincere relationship, one needs to know the whole person. Relationships are the key to getting anything done—so the stronger and more known they are—the easier it is to achieving anything. However, everyone around will know of actions taken, especially by a expatriate. Care must be given to not showing too much attention on only a few people.

Cultural Information - Privileges and Favouritism

Question:

Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship

Local Perspective:

Ethiopians value mutual respect, understanding and good working relationship more than special treatment. Ethiopians respect rules and regulation as long as they are implemented in a universal way. It is better to avoid special treatment if you are working in a team. Provision of special treatment to one or two can frustrate others and create unfavourable working relationship within the organization. However, unemployment is a major problem and most of the people know or are related to one or more than one person who is unemployed. Many therefore are sympathetic to person’s hiring family or friends.

Ethiopians live a communal life, i.e. one problem is another’s burden and anything that can alleviate that burden would be appreciated.

Canadian Perspective:

Ethiopia is a poor country. With rare exceptions one should assume that Ethiopian colleagues or employees come from modest backgrounds. And even if one’s immediate colleagues might be ’better off’, one can be sure that these better off staff will have considerable demands placed on them for economic support from extended and sometimes distant relatives. Foreigners are seen through a lens of wealth and privilege. Hence, if an Ethiopian is successful in gaining employment in an organization that employs foreigners, it is automatically assumed that one’s chances for better pay and perks are dramatically enhanced. One should assume that when entering into personal relationships that there will be expectations not unlike that of "patron/client". It is well advised to refrain from offering special privileges and preferred treatment within the context of a formal or professional relationship as it could easily be misinterpreted. However, one should feel free to offer preferred treatment within the context of a friendship relationship.

Cultural Information - Conflicts in the Workplace

Question:

I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?

Local Perspective:

It is preferable to speak to the person in question privately rather than in public. To find out if a colleague has problem, watch for her/his body language and the things he or she does differently. Most of the time people sever relationship or avoid seeing or talking to the person if they are offended by his or her action. It is good to ask, if there is something that is bothering them and why they are keeping their distance. People talk if they are given a genuine opportunity. It is good to remember that Ethiopians have so many social occasions that bring them together out of the work place, such as weddings, funerals, holidays, etc., to discuss work related matters and it is advisable to avoid talking ’behind the back’. It can have negative consequences.

Canadian Perspective:

A work-related problem with a colleague needs to be dealt with considerable finesse and diplomacy. Assuming you as a foreigner are in a supervisory role, you should feel the freedom to bring the problem to the attention of the employee. However, a direct confrontation that is adversarial in approach is discouraged. Performance and behaviour-related problems should be dealt with in private. With work colleagues it is often possible to talk through the problems with both sides presenting their views—which can be very healthy. Such situations must be entered into with an openness to listen and a willingness to be flexible to find a solution. Things should be clearly spelled out; for example, you might mention some steps that can be taken to solve the problem.

As mentioned above, foreigners tend to be treated differently compared to how Ethiopians treat each other. Foreigners live in a sort of a shell that makes them immune to the realities that operate around them. This then also makes it difficult to sense that your behaviour might be offensive or your performance of questionable value. If you are truly interested to know what people think of you or are open to dealing with problem relationships, then you will have to make the extra effort to break out of that protective shell.

Cultural Information - Motivating Local Colleagues

Question:

What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?

Local Perspective:

Ethiopians take pride in whatever they do and job satisfaction and good working environment means a lot to most people. They also want to be paid well, recognized for their work and trusted. Trust is a major factor in the Ethiopian community.

Canadian Perspective:

Financial considerations would always (as anywhere else in the world) factor prominently in the equation as to what motivates an employee. Working for an ’aid-related’ organization means that local staff almost always enjoy higher rates of pay and better benefits. This can have a distorting effect, attracting the wrong people to the job. One of the challenges of managers in aid-related projects is to engender a spirit of loyalty to the organization and a commitment to the goals and objectives of the project. In general, Ethiopians are known to be hard working, honest and trustworthy. In an environment where there is mutual trust, where there is opportunity for personal and professional growth and enrichment, where duties are clearly delineated and authority given, one will find highly motivated and creative employees. Gaining respect for one’s work is important. As in any culture, people differ in terms of what motivates them. If there is very little that is motivating about the job, just keeping the job motivates. Otherwise, the possibilities for bettering oneself in the future can be highly motivating, such as opportunities to study abroad.

Cultural Information - Recommended Books, Films & Foods

Question:

To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, foods and web sites.

Local Perspective:

Books: I suggest he/she read a bit of the following books prior to the visit: Ethiopian History by Prof. Bahiru; Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture by Donald N. Levine; Ethiopian Review of Culture by Dr. Aba Tekle Haimanote; Ethiopian Civilisation by Belay Gideye; Ethiopian Engraved and The Ethiopian by Dr. Richard Pankhurst; The Sign and Seal by Graham Hancock; Ethiopia of Beaten trail by John Graham; Travel in Ethiopia by Alivero and The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski.

Websites: http//www.cyberethiopia.com – listing of all Ethiopian related websites; http//www.ethiopiafirst.com – listing of all Ethiopian related news; http//www.addistribune.com.

Canadian Perspective:

For a great look at history, read Kapuchinsky’s book—The Emperor. Levin’s book The Wax and the Gold is also offers great insights into Ethiopia’s rich culture. The Sign and the Seal, by Graham Hancock is a fascinating look about whether the original Ark of the Covenant (as found in the Bible) is in Ethiopia. One can travel to all the sites mentioned in the book and meet people who knew the author. Meskal is written from the perspective of a Greek family living here during the communist regime (Dergue) and is also interesting.

Other books: a wonderful children’s’ author who has written many books on Ethiopia is Jane Kurtz. Favourites are the Storytellers Beads and Trouble. Chris Prouty’s book Empress Taytu and Menilek II is a dense book but very interesting history. Notes from a Hyena’s Belly about growing up in the Eastern part of Ethiopia also easy read and interesting. Yohaness G. Mariam has just published a wonderful children’s book: Kilo Mamo.

Ethiopia, of course also has a world-renowned cuisine. Most larger urban areas of Canada have Ethiopian restaurants. An excellent way to get acquainted with the culture and its people is to eat its food. One should try injera and wot—the staple food. I prefer the fasting food—lentils, vegetables, local cabbage, peas, ’shiro’ is most favourite (chickpeas with spices). Also really like kitfo and cheese, and tibs.

Music: I enjoy listening to Aster.

Useful Internet Links: Press Digest: http://pressdigest.phoenixuniversal.com; Walta Information Center: www.waltainfo.com/; Africa Online: www.africaonline.com/; Africa Intelligence: www.africaintelligence.com/; Development Information Network: www.devinet.org/; Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia: www.telecon.net.et/~undp-eue/; FEWS NET: www.fews.net/; UN Integrated Regional Information Network: www.irinnews.org/; Food and Agriculture Organization: www.fao.org/; World Food Programme: www.wfp.org/.

Cultural Information - In-country Activities

Question:

When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?

Local Perspective:

Cultural and historical museums in Addis: National Library, Institute of Ethiopian Studies Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa Museum, National Museum and Entoto Church (Museum)

Place to visit in Ethiopia: Lalibela, Gonder, Axum, Tana/Bahir Dara, Harar City, Arba Minch – Nech Sare, Rift Valley lakes, Sofomor in Balle, Semen Mountains and Awash Park

Restaurants: Ghion Hotel – Tukul, Crown Hotel, Fasika, Dashen, Blue Top, Top View, Castelli, Don Vito, Le Jardin (Pizzeria), Concord Hotel – Chinese food, Honk Kong Restaurant, Cottage Restaurant, Jacaranda at the Hilton Hotel.

Newspapers: Ethiopian Herald, Addis Tribune, Reporter, Fortune, Capital, and The Informer.

Cafes: London Café, City Café, Le Notre, Parisian, and Purple.

Galleries: St. George Gallery; Goshu Gallery; and Asni Gallery.

Festivities to Attend: Epiphany and Demera.

Canadian Perspective:

There are many culture-related events in Addis Ababa that are extremely interesting. There are weekly talks or lectures by different people. Some institutions retain permanent exhibitions such as at the Ethnographic Museum at the University. There is a newly published monthly bulletin called "What’s Up" that lists all the upcoming events. It’s great! There are also many private newspapers now—daily and weekly—which are important to read. If one finds a good Amharic teacher, they can often be an excellent cultural interpreter as well—and it is possible to go on day trips, to markets, churches, and places of historic/cultural significance.

Cultural Information - National Heroes

Question:

Who are this country's national heroes?

Local Perspective:

In the present day Ethiopia, the Ethiopian athletes are the national heroes. Although, there are many people who can be considered national heroes, none are as popular as the Ethiopian athletes. People have a high degree of respect for these athletes because of their representation of Ethiopia in international fora.

Canadian Perspective:

An obvious hero is Haile Gebre Selassie—the Olympic long distance runner who has won events all over the world. There are also other runners. All of them come from normal backgrounds, and from rural areas. They have achieved their fame from working hard—and are highly respected and loved for this. Haile has also shown compassion for the poor of his country.

Cultural Information - Shared Historical Events with Canada

Question:

Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?

Local Perspective:

I don’t know of any negative history. (There can be few people who remember the Canadian Prime Minister’s statement during the Italian invasion. I don’t).

Canadian Perspective:

Although Canada and Ethiopia do not have shared historical events, Canada and Canadians generally enjoy the respect and admiration of Ethiopians. Canada is seen as an model of success and prosperity on the world stage. Canadians are admired for their generosity and humanitarianism.

Cultural Information - Stereotypes

Question:

What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?

Local Perspective:

I have no knowledge of any.

Canadian Perspective:

The world has often seen Ethiopia as a country perpetually in need of development or disaster assistance—especially since the droughts and famines do not seem to leave this country alone. Ethiopians know the world has this image of them—and are very sensitive to this part of their history and current situation.

Cultural Information - About the Cultural Interpreters

Local Interpreter:

Your cultural interpreter is the eldest of a family of eleven children, and was born and raised in Addis Ababa. She holds a Bachelors degree in Public Administration from the University of Addis Ababa and has worked in several capacities in Ethiopia. She then immigrated to Canada in 1989 to further her studies and received a Masters of Public Administration from Carleton University (Ottawa) in 1991. She has since returned to Ethiopia on four separate occasions. She is currently working as a consultant in Ottawa, where she lives with her son.

Canadian Interpreter:

Your cultural interpreter was born in Edmonton, Alberta, the youngest of two children. He was raised in the town of Beaverlodge, Alberta and studied Sociology in Edmonton, as well as International Development and an MSc in Rural Development Planning/Adult Education in University of Guelph. He first went abroad as a volunteer with Canadian Crossroads International to Nepal where he taught English. Many years and countries later, your cultural interpreter moved to Ethiopia in 1994 where he currently lives and works for organizations such as Oxfam, CARE, and SCF, volunteering also in various capacity building activities. He has two children.

Disclaimer

Country Insights - Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.

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