Guinea cultural insights
The following cultural insights 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. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
After the regular greetings that occur when meeting a Guinean for the first time, good discussion topics that she or he will be sure to enjoy talking about include the following (in order of preference): family, languages, work, questions about Guinean culture, and place of birth (do not dwell on ethnic origins).
Using humour is a good way to make the person with whom you are speaking feel more at ease; however, some topics of conversation, such as sexuality, politics, and religion are best left alone when you first meet. Nevertheless, after knowing one another for quite some time (many months or years) you can debate these issues with close friends or confidants.
When first meeting someone, it is crucial that you formally greet him/her and make a bit of small talk before getting to the real conversation. It is generally appropriate to ask about the person’s family and about his/her hometown. The most important thing is to not press for details if the person does not want to talk about something. Guineans tend to not talk much about their personal lives; particularly with someone they have just met.
At all costs, avoid talking about politics. Given that the country has gone through a long period of repression, people are likely to doubt your intentions if you choose to discuss politics. Along the same lines, it is acceptable to ask the people with whom you are speaking what ethnic group they belong to or what local languages they speak, but persistent questions about the different ethnic groups in the country will make them feel uncomfortable as there seems to be a dynamic between ethnic groups that is not discussed openly. The same holds true for questions about gender roles and religion.
Guineans generally welcome humour, even if it is rarely used. People tend to use a simple type of humour such as teasing that does not involve subtleties, sarcasm or irony. To avoid any possible confusion, if you do decide to tell jokes, they should be very universal and obvious.
When speaking to others, you should directly face them, look at them, speak politely and preferably try to smile, yet maintain an air of seriousness. It is best not to stand closer than two or three meters away and to not yell or shout. Do not touch others when speaking and keep your gestures to a minimum. Use a direct approach and avoid changing your facial expressions too quickly.
When speaking, Guineans need about the same amount of personal space as Canadians. Direct eye contact is not as frequent, but it is not forbidden either. People’s attitudes on the subject tend to vary, but junior employees usually avoid direct eye contact. Someone who avoids all eye contact is not necessarily seen as being dishonest.
For men, it is acceptable to shake hands or hug. This is also normal between men and women or two women, but shaking hands is rare, particularly in rural areas. People will hug close friends, and other Guineans and expatriates. You should only touch people you know very well; men and women touch only infrequently. Men have a lot of physical contact and often use friendly gestures that people often associate with Muslims, such as holding hands. Guineans who decide to walk hand-in-hand with you for a bit are demonstrating their friendship, brotherhood, and trust although this is usually only done if they know you quite well.
Guineans do not gesture a lot when they speak and their facial expressions may appear very formal. They tend to nod when listening to someone speak. There are really no gestures that are particularly offensive in Guinea.
In general, tone of voice depends on the type of relationship you have with the person with whom you are speaking. Often, business meetings will initially be very sober; people will speak in monotone and use very formal expressions. It is not appropriate for people to say what they are thinking and it may be difficult at first sight to understand what people are really thinking. Out of respect people usually say what they think others want to hear.
Display of emotion
Public displays of affection are acceptable, but should be kept to a minimum. This kind of display is considered to be a lot more appropriate when it occurs between two people of the same sex rather than between people of the opposite sex. Expressing anger and other negative emotions in public places, however, should be avoided.
Men and women do not often demonstrate their affections in public; they may hold hands, but will rarely kiss. It is usually acceptable and very common to raise one’s voice when speaking to someone of a lower social standing (such as to an employee or clerk who is waiting on you) or who is younger than you (even if the age difference is minimal).
Dress, punctuality & formality
You should dress in a respectable manner at work. Do not be too formal with your junior employees, but be aware that they will address you formally out of respect for you. You should generally address colleagues and other people by their last name. It is very common to call people by a nickname.
Few people in Guinea respect deadlines, but respecting one’s word is an integral part of the culture. Women tend to have higher rates of absenteeism, and productivity in Guinea depends on working conditions, motivation, salary, and the boss’ initiatives.
Men and women dress conservatively and attach a lot of importance to the way they dress. Adults never wear shorts, which are considered to be for schoolchildren. Men generally wear slacks and short-sleeved dress shirts, but jackets and ties are very rarely worn. Women wear skirts or dresses, which are usually quite traditional, with hems that fall below the knee. It is rare to see people wearing t-shirts, jeans, or short dresses or skirts. Sometimes men wear a "boubou", which is a long tunic worn over wide pants.
It is best to first formally address your colleagues (as Mr. X or Ms. X) unless they ask you to address them otherwise. People sometimes will only use their first or last name and many people call themselves Mr. or Mrs. followed by their first name instead of their last name (possibly because certain last names are very common). It is crucial to formally address superiors by their titles (such as Dr. X, for professors, or Mr. Director), even if you have worked together for many years. Guineans are polite and significantly less casual than Canadians. Most will not allow you to address them with "tu", the informal form of "you" in French.
Punctuality is not always entirely respected, but generally, people do try to arrive on time. However, lateness and even extreme lateness can always be explained and accepted. It is not appropriate to scold someone who is late. Punctuality is more important for junior employees. Absenteeism due to illness or family and social reasons is common and properly accepted, provided the person in question provides the reasons why it occurred. In general, deadlines are not strictly followed and even though Guineans work very hard at what they do, compared to a Canadian working day there are fewer productive hours. A lot of time is set aside for discussions and explanations. Trivial details can sometimes cause significant setbacks - something that comes as no shock to most. This is why it is necessary to expect that things will take longer than in Canada. That being said, it is best to regularly supervise the progress of employees or colleagues who are working on a team project.
The typical workday depends a lot on the environment and is generally split up because of the prayer sessions in which most people participate on-site. However, many people do not take lunch breaks and often individuals do not work Friday afternoons or Sundays, although they often work on Saturdays.
Preferred managerial qualities
Qualities that are most highly regarded in a superior include paying attention to employees’ personal problems (and other concerns they may have), having an open mind, experience and a good social status.
Provided that superiors/managers have an in-depth knowledge of the local culture, it does not make much difference if they are expatriates. In Guinea, for example, bosses should realize the significance that baptisms, weddings, and funerals hold for their employees. If they do not, bosses will lose their workers’ respect. In order to know how others view you, periodically meet with close colleagues and talk openly and honestly about various things that could potentially cause problems, such as workers’ feelings about a particular subject, their apathy or refusal to follow orders.
The local director often has a degree and a good track record. Experience and knowing how to get the job done are respected, but are not determining factors when hiring. In fact, family ties and personal relations play key roles in how jobs are appointed. Employees’ notion of respect is thus very different from what it is in Canada and employees often got their jobs thanks to their superior.
Expatriate supervisors/directors are sometimes seen as obstacles by locally engaged employees who are subject to rules and time lines that they are not used to. Generally, they will be treated with respect, but it will be very difficult to know what people really think about them.
It should be noted that age is an important factor in Guinea and that even the most competent younger workers cannot be directors. Therefore, the majority of older people will not take a young expatriate seriously. Moreover, while in Canada most people believe that there is always more to learn in the workplace, Guineans, on the other hand, tend to give more respect to people who have a degree or a higher-ranking job.
Hierarchy and decision-making
The person at the top of the hierarchy may make decisions in a unilateral-fashion or they may be made by the management team (the president and his colleagues) or at a meeting held by the workers. Ideas (which could really be called "decisions") can come from the head of the organization or from junior employees. In this case they are "written or verbal proposals" from the person in charge. Suggestions can also be raised in a meeting with junior employees.
It is totally normal to consult your immediate supervisor, but do not overdo it.
Generally decisions are made at the top, with little discussion. In Guinea, the superior in the hierarchy has the last word and it is not appropriate to question his decisions, particularly in front of other people. Over time, if you develop a closer relationship with colleagues, some types of conversation will flow easier. Moreover, people in lower ranking positions will rarely contradict expatriates.
When approaching your director with a suggestion, it is best to wait for him/her to broach the subject. Otherwise, ideas should be subtly suggested and you should not dwell on your contribution.
The interactive model that Canadians are used to is not well received in Guinea. Directors often feel that they do not have time to talk about such things and insisting on doing so makes you seem weak or incompetent; at best, they will think that you are wasting their time. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, and some directors are more open to discussion.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Guinean men treat women with a certain amount of dignity and respect. It is part of a man’s role to take care of tasks that require physical stamina. A woman with high standing in the hierarchy is even more respected than a man, particularly when she is good at what she does.
Religion does not play a significant role in administration in Guinea, as it is a secular state.
In everyday life, social class plays a role and is a determining and influential factor. A number of decisions are influenced by corruption, nepotism, or by a person’s social position or position in the company.
Problems such as ethnocentrism, regionalism, and tribalism are not necessarily obvious at first sight, but they are very sensitive subjects particularly when peoples’ interests are at stake. However, they are starting to hold less importance in daily life in Guinea. Being a regionalist, a tribalist, etc., is no longer considered to be positive.
In Guinea, there is not real equality even though most people are tolerant of diversity, to some extent. Although polygamy is officially banned, it is often practised. There are a number of women in the workforce in the government, private, and small business sectors. For example, there are female ministers whom everyone respects. Furthermore, even if it is not obvious, women may have most of the authority in the home and control finances, for example. Having a female supervisor will not bother men.
Guinea is primarily a Muslim country with a Christian minority and a smaller Animist population living in the forest region. Muslims have a lot of pressure on them to obey their religion; therefore, people pray in groups several times a day and drinking alcohol is viewed badly. There does not seem to be any obvious ill will between the different religions.
There are no obvious class differences in Guinea.
Ethnic origins are often linked to stereotypes, for instance, one particular group is known as being dishonest, another for hard workers. Ethnicity suggests that there is a relationship between people, even if it is never overtly mentioned. It may be difficult for Canadians to understand workplace dynamics if they have not yet figured out the subtle differences between the ethnic groups. In general, it is pointless to ask someone to explain the dynamics to you as people will avoid the question altogether or will say that ethnicity does not make any difference, even if that is obviously not the case.
In Guinea, prior to doing business with someone, it is best to take the time to get to know the person a little and to understand the his/her life, customs, and temperament, for example. This helps you to understand him/her better as first impressions are not always correct.
Before making a final decision on whether or not you should establish a personal relationship, you should take the time to listen to the person, observe the way he/she acts, understand his/her needs, environment, and friends as well as his/her social rank and title. Once the decision is made, you can get to know him/her gradually, keeping your guard up for a while. You should speak with the person often, go out to eat together, help him/her out and offer small tokens of appreciation such as an invitation to buy him/her a soft drink or a cigarette or by giving him/her a ride.
As in Canada, it is not essential to establish personal relations before getting down to business.
Privileges and favouritism
It is quite common for colleagues or employees to expect special privileges or considerations (e.g., favours, salary increases, hiring relatives) because of their ties or friendship with their director.
It is pretty much a given that employees and colleagues that have established relations with you will think that it is normal to receive privileges. Furthermore, it is possible that these colleagues or employees take advantage of the relationship in a power struggle with other colleagues or junior employees. They may have a lot of clout and ask others for all kinds of special favours.
Generally, you should avoid giving special considerations and should treat everyone equally and keep the same rules for everyone.
Conflicts in the workplace
If you have a problem with a colleague or junior Guinean employee at work, you should take the person aside and discuss things honestly and calmly. You will certainly be able to understand each other. A Guinean’s response to an insult can be strong and immediate. Whether you ask right away or later for forgiveness, he will forgive you.
Avoid confronting colleagues in public, but you can bring up the topic privately in a light-hearted manner to avoid any confrontations. However, it is very difficult to know if colleagues are having problems with you. You will not get an honest response if you ask directly as it is not proper to talk outright about these kinds of things. It is unlikely that colleagues will complain directly to you. It is possible that they might complain to their directors, who will then approach you, but this kind of approach is not ingrained in the workplace.
Motivating local colleagues
Good working conditions, money, and a superior’s respect and loyalty are the main factors that motivate people to perform well at work.
Usually, colleagues that are paid well and who have a good working environment (i.e. receiving positive feedback and no unjustified criticism) will be motivated to perform well on the job and they will feel a certain professional satisfaction although this does depend on the person and type of job.
Recommended books, films & foods
I recommend Néné Moussa Maléya’s book la Guinée est un Famille as well as Camara Laye’s L’Enfant noir and Dramouss.
There are a few Guinean films and books, but I am not familiar with them. Naturally, there are some things that Guineans have in common with other countries in the region, where the same ethnic groups live such as Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Mali. Books, movies and shows about the region give a general overview and the same can be said for food. Guineans mostly eat rice covered in one of a few different kinds of sauces (e.g. vegetable-leaf sauce with a palm oil base, peanut sauce). You can find this kind of dish in any African restaurant in Canada.
In order to understand the culture, read all the books you can find that are written by Guinean authors, attend weddings, baptisms, Baro pool festivals, and funerals. To better understand the culture, make friends with a middle-class, intellectual who is over 30 and does not have anything to gain by your friendship.
I also suggest going out to cafés with Guinean friends to eat "TÖ" or "Fonio", which is made with fish or meat covered in a peanut sauce. Try oil-grilled yams with meat or a potato leaf sauce on rice.
The best way to find out about the culture is to ask your colleagues, but ensure that it does not imply an invitation that they may not be in a position to extend for financial or family reasons.
The main national heroes are: L’Almamy Samory Toure, the Emperor of Ouassoulou; Alpha yaya Diallo, the King of Labé, Almamy Bocar Biro Barry, Zébéla Togba; Dinah Salifou, and Kissi Kaba Keita. They all strongly opposed French colonialization.
I do not know of any Guinean national heroes.
Shared historical events with Canada
There are no shared historical events between Guinea and Canada that could affect relations.
There is nothing historical that I am aware of that could affect relations and, in fact, Canada is usually looked well upon as compared to colonialist countries, and France, in particular. There are a number of Canadians in Guinea, and they are viewed as being reliable, honest, and able to deliver the goods, particularly in the mining and energy sectors and in cooperative projects.
Guineans do not hold any stereotypes about Canadians that might be harmful to effective relations.
Canadians are often known for being "bad bosses" who are too nice or generous and, therefore, their authority is not respected. If they are too generous with salaries, for example, they may be seen as being naive and may leave themselves open to abuse.
At the very least, Canadians sometimes have the reputation of not taking much care in their appearances, expressing themselves poorly (in terms of their accent and lack of enunciation), lacking respect (i.e., not greeting people properly, using the informal form of "you" or rushing conversations).
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born in N'Zérékoré the youngest of his mother's four children. He grew up in a rural area and studied at the primary and secondary levels in Macente and in N'Zérékoré, in Guinée Forestière in the south of the country. He pursued his post-secondary studies at l'Université de Conakry. His work as a geological engineer brought him to different regions of the country and since 1978 he has travelled on missions, internships, training programs and official visits to a number of foreign countries, including. He has worked with Canadians since 1982 on a gold mining project in Siguiri, Guinea. He continues to live in Guinea and works with the Ministry of Mines and Geology in Conakry. He is married and has four children.
Your Cultural Interpreter, the youngest of five children, was born in 1965. She grew up in the city and studied in Montreal and Ottawa in biology at McGill University, environmental studies at UQAM, and international relations at Carleton University. Her work as a biologist first took her abroad in 1988. During the following six years, she worked for short periods in Guinea, and when in Canada she worked with Guineans. She is now working in the field of international relations in Montreal and is married with one child. Your Interpreter also worked and travelled in Europe, the Caribbean, and in Senegal, Africa.
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.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
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