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Niger 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.

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Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:

Conversations

Local perspective

When meeting people, it is best to speak about their family and ask, for example, how their family and children are doing and if everyone is well.

It is preferable to not ask about anything that has to do with people’s origins, given that Niger is very multiethnic; this type of question is likely to turn the topic to the subject of regionalism. It is better to enliven conversations by using a touch of humour. Nigeriens like little jokes and it helps them start the day off on the right foot.

Canadian perspective

Generally, when meeting someone for the first time in an individual or group setting, greetings are lengthy and friendly, and include a firm handshake and a straightforward gaze. Next there will be a series of questions that may seem superfluous, but actually show that you are interested and hospitable.

"How was the trip?" You will reply in a positive fashion and the person will continue to ask: "Are you exhausted", "How is your work", "Is it too hot for you", etc.

It is a matter of being on the same wavelength and responding to the person’s cheerful disposition. A sense of humour and good-natured teasing are appropriate, even at the outset. For example, reply that the climate is "quite nice" when it is unbearably hot.

In brief, making a good impression when meeting someone for the first time is not so much a matter of discussion topics, but the way you behave during greetings and the way you answer a series of questions. The subject of the meeting should be approached in a simple manner.

There are really no subjects that will offend anyone, especially if they are broached with a touch of humour.

Communication styles

Local perspective

Concerning communication, people should stand close to each other when speaking in order to avoid yelling to be heard. During a conversation, you should try your utmost not to shout, as it will give passers by the impression that you are arguing. Unconsciously, people speaking to one another may even take hold of each others’ hands as a sign of the intimacy of the discussion. It is essential to look directly at the person with whom you are speaking, as this demonstrates respect. It is crucial that you never raise your tone of voice when speaking or debating; otherwise the conversation may escalate to a quarrel.

Canadian perspective

Eye contact and close physical contact are quite intense when shaking hands and during other greetings where the individuals are happy to see one another. This first contact will help you determine the acceptable distance when speaking with someone. Normally, after the usual greetings, people take a step back and this defines the distance between one another. Next, eye contact is made and conversation is straightforward and sincere. People are very direct and things happen naturally.

In a rural area, people know each other better and touch one another more readily while still respecting differences in age and the distance between men and women.

Display of emotion

Local perspective

Displays of affection rarely occur in public except on certain special occasions such as weddings or births when affection is quite open. Displays of anger are witnessed more frequently. It should be noted that most displays of emotion are acceptable since Nigeriens see them as an integral part of human nature.

Canadian perspective

When men meet, they greet each other warmly. It is rare that men and women have any contact in public and displays of affection or anger do not seem to be acceptable.

Dress, punctuality & formality

Local perspective

When you go to work you should always dress well. Men have fewer problems than women, who are usually not well regarded when they wear pants or miniskirts. Ideally, women should wear traditional wraps or full-length business suits. You should always speak in a soft voice when addressing colleagues or supervisors so as to not give the impression that you are pestering them. Punctuality is not highly esteemed; people may be absent for no reason whatsoever and later apologise for it. Moreover, productivity is usually low, particularly in the case of people who work in public administration.

Canadian perspective

How to dress for work

Casual dress is fine. Light clothing (preferably cotton) is needed in order to tolerate the intense heat.

How to address colleagues

staff and supervisors use the informal French word for you ("tu") and call one another by their first names. The more formal French word for you ("vous") is mostly used depending on the age of the person to whom you are speaking.

Punctuality and absenteeism

punctuality and reliability are highly regarded. Lateness and absenteeism are rare and justified when they do occur.

Average workday

the workday is from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm and from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm.

Preferred managerial qualities

Local perspective

The qualities that are most highly regarded in a local superior include open mindedness, friendliness, respect for colleagues, flexibility, and tolerance. Colleagues often like their bosses to spoil them with small gestures, such as gifts or money. There is no difference between expatriate and non-expatriate supervisors; respecting the previously mentioned characteristics is what counts for employees. A straightforward way to know how employees feel about their supervisor, is to look at their daily attitude and how well they complete their assigned tasks. The more they dislike their supervisor, the less efficient they will be and the less likely it is they will carry out their duties quickly.

Canadian perspective

Above all, the most highly regarded quality in a superior/manager is fairness. This means that he treats his staff equally and does not grant privileges to certain people.

A second quality would be expertise. In other words, he has skills that will benefit the community.

p>Finally, a third highly regarded quality would be respect for staff members, meaning that he does not treat them like servants, but as colleagues with ideas and with whom cooperation is essential.

In many cases, a manager or an expatriate brings in operational funds. This makes a big difference in relations with the staff. In this situation, the boss is often respected because of the money that he brings in.

How will I know how my staff view me? In Niger relationships are generally straightforward and direct. The way the staff view their boss or their supervisors is usually very clearly stated and is often the topic of conversation among people. If in doubt, simply ask and normally the answer will be given quite readily.

Hierarchy and decision-making

Local perspective

Decisions are usually made by a superior whose employees then carry them out. Nonetheless, sometimes employees will be reminded of the decision-making process when superiors hear rumours that people are expressing certain ideas. It is always important to go to your superior for questions or feedback, this protects employees from certain abuses since it was the boss who told you what to do.

Canadian perspective

Decisions that require a team effort are usually made following discussion groups with the staff in question. Each person involved may state his/her point of view and decisions made take in to account the suggestions that were given. Consulting a direct supervisor to get answers or feedback is common practice.

Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender

Local perspective

Gender

Youth, in particular, like to have fun; there is no sexual assault, but most men act rather silly when they see women.

Religion

With regard to religion, the majority of the population is Muslim and strictly follow its rules such as regularly attending prayers and observing Ramadan.

Class

Different social classes do exist and even affect marriage, as a girl who belongs to a caste may not marry a man who comes from an aristocratic family and vice versa. Classes often contribute to social barriers.

Ethnicity

Previously, ethnicity was a major problem; however, today all ethnic groups live together in perfect harmony.

Canadian perspective

Gender

In Niger, there really is no such thing as gender equality. Men tend to dominate all spheres of activity. In the traditional Muslim environment, women’s roles are restricted. Girls have less education than boys. Traditions often force them to marry when they are very young and restrict them to domestic duties such as fetching water (that is often located at quite a distance) and grinding millet. Young girls living in villages often come to class late in the morning because they must help their mothers with "women’s work" before going to school. Boys do not have the same pressures to do this kind of work.

There is little contact between non-married adult males and females, and there is a clear division between groups of boys and girls. When men and women gather together, women tend to stick to one another and will not speak very often. These inequalities are prevalent in all regions, but are especially obvious in rural areas.

Few women work outside the home. When they do work with men, they tend to be very reserved and play lesser roles.

Religion

The majority of the population are devout Muslims. Prayers and rituals are very important. The same goes for observing traditions. As in the case of gender, it is easy to openly talk about religion, but opinions must be respected. One effect on the workplace is that work schedules must be adjusted to allow time for prayers.

Class

No particular comments related to this issue.

Ethnicity

Many ethnicities coexist in villages and cities without this being an issue. As in other countries, ethnic groups joke and tease one another, but there are no hard feelings.

In general, the population does not like conflict, and greetings and salutations seem to indicate ways to establish peaceful and friendly relations. Relations between employees of different ethnicities are cordial and do not pose any particular problems.

Relationship-building

Local perspective

In order to successfully interact with other people, first and foremost, it is necessary to establish good personal relations. These relationships are even more important in that they help create a feeling of trust among people. This may quite simply be explained by the fact that in Nigerien society it is common for many people to fall victim to fraud. The best way to create personal relationships is to frequently approach the people whom you want to get to know better. This, along with greeting people every day, will create reciprocal feelings between two people.

Canadian perspective

It is not really important to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client. You must ascertain the kind of work or work relationship that you have. Work or business with a foreigner is generally carried out on an objective basis. Personal relationships between natives may have an effect on their work or business relationships, meaning that they may give special privileges to a relation or a friend.

Privileges and favouritism

Local perspective

Colleagues will likely always expect to receive favours as a result of your friendship. Moreover, giving special treatment is part of the culture’s traditions and society frowns on anyone who breaches these rules. As a result of this practice, people are even hired due to favours.

Canadian perspective

A major trend is to want to establish good relations with the boss. Employees often expect gifts, preferred treatment, pay increases or the hiring of friends or family.

I would, under no circumstances, recommend that you grant special privileges. It is best to treat everyone equally.

Conflicts in the workplace

Local perspective

If you have problems with colleagues, it is best to take them aside and try and explain the situation to them. Confronting people publicly may be offensive and may very well makes things worse. All you need to do is observe your colleagues to know if your behaviour has offended them or if they are having problems with you. In fact, if something is not quite right, there will be a sudden change in their demeanour (i.e., they will no longer greet you, smile at you, or they will look angry much of the time).

Canadian perspective

In the case of a work-related problem with a colleague, it is best to confront him or her directly and privately. It has already been mentioned that relations are normally straightforward and direct. The problem should be finding a solution as quickly as possible.

The same attitude should be taken if a colleague is having problems with me or is offended by something I’ve done. He/she should be confronted directly and the situation cleared up.

Motivating local colleagues

Local perspective

Motivation mostly comes from a good working environment, which includes mutual respect, good working conditions, understanding, etc. Money is certainly one of the most important factors in creating motivation. This is due to the country’s poor economic and financial state.

Canadian perspective

In a place where there is a high level of unemployment, having a stable job and the desire to keep it undoubtedly motivates colleague to perform well on the job. Professional satisfaction and the desire to assist in the country’s development also act as motivational forces.

Generally, staff is reliable and dedicated.

Recommended books, films & foods

Local perspective

Books

Sarraounia is my favourite book. The author writes about the bravery of a woman who is a fierce warrior from Arewa. This novel demonstrates that women are just as capable as men of creating miracles despite the Nigerien prejudice that women should stay in the home.

Most useful internet sites

www.republicain-niger.com, www.nigeriens-au-Canada.com, and www.alternative.net

Canadian perspective

There is not much information about Niger in Canada. In Canadian universities, there are students who come from Niger who would be delighted to tell you about their country’s culture. Recommended reading: Amkoullel, l’Enfant peul, from the series Collection J’ai lu—a very interesting introduction to the Nigerien culture—written by Hampâte Bâ, Amadou; Petit Bodiel et autres contes de la savane, also by Hampâte Bâ, Amadou; and Le destin nigérien by Gobi, Salou.

In-country activities

Local perspective

Listen to the following radio stations

R&M, ANFANI, and Voix du Sahel. For additional information, I strongly recommend visiting the National Museum. Regarding food, all dishes are good; personally, I prefer the cooking at the restaurant/bar Guiguiya, particularly the roasted chicken and guinea fowl that are sold in the bar’s entrance way.

Music

I prefer bands that play at weddings or baptisms as they are more lively and create a better ambiance. One favourite song would be "J’aime plus Mali Yaro."

Food

Nigeriens are known for eating a lot of meat, especially beef, chicken and mutton.

I strongly recommend visiting the Centre Culturel Oumarou Ganda to learn more about the culture. Regarding newspapers, many Nigerien dailies (i.e., Républicain, la Roue de l’Histoire, Alternative) are sold and will provide you with rather pertinent information. There are not many cafes; however, you can visit pastry shops such as les Lilas.

Canadian perspective

The Franco-Nigerien Cultural Centre (www.ccfn.nc) in Niamey is a good source of information about the culture and people of Niger. It not only holds expositions, concerts, films, conferences, etc., but the Centre also has a multimedia library and an information resource centre. It is open to the public and contains more than 1,500 documents about Niger’s history, politics, economics, culture, ethnology, and art.

At the Cultural Centre or the University of Niamey, you will easily find a resource person or a student who will be happy to assist you in learning about the culture.

Musicians from Niger

The group "Marhaba" is comprised of a blend of traditional (calebasse, douma) and modern instruments (electric guitar, flute) as well as the voice of Fati Mariko, the modern Nigerien singing sensation. They won the Nigerien National Music Competition and their first album was released in 2001. Also, "Dias" is a composer and singer. His fourth album, Salima, is purely traditional "Gourmantché" music and was recorded in Niamey in February 2002.

National heroes

Local perspective

The country’s national heroes include Sarraounia Mangou, Askia Mohamed, Tanimoune, Amadou Kouran Daga, Aggaba, Dan Baskoré. They are true warriors who fought against western invasions or emperors who tried to take over their territory.

Canadian perspective

Niger’s main heroes resisted colonial domination or other invasions. For example: The first is a woman by the name of Sarraounai Mangou who was the queen of the Azna de Lougou. Prior to colonialization, she withstood the Touareg invasion. She also fought against the Sokoto Empire, which tried to convert her people to Islam. Subsequently, she distinguished herself by courageously refusing to surrender to French soldiers who attacked her country in April of 1899. After many months of hostilities that resulted in countless casualties, the French troops abandoned the struggle.

There is also Alfa Saïbou, a blind witch doctor from the Dosso region. He declared war against the colonial administration. Following many months of fighting he was arrested and executed on March 12, 1906.

In 1912, Fihroun, leader of the Touaregs, refused to pay taxes to the colonial administration. He was arrested and later escaped from prison, organized the Resistance and eventually died in June 1916 while fighting against the colonial army.

Shared historical events with Canada

Local perspective

To my knowledge, there are no negative shared historical events.

Canadian perspective

As far as I know there are no shared historical events between Niger and Canada. However, Canada has been involved with Niger for a number of years and Nigerois have good memories of Canadians. People often ask if you know Canadians who worked for organizations in Niger as they are curious to know what they are doing now. Canada is well regarded and there is nothing that could affect work or social relations.

Stereotypes

Local perspective

In my humble opinion, there are no prejudices based on skin colour. In fact, in Niger, Whites are highly respected. Whites are instantaneously thought of as rich people who are likely to help the poor. The natural inclination of Nigeriens is to regard Whites as people deserving of respect.

Canadian perspective

I do not know of any stereotypes that Canadians have about the local culture that might harm effective relations. Moreover, the prejudices about Nigerois are rather positive: they are a very friendly people who warmly welcome foreigners, particularly Canadians.

About the cultural interpreters

Local interpreter

Your cultural interpreter was born in 1974 and is the fifth in a family of 12 children. He grew up in a town located in a rural area and in 1997 he studied at the Université de Niamey. His studies took him abroad for the first time in 1998 and he subsequently immigrated to Canada to study geography. For the past four years he has lived in Sherbrooke, where he is studying political science. He is single and has no children.

Canadian interpreter

Your cultural interpreter was born in 1942, the eldest of three children. He grew up in an urban area. He studied education at Université Laval and his work took him abroad for the first time in 1980. Since then, he has travelled to Croatia and Guatemala and then to Niger, where he lived for 18 months. He is currently posted in Niger. He is married and has four children.

Related information

Disclaimer

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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