North Macedonia 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
If you met someone for the first time and you want to make a good impression, good discussion topics would be: talking about where are you from, your work and family. Also, you can talk about climate, leisure activities and places to visit.
Avoid talking about politics, ethnic differences, recent historical past and the standard of living; it is best also to not compare Canadian and domestic culture. Most people are burdened by misunderstandings between ethnicities (intolerance) and a low standard of living. There are also many different points of view regarding politics.
Humour would be acceptable as long as it doesn’t offend local culture. It should be appropriate to the context of the situation.
Macedonia is made up of different ethnic groups that, to differing degrees, share the same values and preferences about topics of discussion. In all cases, family is most important, particularly the way they live, marry, and carry out daily life. Decision-making is an area that almost always reserved for men, who will deal with any matters concerning either the immediate or extended family. When first meeting people, it is forbidden to question or doubt this fundamental aspect of Macedonian society. Simplistic comparisons of Macedonian and Canadian family values are usually not recommended. You should first take the time to listen and understand.
This particularly holds true for the Albanian ethnic community (or Albano-Macedonians) who have a stricter "patriarchal" family structure that is noticeably different from other communities in Macedonia. Based on the extended family’s traditional respect for the head of the family, the patriarchal system is the underlying force and an important cultural reference point for all. The patriarch plays a central role in family decision-making, particularly regarding matters of an economic or political nature or regarding marriage. Doubting a patriarch’s influence when meeting him or bypassing his authority will hinder the achievement of anticipated results. Moreover, the topics of women’s education and tasks that confine their role to that of a housewife are best avoided even though women’s role in modern Albanian society is becoming more important. Viewpoints on this subject vary, particularly in country villages that are traditionally more conservative.
There are no magic formulas that tell you how to deal with people the first time you meet them. However, it is essential that you be courteous, polite, humble, and especially show that you are listening. Often topics that most interest people include conversations about regional history and culture, local/international politics, business, agriculture, and sports (soccer and basketball). Topics that should be avoided when first meeting people include sensitive political subjects.
Always place a lot of importance on the patriarch’s role in the Albanian community and try to get his opinion whenever possible or applicable.
An acceptable distance when speaking to someone would be an outstretched arm just barely touching the other person with the tips of the fingers. If you are with a close friend, the distance can be shorter and you can touch them; it varies according to the person you are speaking to.
Regular eye contact is necessary. If you don’t keep eye contact, it might be considered a sign that you don’t respect the person.
Gestures depend on the individual. Some people gesture a lot; the other do not. The same ones apply as those in Canada. Facial expressions are standard like those in found in other Western countries. Tone of voice would be moderate, and people tend to be quite indirect talking around a problem or suggestion.
Macedonians are warm and generally welcome foreigners. Although they are not generally very formal when they first make people’s acquaintance, meetings gradually become even less formal, which allows you to use your sense of humour more. In this kind of situation, the acceptable distance between yourself and the person with whom you are speaking may be quite a bit closer than what is considered acceptable or comfortable in Canada. In ethnic Macedonian communities, friendships or agreements are often sealed by drinking to a toast and meeting that person’s gaze—failing to do so would show a lack of sincerity and genuineness. (Note: Drinking alcohol is much less frequent in ethnic Albanian communities). Between men and women hugs and kisses on the cheek are common practice and reinforce sincerity and trust. Hugs are given by holding one another firmly by the shoulders.
Shaking hands upon arrival and the meaning attached to this gesture often sets the tone of the conversation (for example, a handshake may be sincere, intended to make up for something, and/or simply be an exchange of information). It is best to look the person in the eyes when shaking hands as this adds to your expression of honesty and sincerity.
Whether you are visiting a Macedonian or an Albanian, coffee, tea, and/or juice will almost always be offered to you as a matter of course. It is a good idea to accept because doing so will facilitate discussion. It is important to not touch your beverage until the host has already started drinking. Some sort of cake or pastry may also accompany the drink.
Display of emotion
Public displays of affection, anger or other emotions depend on the situation and location, i.e. in the central parts of the city they are not very common; I would not say that they are unacceptable. For example, if you see a close friend, it is very normal to hug or to kiss him/her on the cheeks. On the other hand, public displays of affection are more common for people living in rural parts of the country; the same is true for displays of anger.
The amount of public display of affection between men and women varies depending on the community in Macedonia. Compared to the Macedonian community, relations between the Albanians are much more discreet and not as obvious in public places. For Albanians, a woman’s private life (and particularly that of an unmarried woman) is often something that immediate family members interfere with. In rural areas, romantic relations that are not approved by the family may hold major implications for the young woman and particularly her partner who may be harshly punished by the young woman’s brothers and cousins.
In public it is best to maintain a good impression and professional image. You should also limit your use of humour or show of emotions. Macedonians are naturally proud and have a strong personality and are very concerned about maintaining good relations with those who are around them. This concern is partially explained by the strong ties and socio-economic interdependence between community members and the need to be patient and accommodating with everyone. In the Macedonian community, it is better to avoid confrontations and look for alternative solutions. One such solution might be to draw upon your new support network; these contacts will likely be in the best position to help you or find a solution to the stalemate. It is important to keep your head about you and stay in control of the situation.
In more complex conflicts, the Macedonian community will tend to rely on the judicial system and the police more frequently than other ethnic groups will. The Albanian community’s relations with the police are less smooth and there is less trust. Family and clan members resolve their own differences and conflicts according to their own cultural code. Similarly, in the Macedonian community, it is important to also keep your cool and your emotions under control. Someone who is calm and sure of him- or herself when under pressure is greatly respected by all members of Macedonian society.
Dress, punctuality & formality
At work, Macedonians tend to be less formal in summertime, and more formal and conservative in winter. It usually depends where the person works. In government ministries and embassies, dress is more official.
Colleagues are always addressed by the first name, supervisors by Mr. or Ms with either the first or the last name. They are also addressed by their function.
Most people are punctual for work. Absenteeism is not high, but neither is productivity.
Deadlines are not well respected, although this will likely change as transition progresses.
Wearing appropriate clothing to work is of primary importance. Shorts are rarely worn, even when it is very hot. In the Macedonian community shorts are worn at home, on vacation (at the beach), and when playing sports. For any other activity or outing, pants and dress shoes are most often worn. In the Albanian community, shorts are never worn (except when playing sports). It would be very inappropriate to wear them when meeting up with other people (no matter how unimportant the get-together) or if you are invited to a family gathering.
Formal relations between locals and international workers vary in each workplace; however, what is consistent is that Macedonians want to quickly form an opinion of the person with whom they are speaking and find out what they have in common. It is common to use people’s last names when first meeting them. If the first meeting goes well then formalities go by the wayside and conversation takes on a more relaxed tone.
An international employees’ (expat’s) level of professionalism is judged on the basis of their level of language, or conversation, and the way they put their professional skills into practice. Members of the community often respect foreigners who can apply their knowledge to attain genuine and tangible (positive) results.
Compared to Canada, punctuality is more of a flexible concept in Macedonia and this is something that you will need to learn to deal with. Usually, being 15 minutes late does not mean that you are not on time. In fact, the first 20 minutes of a meeting usually give people an opportunity to have a coffee or tea and eventually broach more important topics. The same thing occurs at the beginning of the workday; what I tend to call the "coffee/tea ritual" is an introduction to many activities.
Preferred managerial qualities
Education, experience, leadership, openness to new ideas, hard working, personable etc., are all qualities that are highly regarded in a local superior/manager. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of managers who don’t have such qualities. This is because many of them lack the education and/or got and kept their positions through personal connections.
The attitude toward a superior who is non-local is usually positive as he/she is assumed to be an able person.
It may take some time before the new foreign superior gains the trust of his/her subordinates. If he/she is not respected by employees, possible signs would be inflexibility or low morale. A superior who is not respected would not be told so directly, but it is quite likely that his or her staff would talk about with each other.
A strong, fair, and, impartial character is desirable. Being an expatriate does not make a significant difference. In fact, expectations will initially be greater for an expatriate who is, in their opinion, better qualified and more experienced.
Hierarchy and decision-making
In a firm or a company workplace, decisions are made by superiors or a board of directors. Ideas may be generated by employees where expertise and skilled work are valued. If it is a government, bank, ministry, law court, or local institutions, everything is regulated and people just follow the rules and daily routine.
It is acceptable and advisable to go to one’s immediate supervisor for answers or feedback. This is especially the case in successful firms or companies.
In a very general way, decision-making revolves around those in charge and little emphasis is placed upon initiative, at any level. Junior employees expect to be told how and what to do, down to the smallest details, and expect their supervisors to follow up with the same level of detail. The indirect consequences of this kind of management (micro-management) are that junior employees do their jobs without doing any more than what is expected of them. Employees do not feel concern for the company’s success because the responsibility does not fall upon their shoulders!
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Views on gender are still very conservative and traditional. In the Islamic population, religion also plays a very important role, making big differences between men and women. Women are still employed more rarely than men, and men are thought to be more capable of hard work. In higher positions, women are generally less involved and less visible.
The dominant religion in Macedonia is Orthodox Christian, and the second biggest is the Muslim religion. People tend not to be very religious and talk more about religion and practice less. There is not enough mutual respect between people of different religions. You may find more suspicion and dislike than understanding.
In casual conversation Macedonians (Christian) and Albanians (Muslim) often attack the other but in the workplace people generally hide their emotions and try to behave civilly. In many job advertisements (on governmental institutions, or international organizations) knowledge of Macedonian, English and Albanian are required. This puts Albanians in a good position because a Macedonian has to know the Albanian language, which is not a maternal language in Macedonia, to find better job. That is for international organizations, not for Macedonian private firms.
There are three classes: Upper class- very small number of people; middle class- not very many people; and lower class- most of the Macedonian population. For the moment, class is based only on money. Unfortunately, the class system is the most important thing for the workplace. In the past, education and roles in society were important, but this has changed. The situation in Macedonia today is very confusing regarding values, education, money, or contacts and the situation is different for different work places. In the domestic private firms, you can find job if you have connections and money and a good education is not highly valued. In the government institutions the situation is similar. Education and experience are only important in international organizations or firms.
Ethnicity is very important in Macedonia. There are two main ethnic groups: Macedonians (about 65%); and ethnic Albanians (about 22%). Relations between the two main ethnic groups are not very good, and often there are misunderstandings and even serious clashes (see attitudes regarding Religion).
Ethnicity is an issue in the workplace mainly in governmental institutions, where there tends to be greater mixture. Governmental institutions must employ people from different ethnicities, because of the post-war agreement signed from the two biggest political parties in the Macedonian government, Macedonian and Albanian. As 22% of Macedonian citizens are Albanian, 22% of government employees must be Albanian. International organizations have a similar policy regarding percentages.
But ethnicity is also very important in the private sector, especially after the war-crises in 2001. Before the war crises, the tension and differences weren’t so emphasized. It wasn’t so important (it was, but not too much) whether you were you working for Macedonian or Albanian employer. I used to work for Albanian employers few years ago, and that was normal then. But today, in a private Macedonian firm, you will find Macedonians; in private Albanian firms, Albanians. If I want to work for Albanian employer, or I spent a lot of time with Albanian people, I will find misunderstanding and the same is true if you as, Macedonian superior in domestic Macedonian firm employ an Albanian. The reverse situation is also true.
High unemployment, poverty, privatization, transitions, an unstable political and secure situation and economic instability in the country have meant that young people are moving away every year abroad, out of resignation and desperation. There are many efforts to change things, but it is going very slowly.
See the "First Contact" section. There is still much work to be done to achieve gender equality in Macedonia. Women rarely hold so-called managerial or leadership positions or jobs. The reason for this is partially linked to values learned over the years at home and the fact that women have less education than men.
In mixed company, women tend to let men take the initiative. In a group made up only of women, an intense dynamic may emerge and women will become more talkative. Women are generally more pragmatic than men in the way they make decisions. They are also freer of social, political, and religious considerations. Contrary to men, women are much more concerned about the results that may come out of the process. Therefore, women will see themselves as more conciliatory and willing to make compromises.
Macedonia is mostly made up of Orthodox ethnic groups. For example, the Serbs and Vlachs are primarily Orthodox. Even though the ethnic Macedonian community is politically dominant (due to its demographic influence), these groups all still share the same religious values and a similar vision for socio-economic development of their respective groups. This reality makes it important to include them in any projects that are being implemented. Ethnic Macedonians are less likely to include Macedonia’s other ethnic groups, particularly Muslims, in their socio-economic relationships.
The Muslim community is the second largest group in Macedonia and is made up mainly of Turks and Albanians as well as a small Bosnian and Gypsy community. The various Muslim groups also share common religious values and will have economic ties; however, socially they remain distinct by virtue of their divergent languages, cultural values, and political allegiances. To best illustrate this fact, marriages between Albanians and Turks are less frequent than those between Serbs and Macedonians.
An interesting fact is that Macedonia is also made up of ethnic Muslim communities as well as an Albanian Catholic community. For example, Mother Theresa was a Catholic Albanian from Skopje.
I would say the effects of social class are the same as in Canada.
According to the 1994 census, the population is made up of Macedonians (66%), Albanians (23%), Serbs (2.1%), Turks (4%), Gypsies (2.2%), and Vlachs (0.4%).
It is very important to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business because it is matter of trust, but you must be very, very careful when doing this. To establish a personal relationship with someone takes time, and patience. You will need to get to know all about the person and his family background. It is recommended that you check out the firm with which you are interested in cooperating. This can be done for all firms in Macedonia through the Central Register, in the Ministry of Economy.
It is very important to establish personal relations with a colleague or client before getting to business. For Macedonians, personal relations and the resulting trust is more important than the company or organization for which people work. Macedonians do business with people and not with companies. The comments made in the "First Contact" section also apply in this situation.
Privileges and favouritism
I think that a colleague or employee would expect special privileges if there is a close personal relationship or friendship. He or she may expect special treatment and maybe even a pay increase, as well as hiring of his/her friends or family.
Yes, there are circumstances under I would recommend such privilege or consideration but the person in question must deserve it, because of his/her high performance at work. Also, if a hard- working employee recommends someone they know for a position or promotion, he/she will probably recommend someone who is also hardworking.
The expectation of special privileges and favours is often the principal reason why developing friendships is so easy. People from abroad become important resources for locals who include them into their own personal network of friends and contacts. This cultural characteristic stems partially from the lack of trust toward the governmental apparatus that friends and contacts can help you bypass, thereby finding a simple and quick solution to your needs.
There are cases where you may exercise a small amount of discretionary power, but generally I would not recommend giving out privileges or favours. The consequences would lead to a conflict of interest and a noticeable loss of credibility with other locals, who are naturally very suspicious. A lack of transparency would negatively affect morale as well as employees’ performance and their loyalty toward the company or organization.
Conflicts in the workplace
If you have a work related problem with a colleague, I would not confront him or her directly, whether in private or publicly. I would try to solve the problem by way of friendly conversation. If that doesn’t work, I would try again and again. Failing that, I would tell him/her that is not possible to go on with the situation as is and would ask for a superior or colleague to help. If all else fails, I would confront him/her directly in front of the rest of the staff.
If a colleague is having a problem with you, or is offended by something you have done, you would know by the general relationship and communication with in the working area. It would show in his/her behaviour, in the way he/she looks at you and talks to you. The offended person can be "cold" and keep a distance in relationship. I should suggest you ask your colleagues to tell you openly what they don’t like in your behaviour.
Always confront someone privately and calmly. Macedonians are proud and have a strong sense of pride; they may be easily offended. A diplomatic approach is recommended.
A colleague who has a problem with her/his employer will have a more distant attitude and will become silent, or even disloyal.
Motivating local colleagues
To perform well on the job, Macedonians are motivated first of all by money, then job satisfaction and fear of failure. Good working conditions, a sense of commitment and loyalty are also factors.
Money motivates above all because of the poor economic situation in Macedonia. Fear of failure is also highly motivating, because if you lose the job you have, you will have trouble finding another one. There are a lot of examples of people working without being paid for long time because they keep up the hope that they will get that job permanently and be paid. This occurs in all kinds of professions and at all levels of qualification, whether you are unskilled or a scientist; the situation is similar in either case.
Above all, personal satisfaction and good working conditions. A higher salary is always appreciated, but will not necessarily result in a proportional increase in productivity or the quality of the work.
Recommended books, films & foods
If you are interested in Macedonian culture, I would recommend reading the most famous Macedonian poets Blaze Konevski (our laureate poet) and Kosta - Solev Racin. They are the two war poets and most of their work is translated into world languages. I would also recommend books describing Macedonia’s historical past.
For more information about Macedonia, visit following web sites: http://www.realitymacedonia.org.mk, http://on.net.mk/, http://www.skopje.com.mk, and http://mt.net.mk.
I would recommend reading up on the history of the Balkans and particularly the period of the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian empires as well as the Napoleonic Wars in the south of Europe. Each new army, government and resulting wave of migration helps explain the multicultural complexity of present-day Macedonia, hence Napoleon’s use of the term "Macedonian" to describe a fruit or vegetable cocktail.
Moreover, it would be interesting to learn about the points of contention with respect to current border issues with the neighbouring states, such as Greece’s recognition of Macedonia.
There are a lot of good places to visit, like the lake of Ohrid and mountain resort Krusevo and Popva Sapka. There are also many ancient places, like Stobi, 100 km south of Skopje, and Heraclea, near by Bitola, the second biggest city in Macedonia. Old Slavic culture and literacy began in Macedonia and was developed in the monasteries during the middle ages. Most of these monasteries are still in very good condition and are very interesting to visit.
Food in Macedonia is quite international, but there are still local ways of making dishes. There are restaurants specialized in traditional domestic food as pindjur, sarma, pita, ajvar.
When in the capital of Macedonia, you can go to the concerts, cinemas, sporting events, or one of the many cafes. Many of these activities and possibilities are also available in smaller towns like Ohrid and Bitola, the second biggest city.
As for a "cultural interpreter", you will probably need to find someone who speaks English or French fluently. This person could probably be found through the tourist bureaus around the country.
No particular advice on this topic.
One national hero is Goce Delcev, who was the main ideologist behind the creation of independent Macedonia and who has very progressive ideas regarding the formation of a Balkan federation. He worked on these ideas on the beginning of the twentieth century. Jane Sandanski is a well know Macedonian national hero who fought the Turkish invasion in the middle of the nineteenth century. There are also several other national heroes who took part to the Macedonian national uprising in 1903 against the Turkish Empire. The most famous among them are Pity Guli, Dame Gruev and Nicola Karev, the ideologist behind the uprising.
During the time when Macedonia was a part of the Yugoslav federation Josip-Broz (called Tito) was another well-known hero. He was the leader of ex-Yugoslavia and, during the Second World War he defended the country from occupation.
Mother Teresa (an Albanian from Macedonia) is an icon of generosity and peace. Alexander the Great is a historical reference point for Macedonians.
Shared historical events with Canada
There are no shared historical events between Macedonia and Canada that could affect work or social relations. On the contrary, there are numerous events between the two countries that help maintain excellent work and social relations, because Canada has always been the Promised Land for Macedonian emigrants. There are thousands of people who have found a peaceful existence and good prosperity in Canada.
No, not to my knowledge.
Locals have no stereotypes that may be harmful to effective relations, but existing stereotypes about Canadians are absolutely positive and useful for effective relations. Macedonians highly respect Canadians and they are welcomed to live or work in Macedonia.
Canadians do not know much about Macedonia; therefore, there are few stereotypes.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born in Kavadarci, a small town in central Macedonia, the younger of two children. She was raised in this town until the age of 18, when she moved to the capital, Skopje, to continue her studies. She graduated with a degree in Social Work from the University of Skopje and is currently living and working there as a trainer for a non-governmental organization. She has travelled all over Europe. Your cultural interpreter is Orthodox Christian and a descendant of the Samuel Kingdom. She is married and has no children.
Your cultural interpreter was born and raised in Montréal. He joined the Canadian armed forces in 1994, and was sent with his battalion on a United Nations Protection Forces mission (UNPROFOR) to Bosnia-Herzegovina where he was in charge of developing relations with civil organizations and the French military forces on site. Upon his return to Quebec, he returned to school and received his Bachelor of Social Science from the Université de Montréal in 1996. He then joined up with the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) again as civilian in Bosnia-Heregovina and Macedonia to manage various democratization projects and programs. During this time, he worked with local authorities as a local mediator and assisted in the redeployment of the police force and reconstruction of local infrastructure in the area under his care. He thus acquired six years of on-the-ground experience in assistance programs. He currently lives in Longeuil, Quebec.
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.