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Zambia 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:


Local perspective

The most important thing to understand about Zambians is probably the devotion to "belonging". Zambians have been trained early on in their lives to consider themselves as belonging to a clan or as members of a close-knit group, nation, or other collectivity. The emphasis is on the family relationships and individual subservience to the family and the community.

If you are meeting someone for the first time and you want to make a good impression, the best topics would be the person’s clan tribe, culture, and children. The polite thing to do is to ask them about their welfare, eg. how their children are, what they are doing. Avoid asking what they do. That comes later, once you have established a good working relationship with the individual. The use if hand gestures and body language is very common.

Topics to avoid would be references to specific individuals, such as the person’s spouse. At best, it would be seen as nosy and the person might interpret that you have some hidden agenda and would like to know about other members of the clan. Let the stranger volunteer the information. Listen and wait for their response. Silence is important; do not rush them to respond to your questions. Let them tell you the story.

Humour is acceptable and welcome. Tell a fun story about your self - not about them, or anyone that they might know, because this might offend them. Topics such as religion can be discussed openly. How much one earns is not a taboo subject. How many children one has is a status symbol. Whether one is married or not is a topic most people would discuss quite openly. On the other hand, people will not be comfortable discussing AIDS.

Canadian perspective

A good topic for discussion is about your family. It is very neutral, and it can be interesting to get discussion going on the general size of families in Canada and in Zambia. If you are a woman, you will often be asked if you are married or soon-to-be. For some it is a way of determining whether you are single, for others it helps them to assess how to relate to you (i.e. single, no kids = more informal and colloquial; older, married with kids/grandkids = more formal and respectful; respect is related to age). "What is Canada like?" is often a question asked—which can lead to all sorts of good conversation if they are truly interested. Topics can be weather, snow, food, poverty, multiculturalism—as a South-east Asian person, I had to explain to a lot of people that Canada is not all Caucasian. Education and work are not common topics—it can make people feel insecure and uncomfortable if they end up comparing themselves to you and feel disadvantaged in these areas. These topics can lead to a first impression that can colour the way this person relates to you.

A question that is often asked is, "What church do you go to?" If you do not believe in God you may be treading into very sensitive waters if you say so. Other religions are acceptable; what is important is that you believe in some form of God. If the people you are talking with are understanding, they may let the issue rest, but you may find yourself invited to church by some of the more persistent people. Inviting someone to church services on Sundays or other religious social events is also a common way for people to extend a hand to newcomers and expose them to social settings. If one is not too uncomfortable with this, accepting such offers can be a very good way of meeting people, building trust, and also showing one’s commitment to understanding the culture they are in.

One topic to avoid as a conversation starter is HIV/AIDS—there is a high degree of social stigma related to this disease in Zambia, and a strong reluctance to admit the extent to which it is affecting the country. The chances are very good that almost all of the people you meet or get to know are in some way affected by the disease (are ill themselves, have lost or sick relatives, or are caring for children not their own who have been orphaned by the disease). When people talk of family, friends, or colleagues "falling ill" or dying of non-descript causes, this is usually to be taken as a sign that people wish to hide the truth about HIV/AIDS.

Men greet each other with a special handshake, but this is not usually done between women. Sarcasm is not typically a form of humour that is understood.

Communication styles

Local perspective

Zambians tend to communicate at very close proximity with people of the same sex. They will generally hug and pat each other on the back. Women tend to hug and show excitement more than males. Be prepared to shake hands every time you meet a Zambian. Many Canadians are not used to shaking hands every morning when they greet their colleagues, but it is a sign of good will and camaraderie. Women tend to shake hands with fellow women; a man and a woman would greet standing at distance each clasping his/her hands together; they would not touch. Generally, men and women keep quite separate from each other.

Eye contact is considered rude. You never look some one directly in the in the eye for an extended period of time. As a sign of respect, young women, children or anyone who is considered to be junior tend not to make eye contact with men, with a foreigner or with someone who is deemed an elder. They wait until spoken to.

Some gestures to avoid:

  • The index finger raised and bending towards you to come is considered to be very rude. This gesture is only used when calling a dog. Avoid it like a plague.
  • Shaking hands with a left hand is considered unacceptable; always use the right hand.
  • Touching someone on the head is belittling.
  • Also, whistling to someone to come toward you not acceptable either (you would generally whistle to a dog).

Canadian perspective

Distance and touching during conversation depends on the level of familiarity and on the nature of the relationship. Distance is similar between same and different sexes and personal space is smaller than what is average in Canada. Touching when speaking to someone is okay with people you are familiar with and friends may be physically closer to each other when communicating, but usually only outside of working hours. You would usually only touch people at the same or lower level than you (in the social or workplace hierarchy etc.). It is common for people to hold your hand long after the initial handshake—often throughout an entire conversation. This should rarely be considered a sexual advance. It is good to make eye contact with all people you are talking with or listening to, but often Zambians will not make direct eye contact with their superiors or elders, as this is considered a sign of deference or respect. Being calm and "easy" (not stressful or forceful) is the most important thing when communicating; it is only acceptable to get excited in a positive way (i.e. being excited over seeing someone, or good news). One’s tone of voice should be "easy" and not stern or harsh—it is quickly noticed if you use a sharp tone or speak with a bit of edge.

Display of emotion

Local perspective

Public displays of anger need to be avoided. Showing affection, eg: kissing or hugging in public is not common and would be considered sexually explicit. Such affections are considered intimate and are reserved for the confines of the home.

Similarly, facial expressions are not shown eg. being mad, or happy in public. You wait and you get home then you can express emotions to your spouse or best friend over a glass of beer. Tone of voice tends to be low. This does not mean lack of confidence, rather, it a sign of respect and politeness. You avoid being confrontational and speak through a third party if there is something you are not happy about. Avoid using the index finger in any gesture. It is considered obscene.

Canadian perspective

It is not common to see much public display of affection at all. During the day, maybe at most holding hands, but very rarely; often it is difficult to determine if a male and female seen together are a couple or just friends. When there are public displays of affection between couples, it is usually in bars or nightclubs. Zambian men quite often hold hands in public places to show that they are good friends or "brothers" (which is a term used not only for biological brothers, but cousins and friends as well). Female friends will hold hands together as well.

It is very faux pas to display anger or sadness in public. In a country surrounded by nations that have experienced or are experiencing conflict (i.e. Congo, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique), most Zambians take pride in being the country that keeps its cool and is very easy-going and peaceful. This attitude is reflected in how people relate to each other, and their strong aversion to public displays of anger or impatience.

Dress, punctuality & formality

Local perspective

Work style differs from place to place. Generally, it is expected that you dress formally and wear a tie and jacket, even if it is 110° F in the shade. Both men and women tend to dress very conservatively in the workplace. Avoid shorts, especially if you are female.

Supervisors are usually addressed by their last name and not their first names. Work status is carried on even after work hours. Hours of work can be very fluid. Workers can report to work very late, depending. They can decide to take a day off to attend to a matter involving an extended family member. Deadlines are not adhered to.

Canadian perspective

Both men and women like to look sharp, although men can get away with being a little more casually dressed. Very rarely do you see people wearing shorts out, especially at work. The common standard is business casual, and both men and women will occasionally wear traditional African attire to work. Address people formally until there is more familiarity. Zambians generally address their colleagues and peers formally (as "Mr. X") in work/office settings like meetings. Sometimes your colleagues/supervisors will tell you that you can relate to them informally, it often depends directly on the individual.

You will often hear references to "African Time" with respect to punctuality. Sometimes meetings or appointments can start as much as 2 hours late. Again this can often depend on the personalities of those involved in the meeting (if the chair of the meeting is a stickler for time) and on the environment. Often, the more formal the event, the later it will start.

It is understood that almost all people will have other "businesses" that they do on the side that generate informal income needed to sustain themselves, such as selling clothes or car gadgets, or having a small store in a market. Incomes for Zambian locals are not very high, and the impact of HIV/AIDS and the traditional view of supporting extended family mean that most Zambians need numerous sources of income to sustain themselves and their dependants. How this impacts on productivity is debatable—some would feel that the impact is noticeable, when people leave the office to check on their businesses, or sell things during office hours, but one could say that it is no more distracting than all the extra-curricular activities many people do in Canada. Being understanding of their need to support themselves and their extended families, is key to good working relations with staff, even if it does take people away from work occasionally.

The impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis is not insignificant. You will see many funerals in a day, and staff can be going to funerals numerous times in a month, of neighbours and relatives. HIV/AIDS touches everyone in Zambia. Meetings or workshops can be affected by absenteeism due to funerals. This has a very significant impact on productivity, but the situation is viewed as a fact of life in a time or a crisis that everyone has gotten used to working around.

Preferred managerial qualities

Local perspective

Education is considered to be very valued in Zambian culture. A Western person with many years of education is considered very wise or "expert" and commands a lot of respect and stature in society (as was, and is, the case with a Chief). People seem to trust foreigners more than they would a local supervisor, even if the local supervisor has more education and experience. The expert is considered an outsider without attachments to the Clan community or clan. This indicates to the staff that the person is not biased in that regard.

The staff will let you know how they feel by showing their loyalty. If they show up for work everyday, on time and sometimes stay late, this is a good indication of their respect. They might bring you gifts to show you their loyalty. They would not verbally express how they feel about you, because it is considered rude. You never really address your supervisor on first name basis no matter how long you have known them because of the importance of respect for the "elder" ie: someone who is considered wiser (eg: your supervisor).

The qualities most highly valued in a local superior are flexibility, and being democratic and consultative. Knowing how to delegate and checking in on the progress are also valuable qualities. A superior who is hard working, honest, kind, personable and able to relate to the local culture, eg: attend local events, e.g. weddings, soccer matches, religious festival, will be admired. Attend such events if you are able. Experience the hustle and bustle of the locals.

If you want to know how you are doing, ask other locals or your fellow expats. The locals will usually describe you using metaphor of an animal, bird or insect to describe your characteristics. Then you have to ask and find out what that symbol means. Story telling is part and parcel of the Zambian culture.

Canadian perspective

Being respectful of one’s staff is the key quality that would be highly regarded in a superior/manager. Local supervisors will sometimes be regarded with some envy because of their higher pay, greater power, and higher level of education. Supervisors who are open and relaxed and who do not abuse their power over their staff are more highly regarded. Particularly because there are strong racial stereotypes and mistrust within racial groups in Zambia, it is important for managers to show that they are beyond those stereotypes and decisions they make are based on defensible reasons, that could not be blamed on race or bias. Education is also another aspect people in Zambia will assess their manager on—there can be resentment if the boss is less educated than his/her staff. Expatriate supervisors are often highly revered and respected—though this will often hide true feelings of envy and bitterness, or fear of the expatriate supervisor’s power within the workplace and outside it.

The speed with which staff do tasks can be an indication of how well the staff view an expat supervisor. If things take longer and more prodding to get done than they did when you first started, it could signal their displeasure about working with you. If you create an environment that is personable, where staff feel they can approach you and feel comfortable discussing matters with you, then it should be easier to determine how the staff feel. However, because of the hierarchical nature of work environments, sometimes you will still need to ask before you learn that something is wrong. Office politics can be strong, with people talking behind others’ backs and perceiving differential treatment by others—so it is advisable to ensure that you are fair among all the staff and keep each staff persons’ issues as private affairs (which makes sense in any work environment).

Hierarchy and decision-making

Local perspective

You don’t ask your supervisor for answers or feedback. Ask your junior, or your colleagues, because the boss may assume that you don’t know your job.

Normally, if the supervisor comes to a project site, the locals might stop, or frantically look very busy and not look up until asked by the supervisor and told to relax and carry on. As an expert you need to be sensitive and try to discern what each of the gestures means. Get to know and consult your assistant. It might be a challenge to get the real story of how the locals perceive you.

Note: For decisions that are made among chiefs, consensus (Communis opio’) has to be reached. This trait tends to permeate the social, work, and other aspects of the culture.

Canadian perspective

Work environments are quite hierarchical; even those that are meant to be more horizontal still end up being hierarchical because that is the way Zambian society is structured. Managers/directors often seek input for decisions, but the final decision usually comes from the top and is rarely challenged. It is usually acceptable and seen as most appropriate to go to one’s immediate supervisor for feedback/answers as long as the work relationship is open.

Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender

Local perspective


Males are considered special in Zambian culture. Females tend to take on the subservient roles. In the case of Zambians who are Bantu by origin, it is within the family that children learn their duties and rights with respect to their parents, grand parents, relatives and members of their clan. Because of the clear-cut division of labour between sexes, the mother became the natural teacher of the daughters and the father of the son. In the evenings, mothers, aunts and grandmothers would gather all the children of their village around their fireplace and recount to them traditional stories.


Traditional religion plays a very significant part in this culture and Zambians tend to be very religious. Especially among the elders, the remembrance of the past is alive and the values, attitudes and behaviours typical of the traditional life are, in many cases, still carefully and scrupulously followed. Zambian culture has crystallized in a rich complex of legends and myths, which were transmitted from generation to generation and from the sacred heritage of the tribe.


There is no class system, but the more education someone has the more they tend to be elevated in society.


If someone is from a certain ethnic group eg. Southern Province, or Western part of Zambia, they tend to tend to be favoured over other ethnic groups, because they are the largest group in the country. This can cause a lot of friction in office politics, and the work environment. You need to be aware of the dominant ethnic group in the workplace. It is not wise to work against the dominant ethnic group.

The family is the basic unit on which the traditional social systems are hinged. This concept has, however, to be understood in the extensive meaning of "family", considering also all the links of kinship and the wider ones at clan level, clans being sub-divisions of tribes. Politically, some Zambian tribes today are organized under a number of territorial chiefs. Historically, political activity started at family level and extended to the village, district and tribe level. The head of the family was, historically, responsible for all decisions taken within his family group and he represented that group at the council at village level. These councils were chaired by a group of elders who recognized as supreme judge and chairman the oldest of them. The councils, formed in such a way, discussed in long debates the most important legislative questions, established priorities about various activities of the government, made the laws effective in punishing the trespassers, and safe-guarding the peace and respect of tradition within the tribe. Some tribes’ traditional culture hinges therefore on the great respect bestowed upon the leaders, on the sacredness of the land and on the tangible link between the generations, perpetuated by sons and daughters. This is common to other matriarchal structures shared by other central African peoples.

Kinship meant everything, not because the people who lived in these cultures necessarily cared more for the kin as a matter of personal inclination, but because they depended on them. Clan members share a common history and common origins and obligations toward ancestors concerning hospitality. In the past, every man aspired to become headman of a village. He could achieve this through succession to a headman position or by beginning his own village together with a few relatives. Succession does not always occur automatically. Often more candidates are available, such as young brothers, nephews, and grand children and headmen are selected for their wisdom and decision making and dispute setting capacities. Appointment takes place only after all are agreed within the group of direct relatives and within the other village headmen of the area.

It is important to understand the linkage of clan relationship at a work place. The relationship between the members of a family are characterized not only by very strong and defined links with the closest members of the family but also by heavy responsibilities towards all the other members who find themselves in need. Also, half a dozen people belonging to the same clan attending a funeral/or wedding celebration of one of the colleagues could shut down an entire plant.

Canadian perspective


Although one can find many women leaders in community life in Zambia, within institutional structures and workplaces leadership is still dominated by men (i.e. politicians, heads of organizations). Women are expected to manage "domestic" activities both at work and home, such as serving refreshments at meetings, looking after children and the household. It is difficult for a woman to own property, especially after she is widowed (the husband’s family gain ownership of all the couple’s property). Gender violence and harassment are not issues that are taken up in the public or political discourse often, although they are a harsh reality for many Zambian women.

There is much talk of gender equity/equality, particularly in NGOs, but work environments do not always demonstrate much seriousness in practice. It is often dependent on the strength of the women involved in the workplace—how vocal, assertive and open-minded they are. Men in positions of power can sometimes take advantage of women in the workplace, particularly in hiring staff. Foreign women are often viewed as exotic and can expect a fair degree of attention from men seeking access to the privileges they are seen to represent (money, opportunities to go abroad, etc).


Christianity is the predominant religion, and more unorthodox denominations (Church of God and Church of Christ) are becoming increasingly popular. In addition to Christianity, most people still believe in traditional African animism/witchcraft. Incidences of witchcraft are common (and reported in the national newspapers), with people casting spells on others, using charms and being possessed by spirits. Most Zambians see these either as pure supernatural activities or as doings of the devil. Other religions, particularly Judaism and Islam to a far lesser degree, are generally regarded with respect. Islam, more common than Judaism, is practiced among the South Asian/Indian community, and mosques are not uncommon. The Bahai faith also has many followers in Zambia, more than other African countries.


Class distinctions in Zambia are sharp. Zambians with affiliations to the political elite are considered to be upper class, and sometimes regarded with disdain and mistrust. The majority of Zambians live in poverty, and the contrasts between rich Zambian and poor Zambian are stark (e.g. owning a car vs. riding unsafe buses, living in large houses with security fences vs. living in informal settlements). Accessing employment in the NGO sector or working in the business sector are viewed as the only viable means of accumulating wealth, as access to higher education is becoming increasingly difficult. Class distinctions are also linked to race. The wealthiest non- Zambians are white expatriates working in the NGO/diplomatic or private sector, followed by an entrepreneurial class dominated by the South Asian/Indian community, and to a lesser degree East Asians. "Coloured" people (mixed race black and white) are also considered to be more economically and socially privileged than black Zambians, and there can be some hostility expressed towards these people, particularly if they are Zambian themselves. These class and racial divisions affect social relations significantly.


There are clear lines between Zambian ethnic groups, usually differentiated by the region that one comes from and by mother tongue. People from the same region are referred to as "brothers and sisters". There are no strong negative stereotypes between Zambian tribal groups. However, ethnic distinctions have been increasingly reinforced in the "multiparty" system in Zambia as a means of mobilizing political support for the official parties. At an everyday level there is not much ethnic tension (between friends or co-workers), but these tensions do express themselves and become more acute in formal politics (e.g. around election time).

Zambian tribal groups do not have much impact on the workplace, except in a minimal way. People would be glad if more of "their" people were working in the same place and there may be a little teasing amongst each other, but that does not impact how groups work with each other.

Between racial groups, there are strongly believed roles and stereotypes. This greatly impacts how the different races (Indian/South Asian, black Zambian, white foreigners, Chinese/South- east Asian) interact and relate to each other. Some of the groups can be very insular. There will be people who interact with others in an unbiased manner, but they are typically exceptions. Workplaces with different racial groups generally have very strong barriers to overcome in relation to stereotypes and creating an environment of trust and respect for each other.

In general, these attitudes can have a significant impact on the workplace. Because work environments tend to be very hierarchical, the race/gender/class/ethnicity of those at the top will greatly affect the way those below them, of similar or different social groupings, will interact with them. It is very important to be highly aware of these social inequalities, so that one does not inadvertently exploit them.


Local perspective

It is not necessary to establish personal relationship as an international expert. Just by being an expert people will tend to bring business to you; they will respect you. However, it pays to get to know the leader in the community and invite him for a meal, or a drink etc.

Canadian perspective

It is very important to share niceties with colleagues or clients. It is viewed as extremely rude to not greet others and have some small talk before discussing business, even if it just involves talking about the weather or how one’s family is doing. Not doing this will negatively affect how your client/colleague views you and your business/work relationship.

Privileges and favouritism

Local perspective

No. Locals expect to be treated the same and would resent special treatment being given to any one-person.

Canadian perspective

Two common types of special privileges are the hiring of friends/family or getting loans/pay advances. Pay advances/loans from a workplace can be administered if there is a policy to do so fairly for all employees. Many employers in the NGO/diplomatic sector will have pay advance and loan systems formally established in their workplaces. This is because there has been a strong and ever-increasing need for this kind of assistance as the HIV/AIDS crisis deepens and poverty continues to get worse overall. But much caution should be exercised when considering granting such favours outside of formal policy unless a trusting friendship has been built. Even then, giving preferential treatment for loans/pay advances or hiring is not advisable. It would be naive to deny that it happens in many workplaces in Zambia, but it can cause resentment among other staff. Only if there is approval among all affected parties for the preferential treatment would it be advisable to grant it.

Conflicts in the workplace

Local perspective

You don’t confront a colleague at work directly; address the situation through the third party. If the colleague is having problems with you, they will avoid you and talk to other colleagues about you; they may give you a nickname associated with the problem.

Canadian perspective

As in a work environment in Canada, whether to confront your colleague directly or through your supervisor, would depend on the individual and the work environment. There are no real cultural differences in this scenario, if the co-worker was approachable you could confront him, however if you think he would not be receptive you could approach his supervisor. If the work environment is large and hierarchical, there might be an established procedure to approach her supervisor, but if the work environment stresses horizontal relations you might approach the colleague directly. The most important point regardless of whom you go through that your approach is private. A public confrontation is unlikely to get you anywhere. Direct, open confrontation over problems in the workplace is rare, both because hierarchies are so entrenched and because drawing attention to conflict in public is inappropriate. Again, Zambians are loathe to express discontent or dissatisfaction with another person publicly, and so one has to become somewhat attuned to the very subtle and indirect ways in which such feelings are expressed.

Motivating local colleagues

Local perspective

Money is the principal motivator to perform well on the job. Loyalty, fear of failure, status, and good working conditions are other motivating factors.

Canadian perspective

A motivating factor in the workplace is having the possibility for moving ahead, either within the same company/organization or onto more prestigious jobs in other places. Also having good working conditions motivates people in their workplace (i.e. health benefits, performance bonuses, sufficient sick leave, holidays for visiting home and leave time when women need to take a "mother’s day" to attend to their children when their husbands can’t or don’t, or when they cannot rely on anyone else to do so, especially if they are caring for orphans). Money is a strong motivation for good job performance because poverty affects so many Zambians and this places great strain on people who can rely on steady income.

Recommended books, films & foods

Local perspective

Useful links (culture and religion).


Bopp, Michael & Judie Bopp, Recreating The World: A Practical Building Sustainable Communities, Four World’s Press, Calgary, 2001. "Clan" Chieftainship, and Slavery in Luvale Political Organization, Africa 27 (1957), pp.59-75. In particular, I recommend works by C.M.N. White, Victor Turner and Doke & Melland. If you are interested in linguistics, read Robert P Collins’ Problems in African History, Prentice Hall,1968; or The Problem of Bantu Expansion, 1968.

Canadian perspective

Zambia is not a common tourist destination compared to other African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, so unfortunately there are very few books/websites/ resources on the country for visitors. If you find Zambia in a guidebook, it is usually a very small chapter within a regional book.

In-country activities

Local perspective

The following activities would be excellent to participate in: National Day (Independence Day, October 24th), big soccer games (local and international). Read the local newspapers, The Post and Daily Mail in particular. English and Local Radio stations have excellent programs about culture.

The best place to find local interpreter is to ask a Catholic Priest (missionary); they have been in the country for along time and highly respectable by the local people. They can recommend the best person to assist you in getting to know the local culture. The local chiefs are great cultural interpreters as well.

Canadian perspective

The infrastructure is also a lot less developed for tourists (and for Zambians), so travel around the country is very local, as are places to visit. They are building up some of the main attractions, such as the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, but this and other attractions are not very "tourist-ized" and provide for a more "natural" experience. There are places that cater to high-end tourism, such as the exclusive game resorts in the national parks; these can only be accessed by air plane.

There’s one (or two?) South African soap operas which air on Zambian television that are very popular and are a good way of sparking connections with people! Zambians will also be very impressed if a foreigner tries and enjoys local food. The best way to make friends this way is to attempt (and be a good sport about failing) to eat "nshima" with your hands.

Getting involved in local sports are a way to interact with other Zambians. Some of the main sports you will find Zambian women and men involved in are tennis, squash, badminton, netball, and volleyball, soccer (mostly men), karate (mostly men), basketball, rugby (men) and cricket (men). Soccer is very popular among Zambian men, so attending games or playing or talking about soccer is a good way to immerse oneself. Reading all of the national newspapers gives good insight into the politics of the country and an idea of the key issues of importance are to Zambians. It also provides topics of conversation. "The Post" is the country’s only independent newspaper and is good for more critical views. Similarly, listening to the radio taps one into the mood of Zambians and covers major issues the country is facing. Television tends to be dominated by South African media, so it can give insight into what the latest trends will be and the mood of Zambia’s neighbours to the south (South Africa has a lot of influence on the trends in surrounding countries). When in Lusaka, attending performances at the Lusaka Playhouse is a great way to meet people of all sorts and to experience Zambian culture. Nightclubs are culturally interesting places, but frequenting them can, potentially, be damaging to one’s reputation both socially and at work.

National heroes

Local perspective

Soccer heroes are very famous. The first president of Zambia is a great hero as well. In addition, some local Chiefs, especially in southern province, are local heroes because they opposed colonialism in the early part of the 20th century.

Canadian perspective

Past-president Kenneth Kaunda is still considered the nation’s "founding father" and is revered even by those who disagreed with him politically during the time of one-party rule. Chiluba is much less popular, and is becoming less so as his legal ordeals with a very public corruption scandal get worse. Other political figures of the independence era continue to remain national heroes, as they are viewed, along with Kaunda, as having liberated Zambia from colonial rule.

In the realm of sports, soccer players get much recognition, although the Zambian team is not one of the strongest in Africa.

Shared historical events with Canada

Local perspective

There is a very little understanding among Zambians as to who is Canadian or American. Local people lump everyone from North America together as Americans (from the USA). It is up to you has to that you are Canadian not American.

The most historical events that have tied Zambia to Canadians are CIDA projects. Development projects, medical assistance, education grants etc.

Canadian perspective



Local perspective

The Canadians are perceived as being very wealthy, knowledgeable, educated, compassionate, honest, and hard working.

Canadian perspective

There is a lot of social stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS within Zambian society, and this is too often reinforced by foreigners who bring with them biased attitudes against this disease—e.g. people who still think they can contract the disease through physical contact like hand-shaking, etc. Especially damaging is the idea that many foreigners bring that the cause of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Zambia and Africa generally can somehow be explained by widespread casual sexual behaviour that is somehow inherent in African societies. Canadians who have intense fears of catching HIV/AIDS and allow their fears to control their interactions and relations in Zambia are perpetrating the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and promoting the current attitude within Zambian politics of ignoring the enormity of the problem, and within society, shunning those who are HIV-positive.

Also, many foreigners too often have false understandings of the nature of poverty in Zambia and translate these into beliefs that there is an inherently poor work ethic that exists among Zambians. These misunderstandings can also be expressed as a general sense of superiority.

About the cultural interpreters

Local interpreter

Your cultural interpreter was born in Kitwe, Zambia the eldest of 10 children. He belongs to the family of Bantu speaking people. After one year of studies at the University of Zambia for a year, he immigrated to Canada to study in Toronto at the University of Toronto. Following the completion of his post graduate degree in Education from the University of British Columbia, he returned to Zambia and worked in a teacher training college as the Dean of Students in the second largest city, Ndola. He has since completed a Cross Cultural/ Education & Community Development certificate in Edinburgh and worked in Uganda with a non-governmental organization as Team leader in Community Development. Your cultural interpreter has travelled to many countries in Europe and Asia and has also lived in Jamaica and Israel. He is currently living BC and working and is married with two children.

Canadian interpreter

Your cultural interpreter was born in Windsor, Ontario, as a first-generation Malaysian- Canadian, the oldest of two children. She was raised in Cobourg, Ontario, then moved to Toronto to undertake a Bachelor of Science in International Development and Environmental Science at the University of Toronto. She has travelled abroad since she was young, including time spent in England, France, Germany, Singapore, Malaysia, Panama, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malawi, the east coast of the USA and across Canada. Her work experience overseas includes Thailand, Malaysia, Zambia, Mexico and Nigeria. Your cultural interpreter worked and lived in Zambia for 1 year with CARE Canada in 1999-2000. She is currently living in Ottawa, working with an environmental consulting firm.


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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