Peace Corps Volunteer Jess Moore's Advice for Getting Along in Zambia

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Peace Corps Volunteer Jess Moore's Advice for Getting Along in Zambia

Peace Corps Volunteer Jess Moore's Advice for Getting Along in Zambia

Cultural Tips

Jess' Advice for Getting Along in Zambia

When greeting someone older, bow down or bow a little to show respect.

When visiting and offered a seat, men normally sit before women.

When given money as a gift, it is rude to count it.

It is rude to refuse to taste food (even caterpillars).

It is rude to stand with hands on hips or in pockets when talking to elders.

It is bad manners to sniff food.

When offered something and you refuse, the host is bound to genuinely insist. They will likewise expect you to insist when you offer in a similar situation.

Never use the left hand for receiving or giving something, eating or greeting.

Men often hold hands with friends, no sexual connotation. Homosexuality is against the law.

Thighs of women are private parts and not to be exposed. Breasts are not private parts, just food for babies.

Women do not open legs or cross them when sitting.

Do not point a finger when referring to an elderly person.

A woman does not look a man in the eye when speaking; it implies that she is interested in him. When talking to elders, never look into their eyes.

When eating food with elders, it is bad manners for young people to leave the table (or ground in the village setting) before the elders. When an elderly person sends you to do something, respond immediately and do not question or argue.

It is advisable to wear long pants when going out (most of us wear shorts, it is too hot). Actually "pants" means underwear here, you must say "trousers".

Always shake hands when greeting someone. When greeting from a distance, clap your hands several times, or pat your right hand on chest several times. There are different handshakes for different tribes, some even involve clapping.

Someone who is a parent may be addressed using the child's name: Bana Whitney (mother of Whitney), Bashi Whitney (Father of Whitney). Any child available, or the eldest child will do.

When a woman is menstruating, she cannot put salt in the relish, because she is unclean (?). When she is pregnant, do not talk about it.

When company is staying with you, the woman is to wake up early, do housework and prepare everything before the visitors awake. Failure to do this means the woman is lazy. It is impolite to ask visitors what or if they want to eat.

Bemba say that one is "washing" the mouth instead of brushing teeth.

Zambians are not very accurate when giving directions but they are very helpful and will often take you where you want to go. Instead of saying that they don't know, they will typically make up directions.

When eating, never state that someone appears hungry or is eating a lot (they don't mind telling me that they are constantly hungry or thirsty, however - Jess).

Some food stuffs are only for men: gizzards, raw ground nuts (an aphrodisiac), and spleen. Girls eat with mother and boys eat with father. Men do not cook or serve themselves from the pot. Breakfast is left overs from dinner. In restaurants, tips are not expected.

It is good to bargain, use sweet talk.

Bemba do not plan for the future because everything lies in the hands of the Lord.

Only close friends should enter a bedroom, never parents in law and older children. Members of opposite sex are never allowed.

In villages, the toilet, bath area and kitchen are separate from the house. The toilet is built far from the house, so that others will not know when it is used. One cannot use the same toilet as the in-laws.

A cooking stick is never used to beat a child.

It is taboo to sit on a mortar.

A teenager or anyone who is not married cannot tell elders that he has a backache (has sexual connotations). I made this mistake with my homestay mother. "Oh, no! You cannot have a backache" - Jess.

When invited somewhere, it is OK to invite someone to accompany you. (Important when planning a gathering).

When invited for a drink or to a restaurant, the host always pays the bill. It is not impolite, however for Zambians to ask to have something bought for them.

In towns, men buy women drinks, while in villages the women brew beer for men.

Husbands to not usually complement their wives.

Peace Corps Volunteers, like other white people, are assumed to be rich and bringing miracle solutions for communities.

Most things are male oriented in Bemba, but the position of headman is matrilineal.

Men pay dowry prior to marriage. Saviour asked me about this. I told him we consider this like buying a wife, something that we do not do (nowadays) - Jess. At weddings, the bride is supposed to look sad because she is leaving her family.

Pointing at a graveyard with the finger will cause one's finger to be bent permanently.

When a fly or any small insect enters your mouth, expect to eat something really delicious later.

When droppings from a flying bird land on your body, you have good luck.

When one feels the twitching of an eyebrow, expect either a visitor or a good gift.

When a lizard lands on a young lady she will bear many children.

When coming across a puff adder while walking, if the snake continues moving tragedy is foretold.

When walking in the bush, the cracking sound of a dry twig means that a dead relative is trying to contact you.

For a child to cut its upper teeth first is called Icikunkula; in older days these children were killed.

When a person trips on some object (or stumbles) while walking there are people somewhere talking about him.

An itching sensation from the fingertips means that you should expect a surprise gift from someone

An owl perched on the roof of your house making a crying sound is an omen of impending tragedy

A wild cat or group of wild cats wailing near your house portends calamity for you or a relative

When an insect (especially a white butterfly) sits on any part of your body as you are walking, you are in good luck.


To dream about rain is bad; raindrops are like tears.
To dream about digging is bad, as it foretells a grave.
To dream about a lion is good, as it announces the visit of an ingulu (spirit)
To dream of stepping in antelope droppings is good; you will have meat soon.
To dream about a dog is a warning that a lion is waiting for you.
To dream about a bird flying swiftly overhead fortells success.
To dream about a wedding is tragic; it fortells death.

A person who is HIV-positive is said to have a "slow puncture". The AIDS virus supposedly saps the life out of its victim much like a slow puncture slowly depletes the air in a tire.


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