Cultural Differences

To begin, I just want to clarify a point that I made in my last blog about some of my culture frustrations. I’ve been getting a lot of emails and questions about it and I don’t think I phrased things right in my last entry. When I say that me and my family disagreed about the best way for me to get better, I mean that they took VERY good care of me and were always pushing me to go back to the hospital, take lots of medication, and eat extra nsima. We disagreed because after it was confirmed that I didn’t have malaria I didn’t want to take up anymore of the doctors time, I just wanted to let whatever I had pass through my system and I certainly didn’t want to eat even more nsima. Looking back on it now a lot of my frustrations seem foolish, but when you’re sick and in a different culture the little things can sometimes get to you.

Since everyone seems so interested in Malawian culture I decided to dedicate this entry to sharing some of the cultural things I’ve experienced or noticed since I’ve been here. I don’t want to make any generalizations about Malawi or “Africa” so my observations are based solely on my own personal experiences in Thyolo and some other parts of the country.

I’m going to start off by telling you about greetings and teaching you the greetings in Malawi. You always greet people you know when you see them and when you get visitors or visit people you always greet everyone who is present. Basically whenever you have any kind of interaction with someone, you greet them. The most common greetings I’ve experienced are “How are you?”, “Good morning” and “good afternoon”. I’ve listed the greetings below in this order. After greeting someone, both people end the greeting by saying “Zikomo” which means thank you. Most people shake hands when they greet each other and it is pretty common to continue shaking hands until the end of the conversation. I found it pretty awkward at first because people would continue to hold my hand a lot longer than I would hold someone’s hand in Canada. Anyways, the greetings are:

Muli Bwanji?
Ndili bwino, muli bwanji?
Ndili bwino

Mwadzuka bwanji?
Ndadzuka bwino, kaya inu?
Ndadzuka bwino

Mwasewela bwanji?
Ndasewela bwino, kaya inu?
Ndasewela bwino

I’ve also noticed some things based on the way people dress and the importance of dressing well here in Malawi. For the most part women never wear skirts above their knees; they either wear a longer skirt or they wear a chitenge. Sometimes in the cities women wear shorter skirts, but for the most part you never see their knees. Malawians also take great pride in the way that they dress for work. You will be hard pressed to find a Malawian working in an office who is not wearing a dress shirt, dress pants, and shoes. Malawians make sure their shoes are always polished and their shirts are always wrinkle free. Children on the other hand will wear pretty much anything. I’ve noticed that a lot or children don’t wear shoes, however I think this is due more to the fact that they don’t like wearing shoes rather then that they don’t have any. This is definitely the case with my family. All of my sisters have loads of shoes, but they usually only wear them to school and church.

On the subject of church, everyone I have met here belongs to a church. When I am first getting to know someone one of the most common things they will eventually ask me is what denomination I belong to. Most people in Malawians are Christians but there are also some Muslims. The most common denominations in Thyolo are Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist. People attribute their successes and blessings to God and they trust in him to provide for their families and to protect them. I’ve spent a couple bus rides listening to priests pray for the protection of the bus for the first 30 minutes. This usually only happens on bigger buses though, not on minibuses.

Finally, one last thing I’ll share with you is that the pace of life is much slower here. I took me a while to adjust to this at work; technically work is supposed to start at 7:30, but people usually start coming in anywhere between 8 and 9. Mr. Nzengo and I usually come in around 8:15 and we’re always the first people there aside from the Water Officer. Lunch is usually a 2 hour affair and the day ends around 5:00. Some days feel very slow but it can still get quite busy here sometimes. Outside of work I really like the slow pace of life here. No one ever seems in a rush to get anywhere, everyone takes the time to greet people and have conversation. It gives Malawi a very chill and relaxed feeling which I quite enjoy.

Anyways, I could go on and on about the differences I’ve noticed between Malawi and Canada, but I’ll stop here. These are some of the bigger things I’ve noticed (and can think of right now) and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. I’m trying to keep track of lots of the smaller things as well!

Much love,


4 thoughts on “Cultural Differences

  1. Hi Again!

    I’m interested in any similarities that you have come across!

    Also do you have any examples of “cultural mistakes” you have made? If so, what were the consequences of them? And how did you have to work to make up for them, if you had to!

    All the Best,

  2. Hi Maria:
    Nan has been keeping us posted on everything you do. Reading all of your information is so exciting and informative.
    Hope you are feeling better, feeling sick away from home is awful.
    It’s hard to believe that it is November already it seems like only yesterday talking to your Mom & Dad and that you had only been there a few days.
    You have it hot there, but the cool temperatures are setting in here, don’t forget your warm clothes for returning to the ROCK, somethings just do not change.
    Will be reading your information as you post it.
    Take care and we’ll certainly be talking with you when you return home.

    Uncle Darrell & Aunt Rosanne

  3. Hi
    Glad to hear you are feeling better….Take care of yourself…I was thinking about you earlier today as I was at Kevins Mom’s for lunch..Thinking of the turkey I will cook for Christmas Eve..( for you mostly)..
    All is well here….Can’t wait to hear ALL your stories…It is hard to believe you are over half way finished…Take care of yourself and we are ALL thinking of you..Lori.Kevin. NAthan and Devon

  4. Hi,
    Glad to know that you are feeling better. Sounds like you are doing well. Take it all in and enjoy the experience.
    Can’t believe that it is drawing close to the end. Wish I could stop by and visit you or at least be in NL when you get home. No such luck!
    We have been thinking of you and I tried to call you a couple of times. I am not very good with figuring the skype thing out. I will try again though. I have enjoyed reading all your posts and you are a marvelous writer. We are very proud of you.
    All’s well here and busy with the Christmas season quickly approaching.
    Take care and we are thinking of you and praying for you daily.
    Aunt Arlene and Uncle Brian

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