Working in Namibia?
Namibia: Business and Social Etiquette
When greeting a Namibian colleague, you may be initially surprised to experience a so-called African handshake. This type of handshake consists of three parts, starting with a firm Western handshake, followed by both individuals locking thumbs while still clasping hands with the thumb pointed upwards, before returning to the original Western handshake. You will most commonly see this type of handshake in greetings between two men.
Women tend to greet other women solely with words, shaking hands only with a woman of higher seniority. Men and women will usually share a normal Western handshake or greet each other with a nod and words. Of course, this varies between the city and the countryside, with men and women in the city more accustomed to the Western style of doing business. After two men shake hands, it is common for them to keep holding hands during their conversation. This is not common between people of the opposite sex, although two people generally stand closer together in Namibia than you may be used to in your home culture.
When entering the room for a meeting, it is polite to greet everyone in the room. Even though the other participants may be late, you should try to arrive on time. Before getting down to business, you should engage in some small talk, sticking to safe topics like family, work, and sports. Namibians tend to practice an indirect style of communication, and will be offended if you use a harsh or confrontational tone, although they may not openly show it. Bargaining is common and expected during business negotiations. While bargaining, try to remain calm and never appear desperate to make a deal.
Namibians are a very welcoming and open people, who are known for being particularly kind to foreigners. It is considered common courtesy to greet people in the street and ask how they are. If you need to ask someone for help or directions, you should first greet them and ask after their welfare, and not plunge right into your request for assistance. Any attempts to communicate in an area’s local language, even if you just say a simple greeting, will be met with much enthusiasm.
In this society of sharing, time is a very flexible concept. It is perfectly acceptable to show up late to a social function because you stopped to talk with someone on the way there. Cultivating and maintaining relationships with other people is considered much more important than adhering to a strict and rigid schedule.
At street markets and in small shops, haggling is expected and part of how a normal business transaction is completed in Namibia. If you ask around, you should have no trouble finding out what a reasonable price for something is, and after a bit of negotiating, you should be able to get an honest deal.
There is still a marked gender gap — especially in Namibia’s rural areas — with women expected to stay home and take care of the household. Women tend to dress themselves very conservatively, with long skirts and loose clothing. Although foreign women are not expected to follow local customs, it is respectful to be aware of these customs when traveling in rural areas. Gender norms and perceptions of women are changing rapidly in Namibia, however, especially in the country’s towns and cities.
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