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Social Customs & Etiquettes in Mali


Malians are very proud of their traditions of hospitality toward local and international visitors, and indeed, hospitality has been raised to the level of a national value. Greetings and salutations for special occasions (births, marriages, deaths, etc.) are the subject of much social regulation. They symbolise an individual's education and his or her concern and respect for others, with younger people typically expected to initiate the greeting as a sign of respect for their elders.

Foreign travellers who learn at least a few greetings in Bamana or other local languages have their efforts warmly acknowledged by the local people. The majority of the Malian population is Muslim, and foreign travellers, both men and women, are encouraged to be sensitive to the local dress code (e.g. the wearing of shorts is discouraged for both women and men).

Gift-giving and sharing of resources are some of the axioms upon which Malian society is based. Consequently, one's integration in the Malian society requires the learning of the complex grammar of gift-giving.

A different set of rules govern people's behaviour in market places, where initial prices are typically inflated and bartering is an expected ritual.

Being punctual is not a virtue in Mali, therefore, being patient is. People are rarely on time in , but no one gets upset about this, because everyone knows no one is ever on time. This view of time is almost a custom in and is not considered impolite.

Avoid pointing at people with your index finger, use the whole hand instead. Giving anything to someone with the left hand is considered very rude. Always give and receive object with the left hand.

When invited to dinner at someone’s home, it is rude to bring a gift as it is the responsibility of the host to provide everything for their guest. When eating out of a communal bowl, don’t take meat or veggies from the other side.

Meeting & Greeting

Men shake hands when greeting one another. After shaking hands it is common to put your right hand to your chest as a show of respect. When meeting friends, especially if it has been a long time since you have seen each other, a hug is the common form of greeting. Handshakes may linger a bit.

As for greetings among women, a simple handshake is appropriate for an initial meeting. A verbal hello is appropriate as well. When meeting friends, especially if it has been a long time since you have seen each other, a hug is the common form of greeting.

Between men and women, a simple handshake is common. If the hand is not extended, than a slight bow or nod is the polite thing for men to do.

Do note that you should always use the right hand when greeting. A slight bow of the head is appropriate when greeting elders. It is viewed as a sign of respect. In certain parts of southern it is common for women to bend their knees when greeting elders.

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