I pride myself in being aware and respectful of different cultures. So when I moved to Senegal, I thought I would be fine about 90% of the time. After all, I have worked, lived, studied and traveled in a number of different countries. So far, here are a few things I have learned about Senegal for the 10% of the time.
In Senegal upon arrival at any location, the arrivee should always say hello first. I have been so used to arriving at places in other countries where the guard/concierge/ shopkeeper says hello as soon as they see me ( i.e. a form of welcoming you ) that I found it so strange that each time I came to work and sometimes to my apartment building, the guard would usually just stare and scowl at me. At times I would say hello and rush in and other times just carried on walking assuming that maybe he didn’t speak French. After a while, I found it somewhat annoying and spoke to a colleague (who is now my reference for all things Senegalese) about the staring, silence and scowling. I explained that some people would say hello and others would just stare at you. He explained that they are waiting for me to say hello. Apparently per Senegalese culture by me not saying hello to them first, I am indirectly saying they are beneath me and not worth my hello :-|. Go figure! There I was thinking that they were being rude or didn’t appreciate my presence… Now, I am constantly yelling “Salamalekum” as soon as I enter any building.
We have all heard of CPT. That is people with more melanin in their skin never being punctual. Basically, this is arriving at social events at least 30 minutes after the advertised start. I’m in Africa and I expected this would be the case when attending social events but NEVER a meeting. One thing I have learned is that Senegal may be the exception to the rule. Apparently unless your meeting is hosted by a donor, CPT time does extend to meetings. This is to say that while no one would dream of turning up 2 hours late to a meeting, being about 30 minutes late is acceptable provided you confirmed your attendance in advance. For those who arrived on time ( well apparently early), we just chitchat about “stuff”. Therefore, do not fret if you are running about 30 minutes, just be sure that you confirmed your attendance in advance and casually breeze. If there is someone scowling at you due to your tardiness, it is probably me : (.
The Lunch Hour
Lunch is from 1pm -3pm. It is a solid 2-hour break if you work in an office. Most people will get in their car and drive home for lunch. There is no rushed 30 minutes wolfing down a sandwich at your desk. This is a solid 2 hour break to eat a home cooked meal (usually thiep) and let your food digest before going back to work. Although I live very close to my office, I am still not able to enjoy the 2 hour lunch break… Perhaps I am just a workaholic who enjoys wolfing down my lunch while responding to emails… 😦
In the US, Casual Friday is a day when people tend to dress down to work. However in Senegal, this is the day when everybody dresses up. The men look sharp in boubous and the women gorgeous in lovely ensembles made from African fabric. Pretty much, everybody wears their Sunday’s Best but I guess this makes sense in this predominately Muslim country, after all Friday is Mosque Day.