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Social Customs & Etiquettes in The Gambia


In general, Gambian ethnic groups prize tranquillity of life, and their manners tend to ease the attainment of that goal. Gambians tend to be soft-spoken and gentle in demeanour, seeking to avoid noisy conflicts and striving toward quiet settlement of disputes. Greetings tend to be drawn out while people ask about one another's families.

The roles of women in are slowly changing. Women are expected to be wives and mothers, but more and more women are also having careers. In rural areas, women rarely drive, ride a bicycle, or go to groundnut fields. Women do not tell men what to do or defy a man’s instruction. Nonetheless, women’s social circles are vibrant and empowering to an extent. They have vegetable garden cooperatives and grass roots micro credit schemes.

Gambian women will often give foreign women a hard time for not knowing how to cook, wash clothes by hand, or fetch water. But, this is part of the intense joking culture that persists here. Women must dress conservatively when outside the resort areas. Gambian women never show from their belly button to below their knees. Foreign women should do the same. Do not wear shorts or short tops, it is very, very rude and culturally insensitive; a woman's thighs are to a Gambian man what the breasts are to most Westerners.

Always ask before you take a photo of anyone. Some Gambians have certain beliefs about having their picture taken, in particular by a stranger.

Meeting & Greeting

A handshake with the right hand is the most common form of greeting among men. Handshakes tend to linger a bit and may be accompanied with the touching of the forearm or upper arm. Older men are supposed to lead the greetings with the younger men. But, the younger men are supposed greet the elder men with "Asalaamualaikum" ("Peace be unto to you") and then let the elder lead the local greeting. "Nanga def"(Wolof for: "How are you?") is widely used on the coast; "Kaira be" (Mandinka for: "I wish you peace") is widely used inland. Gambians are extremely friendly and welcoming, and, in general, visitors should not be afraid to accept their hospitality.

Among women, verbal greetings tend to be the norm. A handshake with the right hand may be acceptable as well. The elder woman usually leads the greeting.

As for greetings between men and women, verbal greetings are the norm while avoiding direct eye contact. In some communities a woman kneels down to one knee and stands back up before responding to the elder male’s greeting. It is taboo for religiously observant Muslim men to touch women and vice-versa.

Greetings are extremely important in Gambian culture and is the key to successful relationships at every level. Most people will be offended if you do not greet first before beginning a conversation even if you just want to ask a question. When greeting a group of people or someone from a distance, raising clasped hands will often take the place of a handshake as a gesture.

When entering a compound/home, office, or room with a group of people always greet with this general greeting. When meeting an elder, greet s/he first with this greeting.

In the city, greetings are a bit more relaxed. One does not greet everyone they pass on the road like they would in a small rural village. When entering taxis, local restaurants, local shops us the general Arabic greeting. But in big supermarkets, stores, or tourist restaurants a simple, "Good morning/afternoon/evening, how is the day, how is work?" is just fine.

Children should never lead the greetings with someone older. They may do this to a foreigner as a joke, but this is very rude.

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