Rituals and Customs
It is normal for citizens of Afghanistan to greet one another with the phrase, “A-salaam a-laykum” translated “Peace be upon you.” The reply is “w-laykum o a-salaam,” translated “And upon you be peace.” The handshake, too, is quite normal. However, it is advisable to refrain from offering one’s hand until the local offers his. Women should not initiate the handshake, but if offered should return it with the right hand. Another cultural sensitivity includes standing when a village elder or other dignitary enters the room; a way of honoring their age, position and wisdom.
As with other Muslim countries, one should keep in mind that certain rules and dietary laws are enforced by Islam. The consumption of alcohol and pork is strictly prohibited and any gift involving these items is insulting. There is also a strict separation between men and women in Afghanistan. The sexes do not mingle in public and additionally men and women eat separately. This separation carries over into religious worship as well. Visitors should expect women and men to be seated in different areas of a mosque during worship.
Hospitality is an area of pride for Afghanis. Visitors can expect to be offered tea followed by a meal. Visitors should also remember to remove their shoes before entering a home and be sure not to walk on any prayer matt which may be present in the home. Drinking tea, usually green tea, is considered a sign of welcome that denotes friendship and respect. During the dinner meal Afghans take great pride in offering large amounts of food to their guests. Keep in mind that additional helpings will be offered and the host will only cease eating when his guest stops. It is customary to eat with the right hand only. One should always use the right hand over the left in almost any given circumstances. In the Muslim world the left hand is considered unclean and therefore one shouldn’t eat with it.