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Key facts

Capital: Kabul

Government: Islamic republic

Official Language(s): Pashto and Dari (Afghan Persian/Farsi)

Population: 35.53 million (2017)

Ethnic Make-up: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%

Religions: Sunni Muslim 80%, Shi'a Muslim 19%, other 1%

Culture and Society: Islam is practiced by the majority of Afghanis and governs much of their personal, political, economic and legal lives.

Dress: Afghan women typically wear a two-piece outfit consisting of loose trousers worn under a tunic with a high neck and long sleeves. Afghan men also wear a long tunic over baggy trousers and often wear a vest over the tunic.


Food: largely based upon the nation's chief crops: wheat, maize, barley and rice. Accompanying these staples are native fruits and vegetables as well as milk, yogurt, and whey. Kabuli Palaw is the national dish.



  • The family is the single most important unit in the Afghan culture

  • Men and women's roles are much more defined along traditional lines

  • Families commonly arrange marriages for their children

  • Families traditionally live together in the same walled compound, known as the “kala”. When a son gets married he and his wife begin their married lives in a room under the same roof


  • Hospitality is an essential aspect of Afghan culture

  • No matter who you are, if you visit a home you will be given the best the family has, which relates back to the idea of gaining honor.

notes for foreigners

key phrases

Dari Pashto

Welcome: Salâm Welcome: Pakheyr

Hello: As-salâmo 'alaykom Hello: Khe chare or Salaam

Goodbye: Xudâ hâfez Goodbye: Da khoday pa amaan

Thank you: Tašakor Thank you: Manana

Social Etiquette, Customs and Protocol


Meeting and Greeting

  • When meeting someone, the handshake is the most common form of greeting. People also place their hands over their hearts and nod slightly.

  • One should always inquire about things like a person's health, business, family, etc.

  • Women and men will never shake hands let alone speak directly to one another

  • Eye contact should also be avoided between men and women. Between men, eye contact is acceptable as long as it is not prolonged.

Gender Dynamics

  • Free mixing between genders only takes places within families

  • Should a woman extend her hand, it would be acceptable for a man to shake it

  • In professional situations such as at businesses or universities, males and females may be co-workers, but are nevertheless cautious to maintain each other's honor

  • If a man speaks to a woman directly in a social context, he is dishonoring them. If someone speaks to a woman on the street, that is equally inappropriate. Women should avoid looking men in the eyes, keeping their eyes lowered when walking down the street to

  • Women must always wear loose fitting pants under skirts and be sure the definition of their legs is indistinguishable. It is also strongly advisable to wear a headscarf in public.

  • Foreign men should note that it is inappropriate to initiate social conversation with an Afghani woman. Additionally, one should not ask a male about his wife or female relatives.

  • Men and women should never be alone in the same room. If this happens typically a door is left open.

Personal Space and Touching

  • At least an arm's length of personal space is common when speaking to members of the opposite gender. This space tends to be closer with members of the same gender.

  • Male friends often walk holding hands or with their arms around each other, but men and women hardly ever display any form of physical affection in public

  • Between friends and family members of the same gender, touching of the shoulders, and back slapping are common during conversations

  • There is no touching between genders after the initial handshake, and only if the woman offers her hand

Business Meetings

  • Business meetings do not usually begin on time, however it is a good idea for a foreigner to be punctual

  • Small talk almost always precedes any formal conversations. It's appropriate to inquire about one's health, families, etc., before dealing with business

  • The "get to the point" mentality is usually seen as rude. Setting a friendly mood will get you a lot further than trying to be direct about anything.

  • Interruptions are quite common and agendas tend to be followed loosely if at all. It's best to remain patient and follow along.


  • Don’t point the toe, heel or any part of the foot at a person

  • Don’t show the sole of your foot or use the foot to move anything as it is viewed as the lowliest body part

  • It is very rude for men and women to show affection to each other in public

  • Avoid winking as it is generally construed as a come on

  • It is polite to accept offer of tea when visiting homes and some offices. Rejecting the offer will most likely result in offending the person offering.