democratic republic of the congo

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Key facts

Capital: Kinshasa

Government: Republic

Official Language(s): French, Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili, and Tshiluba

Population: 81.34 million (2017)

Ethnic Make-up: Over 200 ethnic groups populate the DRC, of which the majority are Bantu. Together, Mongo, Luba and Kongo peoples (Bantu) and Mangbetu-Azande peoples constitute around 45% of the population

Religions: 50% Roman Catholic, 20% Protestant, 10% Kimbaguist, and 10% Muslim

Culture and Society: The culture of the DRC reflects the diversity of its hundreds of ethnic groups and their differing ways of life throughout the country. Since the late 19th century, traditional ways of life have undergone changes brought about by colonialism, the struggle for independence, the stagnation of the Mobutu era, and most recently, the First and Second Congo Wars. Despite these pressures, the customs and cultures of the Congo have retained much of their individuality

Dress: Traditionally men and women in Congo wore clothes made of raffia however, this is only used today in special ceremonies. It is much more common to see women wearing long skirts and tops with bold patterns and colors. Head wraps and hats are also popular as fashion and sun protection. Men wear a dashiki-style long shirt or a button down shirt and long pants. During the Mobutu dictatorship suit jackets and ties were banned, but now Western clothing is common, especially among upper class men.

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Food: Congolese cuisine is based on a mixture of maiz with boiling water and sometimes flour. This mixture is called "fufu" in Lingala, "bukali" in Swahili, and "tshibele" in Tshiluba. It's an important meal in DRC and can be eaten with fish, chicken, or on its own.

dynamics

Family

  • Family typically means an extensive network of relatives, including aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, nieces, and nephews

  • The extended family plays the role in society that the state has taken over in many Western countries. Poor, sick, or disabled people are rarely sent to institutions such as nursing homes, or left to live on welfare or on the street. Their care is the family's responsibility, and the burdens of this responsibility are spread among the dozens of people who constitute a family.

  • The average Congolese woman bears six children during her lifetime

  • In the past, most marriages were arranged by family members. In modern times, this became much less common

  • Women do most of the work it takes to care for the family and run a household. They are responsible for planting, harvesting, food preparation, water fetching, child care, and housework (which can include putting on a new roof or erecting a fence).

  • Men traditionally are responsible for hunting, clearing the forest for gardens, or, in the city, engaging in wage labor.

Hospitality

  • Wash your hands before and after eating

  • Eat only with your right hand. If provided with a fork or spoon, hold it with your right hand. Keep your left hand off bowls or serving items.

  • If sharing, eat only from the part of the bowl directly in front of you

  • Etiquette requires that you take off your shoes before entering homes

  • The most honored position is next to the host. When seated, your toes and feet should not be pointing toward the food or other diners

  • Food is served in the following order: honored guests, the oldest male, the other men, children, and women. Do not begin to eat or drink until the oldest man has been served and has started eating

notes for foreigners

key phrases

French Lingala:

Welcome: bienvenue Welcome: boyei bolamu

Hello: bonjour Hello: mbote

Goodbye: au revoir Goodbye: kende malamu

Thank you: merci Thank you: merci/botondi

Social Etiquette, Customs and Protocol

  • Taking pictures is highly sensitive and should be avoided, especially around military areas, checkpoints, and border controls

Meeting and Greeting

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  • Greetings are very important in Congolese life; saying hello and inquiring about the other person's situation must be attended to before other matters are discussed. Special respect is given when greeting elders or village headmen, especially if the person who approaches is younger than the other.

  • "Hello Sir/Madam" is how you should address someone the first time you meet and you can even shake hands, however, it is best to wait until your superior extends his/her hand.

  • The first conversation can be structured around names. People may not tell you their name if you do not ask for it, but it is always best to first give your name. Congolese will often ask things such as "How is your family? How are your children?" and they will not be offended if you ask if they are from the area. Yet, at least when meeting them for the first time, insisting on their ethnic origins may be badly perceived.

  • Avoid giving people nicknames as people prefer to be called by their real names, unless they have given you permission to call them by some other name

  • Size (even to the point of being overweight) is a sign of good health and mentioning it is typically taken as a compliment

  • It is rare that people talk about the weather unless they are discussing a particular situation such as a torrential rain

Gender Dynamics

  • Women are largely responsible for agricultural production and completely responsible for all domestic work – including water fetching, firewood gathering, food processing and preparation

  • In spite of these critical roles, women are often treated as inferior and are largely excluded from community decision-making

  • The inferiority of women has always been embedded in the indigenous social system and reemphasized in the colonial era

  • Adult women were legitimate urban dwellers if they were wives, widows, or elderly, otherwise they were presumed to be femmes libres (free women) and were taxed as income-earning prostitutes, whether they were or not.

  • However, women are seeking to rebuild their lives and now have a range of opportunities for support. The new constitution, adopted in 2005, commits itself to improving the representation of women in all levels of government and while proportionally underrepresented, there are female elected officials

  • Women’s organizations are fanning out into the countryside to educate women and their husbands about women’s rights, bringing opportunities for change and a new direction

Personal Space and Touching

  • With the exception of (political) authorities, Congolese often touch one another and talk quite frankly

  • Too much praise may not be well received in the end, but compliments are always welcome

  • Constant eye contact can intimidate the person with whom you are speaking and may be seen being impolite, particularly when speaking with superiors. However, in order to show that you are paying attention, you should look at the person’s face every now and then.

  • Touching is a sign of friendship and people hold hands and tap each other on the shoulders

  • You can usually read in people’s faces how they are feeling. When something is not right, it will show on their face and in their tone of voice. They will not smile just to please someone.

Business Meetings

  • European traditions of social etiquette generally apply

  • Hands are shaken with men and women on encounter and departure

  • Do not use first names until invited to do so. “Monsieur,” “Madame,” and “Mademoiselle” are the usual forms of address. Senior government officials should be addressed with the appropriate formal title (such as Excellency or Mr. Minister).

  • French is the language of business; almost all meetings will be conducted in French.

  • Requests for meetings, particularly with government officials, should be sent by formal written request

  • It is rare that a business trip will stick to its schedule. Most require more time, patience, and meetings than in the United States.

  • Business attire is appropriate for business meetings with private sector or government officials, and is also recommended for most dinner engagements, unless more casual dress is explicitly indicated

Taboos

  • Difficult to define due to the vast number of different tribes, however country-wide taboos typically have to do with HIV/AIDS, menstruation, and sex