Politeness in Afghanistan

Politeness takes specific forms in Afghanistan. To neglect these forms may cause offense.

Below we will summarize the key points. A more complete, printable copy is available through our FREE dowloadable Planning Guide. The Planning Guide is a condensed form of what is in the Enjoy Afghanista book published by Interlit.

There are specific areas you must demonstrate politeness:

  • Greetings
  • Visiting and Hospitality
  • Speech
  • "No no's" - what's offensive almost anywhere in Afghanistan!


It is imperative to greet everyone when you come into a room, based on the order of "social status." When in doubt, greet the men first.

Afghan men generally hug, and hold hands as a sign of friendship. Try not to flinch of an Afghan man grabs your hand (if you are man) - it means he is trying to be a friend.

Sometimes people arebusy, so a simple placing of your hand over your heart and nod of your head is a sufficient greeting.

Foreign women should generally wait for a man to extend his hand first, and if he does, shake it somewhat limply with mostly just your first 4 fingers. It's not as firm of a handshake as we expect in the West, and definitely shorter. To do it longer will imply something you may not intend to communicated!

Women - make sure to greet the grown-women by kissing three times, but just shaking young girls and boys hands is sufficient.

Finally, it is important to ask several times about their health, their family, how they are, etc. If you are man, do NOT ask about his wife, daughters, etc. It implies you are interested in an inappropriate way.

Visiting and Hospitality

If an Afghan really wants you to come over for tea or dinner, they will ask three times. Many foreigners make the mistake of accepting the first invitation.

For example, Mid-Westerners will say, "How are you?" But most of the time this is a greeting and is not intended as anticipating a full 10 minute reply.

In Afghanistan, it's the same: "Stay for tea" is a polite way of ending a conversation, but is not really meant to be accepted.


  • Address people using their titles, even if it is a former position. Always use a title, even for a lowly guard or house helper.
  • Try to avoid saying "no" to a question. Find another way to answer. The Western "direct" way is much less acceptable here.
  • Afghans do not share bad news, so expect a message of bad news to not be communicated.

No No's

  • If you are a man, do not inquire about another man's wife, daughters, or other female relatives.
  • Try not to blow your nose in public. However, it is better to blow than have it running down your face!
  • Do not point the bottom of your feet at someone.
  • Do not tell a mom or dad how beautiful their child is - they will often feel the need to ward of evil spirits then or turn the compliment back on you.
  • Try not to admire someone's clothing or jewelry very much - they will feel pressure to give it to you.
  • If you are a woman, do not talk or laugh loudly in the street. Do not joyfully greet another Afghan man on the street, even if you know him well. In public, remain circumspect at all times.

What is polite by your passport country may not be considered polite in Afghan culture.

There's much more - download our FREE Planning Guide here for more info.

A condensed version of Afghan culture tips is found here.

Return from Politeness in Afghanistan to Home