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Doing business in Djibouti: understanding the cultural norms


Traveling to a new country can be an exciting and enriching experience. However, it is important to remember that each country has its own set of rules and cultural norms that visitors should respect. Understanding and adhering to these norms is not only a way to show respect to the local culture, but it can also help travelers avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings or legal troubles. In this article, we will explore the rules and cultural norms in Djibouti, providing valuable insights for those who plan to visit this unique country.

Key Elements

Element 1: Respect for Islam

Djibouti is a predominantly Muslim country, and Islam heavily influences the daily lives and social norms of its people. Visitors should be aware of and respectful towards Islamic practices. For example, it is important to dress modestly, particularly in religious sites and public areas. Women should consider wearing loose-fitting clothing that covers their shoulders and knees, and men should avoid wearing shorts in public.

During the holy month of Ramadan, visitors should also be mindful of fasting hours and avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in public during daylight hours. It is polite to greet locals with the Arabic greeting “As-salamu alaykum,” which means “peace be upon you.”

Element 2: Etiquette and Social Interactions

In Djibouti, the people are known for their warm hospitality and strong sense of community. When interacting with locals, it is important to show respect and politeness. Some key cultural norms to keep in mind include:

  • Always greet people with a handshake and maintain eye contact.
  • Use your right hand for greetings, eating, and giving or receiving things, as the left hand is considered impure.
  • Respect personal space and avoid touching others, especially members of the opposite sex, unless you have been given permission to do so.
  • It is customary to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home.

Element 3: Laws and Regulations

Travelers should familiarize themselves with the laws and regulations of Djibouti to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Some important points to note include:

  • Possession and use of drugs are strictly prohibited and can lead to severe penalties, including imprisonment.
  • It is illegal to take photographs of government buildings, military installations, and airports without prior permission.
  • Djibouti has strict regulations regarding the export of natural resources and archaeological artifacts. Obtaining proper permits is necessary before attempting to take any such items out of the country.
  • It is essential to carry necessary identification documents such as passports at all times and to comply with any police or security checks.

Element 4: Cultural Sensitivity

Respecting the local culture and traditions is highly valued in Djibouti. Here are a few cultural sensitivities to be mindful of:

  • Avoid public displays of affection, as it is considered inappropriate in public places.
  • Do not point your finger at someone or something, as it is considered rude.
  • Refrain from openly criticizing or discussing politics, religion, or sensitive cultural topics.
  • Avoid eating or passing food or drink with your left hand, as it is considered unclean.

Element 5: Environmental Stewardship

Djibouti is home to diverse and fragile ecosystems, including coral reefs and wildlife reserves. Visitors should be aware of the importance of environmental conservation and practice responsible tourism. Some tips to minimize your impact on the environment include:

  • Choose eco-friendly activities and tour operators that prioritize sustainability.
  • Do not disturb or feed wildlife, and refrain from touching or removing any coral from the reefs.
  • Dispose of waste properly and participate in organized clean-up initiatives if available.
  • Conserve water and energy by using them sparingly and responsibly.

Tips for Traveling

Now that we have explored some of the key rules and cultural norms in Djibouti, here are a few practical tips to make your trip smoother:

  1. Research and Plan Ahead: Familiarize yourself with the local customs, laws, and regulations before your trip. This will help you navigate the country more confidently and respect the cultural norms.

  2. Dress Appropriately: Pack clothing that is modest and respectful of the local culture. Lightweight and breathable fabrics are recommended due to the country’s hot climate.

  3. Learn Basic Arabic Phrases: While many people in Djibouti speak French and English, knowing a few basic Arabic phrases can go a long way in building rapport and showing respect to the locals.

  4. Stay Hydrated: Djibouti’s climate can be hot and dry, so it is important to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.

  5. Exchange Currency: It is advisable to exchange some currency into Djiboutian Franc (DJF) before your trip. While some places accept major international credit cards, it is always helpful to have local currency on hand, especially in more remote areas.

  6. Respect Cultural Sites: Djibouti is home to various historical and religious sites, such as mosques, ancient ruins, and natural wonders. Treat these sites with care, follow any visiting guidelines, and avoid any disruptive behavior.

  7. Secure Travel Insurance: Obtain comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and theft or loss of personal belongings before embarking on your trip.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal or professional advice. Travelers are encouraged to consult official sources, such as government websites or embassies, for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding the rules and cultural norms of Djibouti.