Social and Business Etiquette in Algeria
Many tourists who visit countries that are totally different from their own are often keen to learn as much as they can about the country they are visiting, as well as the people who call it home. The North African country of Algeria is a fascinating place to visit and is a popular tourist destination. The people are warm and hospitable and there is plenty to see that is of historical and cultural significance. To make the most of a visit to Algeria it is of benefit to have some understanding of the social etiquette and customs of the Algerian people.
Meeting and greeting in Algeria can be quite a lengthy affair, during which handshakes are exchanged and enquiries are made with regard to family, work, each one’s health and wellbeing and the weather. These social interactions are a way of showing sincere concern for others and serve to cement a relationship. It is common to see people continuing to hold hands after the initial handshake, and close friends and family are likely to exchange kisses on the cheek. When meeting Algerian women it is customary to nod and wait to see if they extend a hand for a handshake. It is not considered proper to make prolonged eye contact with women, nor is it proper to ask personal questions. Women visitors to Algeria should note that, as a mark of respect, religious men will not shake a woman’s hand. Due to the hierarchical nature of Algerian society, it is important to pay attention to the use of titles. When introduced to someone for the first time, be sure to call them by their professional, honorific or academic title followed by their surname.
Gift giving is another way of building and cementing relationships in Algerian culture. The gesture of giving is the important thing, rather than the size or nature of the gift. Giving your host pastries, flowers or fruit is always acceptable when you are invited to an Algerian’s home. If there are children in the home, they are sure to appreciate some sweets. If your gift is wrapped, do not be surprised if it is not opened immediately, this does not mean that it is not appreciated. Hand your gift to the recipient with your right hand, or with both hands. Do not take alcohol as a gift unless you are absolutely sure that your hosts partake.
Hospitality and food are inextricably linked in an Algerian home and being invited to join the family for a meal is considered an honor. It is highly likely that your host family will be Muslim, so you should bear in mind that you will be required to remove your shoes at the door, and men and women are seated separately for the meal. When entering a room, always greet the eldest person first, whereupon you can move around the room to your right, greeting each person individually. It is polite to offer to assist the hostess with the preparation of the meal and to clean up after the meal. This offer will more than likely be refused, but nonetheless appreciated. Food is usually eaten by hand and you only use your right hand for eating, as well as for passing dishes.
Building personal relationships based on trust and mutual benefit is essential when it comes to doing business in Algeria, as is preserving honor and reputation. Always use your right hand to give and receive business cards, or anything else for that matter. Appointments are necessary and be sure to arrive on time, even if you may have to wait beyond the appointed time for the business meeting to begin. Because Algerians tend to have an open-door policy, be prepared for some interruptions. The language of business in Algeria is generally either French or Arabic, although some companies do use English as well.