Q: So when I got to Afghanistan, my command handed me this fold-up card that, among other things, told me not to sit with the soles of my feet facing someone. And it’s got a whole bunch of other suggestions that sound strange. What’s up with that?
A: What you’ve got is officially called the “Afghanistan Culture Smart Card: Guide for Communication and Cultural Awareness.” It was first put out by the Marine Corps intelligence department in late 2004, and has been issued to most servicemembers in Afghanistan since then. It’s got rudimentary vocabulary lessons, a list of religious holidays and an explanation of the Pashtun code of cultural practices.
Among the advice given in the handout: “Don’t use the left hand for physical contact with others, to eat, or to make gestures; it is considered unclean. Don’t show a woman attention by addressing, touching or staring at her. Don’t ask men direct questions about their female relatives. Don’t walk away from someone who is speaking to you. Don’t tell an Afghan he is wrong if he gives incorrect information; it is considered a slight. Don’t express emotion in public; it is considered a weakness. Don’t beckon or point with a finger; it is considered rude and may be mistaken for a challenge. Don’t wear sunglasses indoors; it is considered disrespectful of the building’s status and its host.”
Got all that? Here’s some things you ARE supposed to do: “Do try all food offered; this acknowledges the hospitality of the host. Do understand the nature of Afghan hospitality as an opportunity for the host to display power and gain honor. Do expect to spend much of a visit socializing and drinking tea before discussing business. Do expect Afghans to have a different sense of time and punctuality; Afghans believe a task will be completed according to God’s will. Do beckon others by extending your hand, palm downward, and curling fingers inward.”
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