Burundi Lifestyle and Culture

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The way you present yourself is an important facet in blending in a new community and therefore we have made the task easier for you in this guide by outlining what to do and not once you are in Burundi fro your studies.

In general, the people here are welcoming and warm! RocApply tips and guides will enhance what will already be a wonderful trip by helping you also understand the culture and lifestyle in Burundi. 

We recommend that you go through this guide to enhance your wonderful stay with the Burundians. Here is what you need to know about the culture and lifestyle in Burundi:

  • Greetings are important and remember to take time. Culturally, there’s an emphasis on people and relationships, and it is considered rude to jump straight into a conversation without asking after the other person’s day, work, and so on. Sometimes people will shake your hand and continue holding it for a while. Do not freak out, it is just a gesture of companionship.
  • Elders are cherished and greeted respectfully in Burundi like anywhere else around the world. Always say “:shikamo” to anyone older than you, which literally translates to ‘I hold your feet’ and the response, “marahaba” which translates to ‘I accept your respect’recognizes your respect. When you shake hands with an elder, you can also bow slightly and hold your right elbow with your left hand, these gestures signify deeper respect and are well received.
  • Most people here tend to be very indirect, talking around issues instead of discussing them directly. Conversations are usually preceded by questions about the family, job and so on..
  • Ethnicity has divided Burundians for more than thirty-seven years and the country has endured several ethnic and political crises. The Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups both claim to be victims and vehemently accuse one another of being responsible for each other’s problems and therefore expect political talks in almost every corner here.
  • Humor is acceptable, but don’t go overboard as you’ll not be taken seriously. The best way to go is just to avoid sarcasm as it will most likely be misunderstood. 
  • Personal space depends on the relative rank of a person’s position, the greater the gap in rank, the greater the distance maintained and it’s usually up to the individual of higher rank to tell you to move closer. A little less than an arm’s length apart tends to be the average.
  • Touching someone shows that you know them well and is not advisable unless the individual indicates this is okay and is at the same level as you.
  • People who know each other well and meet after being apart for a while will generally hug three times.
  • The food here is simple, yet tasty. Dishes consist mainly of carbohydrates and lots of starches, with the occasional meats and veggies on the side. Spices are not as prominent as you may expect. Fresh fruits and veggies abound on every street corner, with large outdoor markets remaining very much a part of the culture. 
  • Touching other people, or food, with your left hand, is a big NO. Do not shake hands, eat, or give money and gifts with this hand as it’s reserved for toilet business. Use the right hand instead.
  • If you’re invited to eat with a local family, do not sniff your food or decline to taste a dish, or you risk insulting the chef.

Burundian culture is one of the most unique in Africa. It gives visitors an extraordinary charm and a uniquely welcoming atmosphere.


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