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Ethiopian business etiquette

  • Businesspeople dress conservatively and wear suits and ties when conducting business.
  • English is widely used for trade purposes, but Italian and French are also useful. Knowledge of a few words of Amharic will impress your hosts. Some general terms:
    • Tena Yistillign – Hello
    • Selam – Hello (informal)
    • Ow – Yes
    • Aydellem – No
    • Ameseginalehu – Thank you
    • Sintinew – How much is this?
  • The most common form of greeting is a handshake with direct eye contact, but the handshake is generally much lighter than in Western cultures.
  • People are addressed with their honorific title and their first name.
  • Ato is used to address a man, Woizero is used to address a married woman, and Woizrity is used to address an unmarried woman.
  • High ranking government officials, including ministers, directors general, and parliament representatives, may be addressed as "Excellency" without using their name.
  • Elders should be greeted first.
  • Present and receive business cards with the right hand only or with both hands.
  • Eat with your right hand only, as the left hand is utilized for hygienic purposes in many cultures. It is also recommended to use your right hand to take and give change in a transaction. 


Sarah Harlan
Assistant Director, Global Services
Office of Global Strategy and Initiatives