The impact of years of civil war has left the Angolan people somewhat risk averse and cautious, but nonetheless easy going, hospitable and very sociable. The country’s history has inextricably influenced the customs and way of life of its people.
When asked, many Angolans would describe themselves as ‘Angolan’, however, it is also common for Angolans to still identify themselves with the tribe of their ancestors. There are some 100 distinct ethnic groups in Angola all with their own language and customs; the largest being the Ovimbundu.
Portuguese is still spoken by the majority, with the younger generation almost speaking it exclusively. Indigenous languages are still widely spoken with many Angolans actively using two different languages.
Similarly, as a result of 500 years as a Portuguese colony the majority of people in Angola are Roman Catholic. However, followers of native African faiths can be found; after independence there was a large resurgence in people adopting traditions from pre-colonial times. One aspect of traditional African religion that can still be seen in Angola is spirit or ancestor worship, where offerings and prayers are made to the dead who are thought to be able to influence the lives of living generations.
A range of faiths are present in Angola as Freedom of Religion was written into the constitution following the civil war.
A handshake is the most common form of greeting in Angola, at gatherings each guest should shake hands individually. However, when meeting someone senior in status or age it is usual to bow slightly. Hierarchy is an important part of the culture of Angola, and titles and surnames are commonly used as a sign of respect.
Greetings are not rushed in Angola. You will be asked how you are, how your family are, and the person enquiring will be sincerely interested. It is not merely a formality as in many other cultures and it will be expected that the sentiment is reciprocated.
The Angolans are very comfortable with closeness, so when speaking directly to someone there is no need to worry about intruding on their personal space. If you try to put distance between yourself and an Angolan they will, more likely than not, simply aim to close the gap again!
There are, however, some established protocols for Angolan conversation. Above all, interrupting someone when they are speaking is considered the height of rudeness; especially if they are older or hold a more senior position.
Gesticulating is common in Angola and conversations can become pretty animated, hand and head gestures are used to convey both positive and negative emotions.
It is important to note that the Angolan people feel an overwhelming desire to please others, therefore there is a tendency to tell people what they think they would like to hear. Getting a definitive answer can be somewhat tricky, especially when a truthful response would be negative.
Although they are slowly changing, there are still distinct gender roles in Angola. It is not acceptable for women to make direct eye contact when in conversation with men.
Angolans will tend to invite guests to their houses rather than eating out. If invited to eat at an Angolan household, dress as you would in a formal business environment; making an effort with your appearance is a sign of respect to your host.
Food is usually served communally and etiquette dictates that the eldest person present serves themselves first from the communal plate. If invited by your host to have a second serving, it is customary to decline on the first asking. If you are asked a second time it is polite to accept.
Angolans traditionally only like to do business with people that they know and trust, so establishing a personal relationship with associates before discussing business is important.
A strong influence from Portuguese colonialism remains and impacts the way in which business is conducted, especially in the capital Luanda. It is as formal as in much of the western world and suits are commonplace in business environments.
Agendas and timetables, however, are not a feature of Angolan business. Encouraging Angolans to adhere to a strict, itemised agenda would not be recommended. The Angolans are never in a rush, they have a slower pace of doing business and of life in general; they are nevertheless generally very hardworking.
Most importantly, be aware that during an initial meeting business is not discussed, nor should business ever be discussed in social situations.