Country Curiosities: Guinea-Bissau

The US is a melting pot of different cultures. I assume that, like me, you want to interact and be friends with people from other cultures, but you have no idea how to start a conversation with them. 

That’s why “Country Curiosities” was created– to help you get an idea of peoples’ cultures and help you grow in cultural awareness.

Our first interviewee was Carlos da Silva from Guinea-Bissau, West Africa. Carlos is an undergraduate student in business administration and did the ISEED training at IFI.

Let’s learn about Guinea-Bissau, shall we? 🤩

I’m excited to learn about Guinea-Bissau!

1. Do you believe there are aspects of your culture that remain unknown to most people, making it unique or special?

I can say that my country has an impressive biodiversity and a precious cultural heritage. We have lush mangroves, vibrant wetlands, sprawling savannahs, and majestic forests. We’re blessed with over 80 islands that make up the Bijagós Archipelago (a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve) teeming with diverse flora and fauna, where sea turtles, manatees, and countless species of birds find their home.

In terms of culture, my country has more than 20 distinct ethnic groups, each with its rich heritage. Among them, the Papel people stand out. They have a matriarchal society, so their lineage and heritage are traced through the female line, quite unlike other ethnic groups where the lineage is patriarchal. In addition, women also play key roles in decision-making processes, often holding ownership rights over land and properties.

2. What do you love most about your culture?

One aspect of my culture that holds great significance is our profound value of hospitality. In Guinea-Bissau, this characteristic is not limited to a particular ethnic group but is widespread across the country. Our people are renowned for their warm and welcoming nature, evident in their interactions with locals and visitors. Hospitality permeates our daily lives, and guests are treated with great kindness, generosity, and respect.

We believe that guests are a blessing. When visitors arrive, they’re embraced with open arms, greeted warmly, and offered refreshments as a gesture of hospitality. The locals take immense pride in sharing their culture, traditions, and cuisine with guests, ensuring that their stay is comfortable and memorable. This commitment to hospitality is exemplified by personal experiences, such as when I embarked on my first job and found myself in an unfamiliar countryside. Instead of seeking accommodation at a hotel, an older woman graciously invited me to stay with her and her family. They went above and beyond to make me feel at home, arranging a comfortable room and providing unwavering support throughout my stay.

3. What stereotypes or misconceptions do people from your culture often face?

People from my culture often confront stereotypes and misconceptions that can be misleading and unfair. At a broader national level, our country may be burdened with stereotypes such as being war-torn or associated with drug trafficking. While some high-ranking military and politicians might be involved in drug trafficking, more than 95% of the population has never seen drugs. These misconceptions fail to capture the richness and diversity of our culture and our people’s genuine warmth and resilience.

4. Do people tend to communicate more directly or indirectly in your country?

The communication style in Guinea-Bissau can vary depending on the context, the relationship between individuals, and cultural factors. Generally, people tend to communicate directly in informal conversations, negotiations, and everyday interactions, especially among peers.

However, indirect communication can also occur, particularly in formal or hierarchical settings. In these contexts, individuals may use subtle cues, nonverbal communication, or context-specific language to convey their message indirectly. This indirectness may serve to maintain social harmony, show respect, or navigate complex social dynamics.

5. What’s considered a good friendship in your culture? 

Trust, loyalty, mutual respect, open communication, and shared interests and activities are considered important for a strong and meaningful friendship for most people in my country.

6. How do people in Guinea-Bissau show hospitality?

Hospitality is an essential cultural value in Guinea-Bissau, and people often demonstrate warmth and generosity toward guests. Here are some common ways in which people show hospitality in my country:

  • Welcoming gestures: When guests arrive, they’re typically greeted with a warm welcome and enthusiastic greetings. Handshakes and hugs are common, especially among friends and acquaintances.
  • Offering refreshments: Offering guests something to drink or eat upon arrival is customary. This can include serving traditional beverages like palm wine, tea, snacks, or fruits.
  • Sharing meals: Sharing meals is essential to hospitality in Guinea-Bissau. Guests are often invited to join the family for a meal, and it’s considered polite to accept the invitation. Traditional dishes such as rice, fish, chicken, and vegetables are commonly served.
  • Providing accommodations: If guests are staying overnight or for an extended period, hosts will typically provide them with a comfortable place to sleep and make them feel at home. This can include arranging a guest room or preparing a designated space for them.
  • Engaging in conversation: People in Guinea-Bissau value meaningful conversations and are often interested in getting to know their guests. Engaging in conversation, asking about the guests’ well-being, and showing genuine interest in their lives and experiences are common ways to demonstrate hospitality.
  • Offering assistance: Hosts in Guinea-Bissau often go out of their way to assist their guests. They may provide guidance, recommendations, or help navigating the local area. Offering assistance with transportation, organizing activities, or addressing guests’ concerns is also common.
  • Expressing gratitude: Guests are typically appreciated for accepting hospitality. Hosts may express their gratitude verbally, through gestures, or by offering small gifts as a token of appreciation.

7. How do people show affection?

In Guinea-Bissau, people often express affection both verbally and nonverbally. 

  • Physical touch: People express affection through hugging, handshakes, and kisses on the cheek. Holding hands, placing a hand on someone’s shoulder, or giving a gentle pat on the back are also common gestures of affection.
  • Verbal expressions: People often use terms of endearment or unique nicknames when addressing loved ones, such as “querido/a” (dear) or “amor” (love). Compliments, words of praise, and expressing love or admiration for someone are other verbal ways of showing affection.
  • Spending quality time: People in Guinea-Bissau often prioritize spending quality time with family and close friends. Engaging in shared activities, going on outings, or simply sitting together and talking are ways to show care and affection.
  • Acts of service: Helping with household chores, running errands, or assisting someone with tasks or responsibilities are acts of love and support.
  • Gift-giving: Offering gifts is a common way to display affection in Guinea-Bissau. It could be something small or meaningful, such as a token of appreciation, a personal item, or something sentimental to the recipient.
  • Nonverbal cues: Nonverbal cues such as smiling, touching, and showing interest in someone’s well-being are important indicators of affection.

8. Is it okay to talk about religion with people?

Generally, talking about religion in Guinea-Bissau is acceptable if you approach the topic respectfully and sensitively. In any conversation about religion, listening attentively to others, asking questions to gain a better understanding, and avoiding making assumptions or generalizations is advisable. This approach will help foster a positive and inclusive environment for dialogue and encourage mutual respect among individuals from different religious backgrounds.

9. What are the main holidays in your country? Which one do you miss most?

Guinea-Bissau’s main holidays and observances include public and religious celebrations, such as Carnival, Independence Day, Labor Day, National Hero’s Day, Christmas, Easter, and Tabaski. The one I miss the most is Carnival because of its uniqueness. It’s a longer, more engaging festivity that includes all religions and ethnic groups.

10. If someone from another country visited Guinea-Bissau, what advice would you give them?

I would offer some critical advice to ensure their visit is enjoyable and safe. First, I would recommend visiting the Bijagós Archipelago Island. It has renowned natural beauty, pristine beaches, and rich biodiversity. Exploring the archipelago will offer any visitor a unique experience surrounded by the tranquil waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the cultural environment.

Second, I would suggest they exercise caution when visiting public markets, especially in crowded areas. While these markets are vibrant and offer a wide array of goods, it’s advisable to refrain from wearing valuable jewelry or displaying expensive belongings. Unfortunately, pickpocketing incidents can occur in such busy environments.

Third, it’s worth noting that the stability of the internet connection can be inconsistent in certain areas. Visitors should be prepared for potential fluctuations or limited access to the internet. It may be helpful to have alternative communication or offline resources available to navigate their way around and stay connected.

Finally, when venturing out, it’s wise to exercise caution and be mindful of the prices offered by vendors or service providers. While most people are genuine and honest, there might be instances where individuals may try to overcharge or take advantage of tourists. Having a trusted local companion, such as a guide or someone familiar with the area, can be beneficial in navigating these situations and ensuring fair transactions.

11. What is the most challenging thing about American culture?

One aspect of American culture that seems challenging for me is the practice of older individuals living alone in their homes. In my country, there is a strong emphasis on multi-generational households or communal living where elderly family members are cared for by their children or extended family.


What did you think of the interview? Let us know in the comments below 👇

If you want to know more about Guinea-Bissau, I have created supplementary material with information about the country. Check it out!

Lastly– would you like people to know about your country and culture? Connect with us and we’ll be happy to interview you! 

See you next time, friends! 👋🧡

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