Africa · Ethiopia · Food · Language · People · Taxi

A Guide to Visitors

When visiting Ethiopia for the first time, if you are not from an African country, you will definitely be affected by culture shock. Some would be normal to you because you’ve probably heard a lot about them before.

All of these are true, at least from my perspective, and they are also funny. I hope you enjoy the do’s and don’ts, when you are visiting Ethiopia.

Do: Eat at a traditional restaurant. After all, they are actually meant for you.* They are meant to entertain you with their great music and at most places, their dancing. They have the best of the best of all kinds of Ethiopian dishes. If you haven’t tried it before, this is your chance.

(* you-ferenji, outsider, American, non-Ethiopian…)

Don’t: be grossed out when you see man-feeding-man in these restaurants. It’s called “Gursha” and it is a tradition.

New Do: Learn what “miss call” means. Ethiopians created that thing. This is how it works.

You know when you check your phone and you see several missed calls, you probably say, “I missed all these calls.” In Ethiopia how ever, someone would ring you for a second and then hang up, they’re usually paging you saying, “dude, I don’t have any credit on my phone cuz I’m broke, so call me back right now!” [if you have credit of course; and if you don’t, you do the same thing: call, listen, let it ring once, then hang up before they pick up.]

Do: Visit Merkato. It’s the biggest market place in Addis.

Don’t: Carry anything expensive and/or personal to Merkato. Some people will try to get in your pocket, even though you’re going to think that they’re just trying to get through. (come on.)

New (From Newal) Do:  Wear rain boots (Yejika Boti) not your fancy Ferenji shoes when visiting Merkato or during rainy season. The mud is just nasty… like, these past couple of days.  -_____- (sucks)

Don’t: Worry about the people who follow you and keep saying, “hello”, “please”, “mister”. They’re just asking for some money, but you will know what to say to them in the next “Do.”

Do: Learn some of the lingo. Amharic is a very hard language to learn. Some things though, you’re definitely going to need to learn to survive inEthiopia.

  1. Selam new? Basic, and it basically means “What up?!”
  2. Dehna. Means, “I’m good.”
  3. Eshi. Means “OK.”
  4. Mels setegn. On a minibus, if you give them like 10 birr or even 5 for a 2 birr distance, they try their best to make you forget it by saying, “I don’t have change.” So keep reminding them by saying, “mels setegn,” meaning, “return my change, fool.” [not the fool part, I just had to add that.]
  5. Weraj Ale. Say that when you need to get off of a taxi cab or minibus. From Newal, Do: say Weraj ale, a few minutes ahead not when you reach your destination.
  6. Allah/Exiabher yesteh. If the beggers are annoying you, use either one, depending on what you think their religion is, to make them stop following you.
  7. Sinte new? If you’re shopping or something, say that to ask, “how much?”
  8. Ameseginalew. yea, that loooong thing, means “thank you.”

Don’t: Try to take shortcuts if you’re walking alone. Use the main roads; but make an effort to travel with a friend. However though, as Eweket said, feel safe; Ethiopia isn’t dangerous for foreigners. We love you. 😉

New Do: Eweket would like to add, eat a lot of fruit; we’ve got great mango juices. Also, all of your fruits are 100% natural and very tasty.

Do: Know that the streets of Addis are very noisy. People yell when they’re walking and while sitting in a quiet minibus; all vehicles honk for no apparent reason; donkeys and dogs cry everywhere; and the traffic police whistle at every car, just cuz they felt like it.

Don’t: Freak out if you see people peeing in the streets, not caring about who might see them.

Don’t: be surprised by the crazy driving. Be very careful. Cars will drive too close to you, the taxis cut in from wherever they want to, and sometimes, they just stop right in front of you without a signal or anything.

Do: check out Sheraton Addis! It’s one of the best places which makes you forget that you are inAfrica.

Do: Get your shoes cleaned by Listero. I don’t even have to say it; you’ll be tempted to do it yourself.

Don’t: Under any circumstances, use the public bus, or autobus, is what they call it here. They are big, colored yellow and red with a lion on the side. Some people on there are crazy and it is just bad for your health.

Don’t: shop alone. Some people here are selfish and can try to make too much profit off of you. Shop with an Ethiopian person. [Not me though, I’m terrible at bargaining with them.]

Do: Try to see the wonderful places of Ethiopia; Harar, Gondar, Axum,…

Don’t: Trust the guys or the girls that you are trying to get with. I’m just sayin…

New Do: When you greet an Ethiopian, kiss each cheek at least once, give one more for the first cheek. 😉 Also, be sure to ask how everyone in the family is doing, not just the person you know.

Example: (This is how you should greet an Ethiopian.)

You: Hi Mr. X, how are you? How’s your mother doing? and your Father? Sisters? Everybody doing alright?

Get it?

So anyways, this is basically what you need to know when thinking about coming to Ethiopia. If there are any that I might have missed, comment here so I can add to the list. I hope you enjoyed it… 😀

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19 thoughts on “A Guide to Visitors

  1. very good post, but some of the facts are hard to swallow. But so true! You just reflected what is in here…. nothing exaggerated

    A little more Dos and don’ts that i can think of now

    Do: eat in the restaurants. It is cheap.
    Do: eat a lot of fruit. there are great mango juices
    Do: feel safe … Ethiopia isn’t dangerous for foreigners
    Do: try a bit of everything … if people do it, why not you

    Don’t: just make normal orders in the cafes/restaurants … Say, “yale sekwar” / with no suger whenever order coffee/ Juice .. better to order sugar separately
    Don’t: feel strange about touching. People touch each other a lot

  2. Dear Suker, This is an interesting post. But I think the below are quite exaggerated an give foreigners a misleading view of Ethiopia .

    Don’t: shop alone. People here are selfish and thieves ; they will rip you off. Shop with an Ethiopian person – There are many business people with good ethic and moral, it actually surprises me how you as an Ethiopia could say that people here ( Ethiopia) are selfish and thieves.

    Don’t: Under no circumstances, use the public bus, or autobus, is what they call it here. They are big, colored yellow and red with a lion on the side. They people on there are crazy and it is just bad for your health. – What exactly do mean by ‘ crazy’, what is the basis for classifying the majority of Addis Ababa dwellers crazy? Crowded, smelly, uncomfortable, maybe…but crazy?

    Don’t: Trust the guys or the girls that you are trying to get with. I’m just saying …. Because Ethiopians are all desperate people trying to take the opportunity of meeting a ferenji as a ticket outside of this country? Aren’t we perpetuating stereotypes here?

    Don’t: Carry anything expensive and/or personal to Merkato. Everyone will try to get in your pocket, even though you’re going to think that they’re just trying to get through. (come on.) — again, everyone?, let me borrow your words and say , come on.

    Don’t: be surprised by the crazy driving. Be very careful. No one obeys the rules. — no one obeys the rules? Even though driving in Ethiopia is pretty dangerous, I think now with a large number of traffic policy on every corner and increased awareness through radio programmes, there is quite an improvement.

    And also, in my humble opinion, the first paragraph should indicate that these are tips for visiting Addis Ababa and could not be generalized to all of Ethiopia.

    I am not a person who only wants to reflect the good things about Ethiopia and /or Africa, I am a supporter of challenging the status quo and being critical of our problems. Howevere, we should not exaggerate things especially when describing situations for foreigners who have never been to Ethiopia and who can not put things into context.

    1. Well thank you for that almost-a-whole-blog-comment. 😉
      But, I don’t think you have understood ME very well. Me-being the way I write and the way I express my views. Usually, I generalize things by the way I see it, or experienced things. So…
      1. the shopping thing, seriously though, unless they are using receipts or the price is taped on to them, if it is all about bargaining, a simple necklace that was $50 br, is bumped up to $300. Even when taking a contract taxi-thats a better example-a short distance which you’d pay $40br for, foreigners are asked to pay $80-$100. Of course, once in a blue moon we see the good ones trying to be loyal, but mostly, thats how they are.
      2. public bus thing, again, you dont understand me. Tell me, have you ever really used that bus before? I’m guessing its a no, or maybe just once or twice. By “crazy” I don’t mean mentally ill or anything. I’ve read on several newspapers and magazines that people get sexually harassed on the bus-women and men.
      After reading those, tell me how I’m ever going to feel safe on there?
      3. Like I said… i was just saying… AND i’ve met several people that r exactly like how u described them. (although, when i wrote that, i wasnt even thinking about that. my thoughts about “trust” were different.
      4. merkato. seriously, come on… would you really carry anything expensive with you??? And you need to know by everyone-yes maybe i’m generalizing-but you should KNOW i dont mean, every single person walking by you; i’m certainly not going to go in your pocket…
      5. the driving… you know how i KNOW people dont obey the rules? so u know there are the seat belt rule right now… did u know that none of the seat belts work in the taxis-for the drivers? and whats the point if only one person-the taxi driver-is the only one wearing a seat belt? how bout the 12 other passengers? how about the help? (he would just fly out the window…) i’m a daily taxi customer, but i’ve never felt safe; ever! do you see how those guys drive?????
      Yes, these are mainly tips for Addis, but I made it Ethiopia so I could put other things in there, like visiting Axum, Gondar, Harar part…
      Honestly, as much as I love your comment, I just wonder what you have to say about the rest of my blogs? You’d definitely be anti-suker. lol HOWEVER, if you are “not a person who only wants to reflect the good things about Ethiopia and /or Africa, I am a supporter of challenging the status quo and being critical of our problems” I suggest you really start a blog. Challenge US, or just me. And lets hear your perspective.
      Best!

  3. Dear Suker,

    Thank you for responding to my comment. Perhaps , as you rightly indicated, your writing style is that of hyperbole – Exaggeration used to evoke strong feelings or create an impression which is not meant to be taken literally. I was not aware of this…but still I think the point I made in the last paragraph remains valid…your target audience are foreigners who will be visiting Ethiopia for the first time. I think it is safe to assume that their idea of Ethiopia will be mostly framed by what they have seen on TV, heard from friends who have visited this country and in some cases from fictional and non fictional books. As a result, while I as an Ethiopian born and raised in Addis will tend to think that even though you use heavily generalizing terms, you might not mean literally everyone is a thief and acheberbari or everyone does not respect the rules. But how will the foreigners I have described above put this in context and realize that you are just using hyperbole?

    And my dear, I think there is a huge difference between saying you need to bargain a lot when buying things and everyone is a thief. And now that the government is very adamant on collecting tax revenue, use of receipts is becoming pervasive if not conclusive.

    I don’t use the bus, I often drive and occasionally use the mini buses. But that is not the point. This is what you said on your blog – ‘They people on there are crazy’ – now you have clarified that you are referring to some wierdos or ‘ balege’ people who take advantage of the crowded-ness of the buses to make advance of the opposite sex inappropriately. You should have indicated that, that is not a common or general knowledge that would be understood by everyone let alone foreigners who have never set foot in Ethiopia.

    Seat belts are not the only traffic rule out there…

    I have read some of your blog entries but not all and I enjoyed them. And I will definitely take you up on that challenge and will try to illustrate in action what I mean by ‘positively critical, accurate and thought provoking blogging or journalism’….Thanks for allowing me to post such long comments!

    Peace,

    1. thanks. and yea, it was fun. Although everything I said was more or less of MY opinions, whether i might have exaggerated or not, I probably shouldn’t have generalized it completely.

      And, I love all of your comments, usually all nice but sometimes constructive criticism is also needed, that’s what makes me a better writer. 😉

      MG, if you are checking this out right now, see that I will/have already changed some things. 🙂

  4. Hey Sara, love the blogs!! Just some more Do’s.
    Do: Wear rain boots (Yejika Boti) not your fancy Ferenji shoes when visiting Merkato or during rainy season.
    Do: say Weraj ale, a few minutes ahead not when you reach your destination.

  5. Love Love Loved visiting Ethiopia! Can’t wait to go back, My 17 year old daughter wants to go back too. Some of our best experiences there were just walking the streets, taking pictures of random people & chatting with them, & riding the blue taxibus. We’ve been joking that the ettiquet when you hit someone/someone hits you in the street is to smile & wave! So sorry we didn’t go to the Merkato…can’t believe I let our travel mates talk us out of that.

    1. I’m glad you loved it. 🙂 Ethiopia really is one of the greatest places to visit and even live!
      Well, you should come back again, so you can visit merkato and maybe we can meet the 17 year old. 😀

      Btw, i would like an explanation about the peanutbutterinjerasandwich!! is it good???? 🙂

      1. LoL! We haven’t made one….yet! I wanted a name that incorporated our love of travel or culture, we love food, & my picky 14 yr old is king of PBJs & at the Ethiopian restaurant eats mostly just the injera (the rest of us fight over everything else!). We fantasize about living there for a year or two…who knows, maybe my 17 yr old will!

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