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Social Customs & Etiquettes in Bangladesh


The majority of Bangladeshis are Muslim. However, most still very much mix this with pre-Islam folk traditions. Bangladeshis identify with the folk traditions of Bengali culture. This includes belief in shamanism and the powers of fakirs (Muslim holy men who are exorcists and faith healers), ojhaa (shamans with magical healing powers), and bauls (religious mendicants and wandering musicians).

Bangladesh is a hierarchical society. People are respected because of their age and position. Older people are naturally viewed as wise and are granted respect. Bangladeshis expect the most senior male, by age or position, to make decisions that are in the best interest of the group. This is also valid in businesses, the majority of which will be family owned/run.

Islam defines many of the festivals in Bangaldesh. These include two Eids (one after Ramadan and one after the Hajj) Shab-e-Qadr (the night of power), Milad un-Nabi (birth date of the Prophet Muhammad) and Shab-e-Barat (the night of the fortune). Hindu influences festivals include Durga Puja and Kali Puja (community worshipping of Goddess Durga and Kali). On the whole an entire community participates in each other's religious ceremonies.

Meeting & Greeting

Greetings usually take place between members of the same sex. The hand shake is common although they may feel rather limp. Women will only really be met within business contexts and even so, it is best to wait to see if a hand is extended before doing so.

The traditional greeting for Muslims is “asalamu alaikum” to which the response is “wa alaikum salam”.

Naming conventions are very much based on the hierarchical nature of Bangladeshi society. Bangladeshis will append a suffix to a person's name to denote respect and the level of closeness between the two people.

In general, age dictates how people are addressed. If people are of the same age, they use first names. If the person being addressed is older than the speaker, the person is called by their first name and a suffix that denotes the family relationship.

Gift Giving Etiquette

Gifts are mainly given between family members at religious holidays, especially after Ramadan and Hajj. In cities, it is becoming more common for gifts to be given on birthdays. In Bangladesh the importance of gifts is in the thought rather than the value. Part of the reason lies in the fact that gifts should be generally reciprocated and it would be considered rude to offer someone a gift that is difficult to reciprocate.

When visiting a Bangladeshi's home, it is more common to bring pastries, sweets or good quality chocolates. If bringing flowers avoid frangipanis as they are used at funerals. Similarly white flowers indicate mourning. Do not give alcohol or products containing non-halal meat to Muslims and never give money. It is considered bad form to open gifts in front of the giver. Gifts are given with two hands.

Dining Etiquette & Table Mannerism

If invited to a meal it is rude to flatly turn the invitation down. One should always use less direct language to suggest that it may be difficult such as "I will try" or "I will have to see".

Meals both inside the house and outside will usually be same sex. Many people eat with their hands and it may be that you share food from a common dish. It would not be seen as impolite if you asked for utensils. Ensure you wash your hands before eating.

Guests are generally served first then the oldest, continuing in order of seniority. Do not start eating until the oldest person at the table begins.

You will constantly be urged to take more food. Simply saying "I'm full" will be taken as a polite gesture and not accepted at face value. It is therefore always best to pace yourself to allow for more servings. The left hand is considered unclean so only eat, pass dishes or drink with the right hand.





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