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58. KNOW YOUR NEW COUNTRY: Its Government

[NOTE: Some of this material may overlap with “Voting in Elections” where it was needed for background. This lesson goes into more detail as to the makeup of the government]


What is the form of government in the country? (kingdom? republic? democracy? autocracy?)

What local and national political parties exist and how do you become a member?

Who can hold office? Can anyone become the head of state? Are there gender, religious, or social status qualifications or restrictions?

Does the head of state have unlimited power? If not, what checks and balances are in place? How is power distributed? What is the chain of command?

What official administrative positions are there? Are there special qualifications that must be met in order to serve on this level? Which positions are appointed and which are elected by the people? If appointed, who appoints them? Which, if any, of these positions are inherited?

Is there a parliament, or its equivalent? What is its administrative makeup (house, senate, council, etc.)? Who constitute their membership and how do they become members (appointment, vote, inheritance, etc.)? Do all minority groups have equal representation?

What is the role of the parliament? How much influence does it have over decisions made by the head of state? Does it have the privilege of presenting legislation to the head of state for his/her ratification?


What official administrative positions are there in your neighborhood? in your village, town, or city? What is the highest position? How are these political leaders selected? Do the same qualities, qualifications and restrictions apply on this level as applied on the national level?

Is there an advisory council for that leader? Find out how members are chosen, how much authority they have in what areas, and how much influence they have over the leader.

Are there local people who are more powerful or influential than the administration? Who are they, and what is the source of their power? Why aren’t they in the position of leadership?

To what extent can the local populace influence decision making? Are women involved in higher levels of administration and decision making? At what age can young people be involved?

Are there local groups that address issues on a local level? What are they? Who can participate in them? Are there regular meetings or do they convene only when the need arises? Who calls a meeting, and who leads it? How are decisions made and how are they enforced? What kinds of issues might be addressed, and which might need to be met on a higher level?

Do people feel they have more of a voice at this level? Why, or why not?

How are major decisions arrived at in any of these levels of government? What scope or recourse is there for debate or disagreement? Do all at the meeting get an equal opportunity to express their views? Is it best for decisions to be unanimous? How is compromise handled?

Who articulates the final decision? How is the decision conveyed to the village or citizenry?

56. KNOW YOUR NEW COUNTRY: National and Local Symbols

Ask what the colors and emblems on the national flag mean. Is there any other national standard used, such as a seal or a coat of arms? If so, ask the meaning of these and how and when they are used. Are there regional flags? Ask the same questions concerning them.

Does the country have a national emblem, like an animal, plant, slogan, or national hero? What about your city? town? region? Do any of these have nicknames, like The Buckeye State, the Windy City?

Learn the national anthem. Find out who wrote it, when it is sung, and how one should stand when it is sung. How universally is it known and recognized?

Is there a national flower? animal? bird? tree? sport? dress? What about food or drink? Are any of these recognized on a local level?

What is your area famous for? a beverage? a particular food? climate? a natural scene or occurrence? a festival?

55. KNOW YOUR NEW COUNTRY: Voting in Elections

A word of CAUTION: In some countries it is not advisable for a foreigner to ask questions about politics and the political system. You will still want to learn about this topic but asking questions of a neighbor or friend may be very inappropriate. Please discuss this with a trusted expat advisor before interviewing someone about voting and elections.

[NOTE: Some of this material may overlap with “Its Government,” but in order to talk about elections, this is needed for background]

What official administrative positions are there:

  • in your neighborhood?
  • your village, town, or city?
  • on the national level?

How are these political leaders selected? What qualifications are looked for in this process? Does age, experience, education, ethnic or religious affiliation, residence, or some other quality figure most highly?

Are there general elections? How often are they held? Who is allowed to vote? How are illiterate voters able to cast their ballots? How much interest do the people have in selecting or voting for their officials? Is interest higher when voting for local officials in contrast to national leaders?

How do candidates make themselves and their platform known to the public? in public meetings? by TV programs? by going house to house?

Talk to people before an election. How important a role do they feel elections have in the governing of their country? their town? Do they feel that their vote really counts? Do people talk together before elections to give or receive advice on how to vote or is this considered a very private concern?

Where do the people in your neighborhood go to vote? If permissible, go to the polling place and observe people as they cast their ballots. How are ballots cast? Written out? Electronically? Where are they put? Do people interact with each other in the polling area? Do you get the impression of pride, anger, frustration, hope? Describe what you can observe and check these out with some of your friends.

How will the votes be tallied? Who is appointed to do this? How are the results announced to the public?


Who are the people who are looked up to, have prestige?

  • in your neighborhood?
  • in your village, town or city?
  • in the country as a whole?

On what is this prestige based—political power, wealth, ritual expertise, knowledge of a craft, ability to sing, tell stories, recount legends, lay leadership in the temple or center of worship, ability to counsel, attainments in formal education, knowledge of legal procedures, or some combination of these and other reasons?

How have the criteria for status and prestige changed in the last 30 years?

  • What were they for the older generation?
  • What are the current status symbols for the present generation?
  • Are these counted in property (land and animals)?
  • In educational attainment (degree, post-graduate degree, or even a “BA-fail”)?
  • In residential location, etc.?


How do people identify themselves?

  • By citizenship? By ethnic origin? By clan membership?
  • By language or dialect? By caste or occupation?

In view of this,

  • What do they call themselves?
  • What do they call outsiders?
  • What do outsiders call them?

Do groups have a tendency to stick together in the larger society or do they integrate?

What certain traits that identify their “membership”—dress, body markings, piercings, etc.?

What stories and anecdotes that bind the “members” together in a common history?

At what age are children initiated into full rights as a member of their society? How is this done?

What, beside sex and age, are the main divisions in society? These could be based on kinship, occupation or skill, religious orientation, educational standard, financial holdings, etc.



This assignment explores proper etiquette for the giving and acceptance of gifts.

To whom would a person give a gift: relative, friend, neighbor, trading partner, headman, government official, etc.? On what occasion would a gift be given? Are these occasions determined by the calendar [as birthdays] or by the course of events [as encouragement for good work done]? What is the motive for giving: love, concluding a business deal, influencing a decision, building up goodwill, etc.?

What types of gifts are appropriate for various occasions? What kinds of gifts are given in exchange? How long a delay between the receiving and the giving of a return gift is within the limits of appropriate behavior? Is the gift related to the status of giver or recipient? In what ways? Be careful to distinguish between a true gift and payment for services rendered, especially when the latter had been delayed.

How does one acknowledge the receipt of a gift? When is it proper to open a gift? On receiving it? Later, when the giver has departed?

How much sharing of excess farm or garden produce is done in the village? What is said when giving and receiving something? Is an equivalent exchange expected?


What trees are valued for their wood? How are they felled and brought in? Are the trees private property, or are the forests owned by the government? By a company? Or is all wood imported into the country?

What are different types of wood used for (e.g., charcoal, firewood, boards, house posts, shingles, carving, furniture, handles for tools). From where is the wood collected or bought? Is firewood augmented with dung or some other substance? Why?

Are houses made of wood, stone, or brick? What type of wood is used in house construction and how is it prepared? Is stone readily available? How and from where is it quarried? Are bricks made locally? What is the status of brick makers? bricklayers? carpenters? stone quarriers? Are these respected professions?

Are wooden objects considered more valuable than those made of other materials, as metal or plastic? What other objects are made of stone? Are these sold or bartered? Are these mainly decorative pieces or do they have utilitarian use as well?

Is bamboo available in your area? If so, are there different types with different uses? Where is it harvested or is it only available commercially? How is the bamboo cut and processed for use?

Investigate and talk about some of the following processes: making charcoal, sawing timber, splitting boards, brickmaking, preparation of stone, etc.

What objects are made of plastic? Are these made within the country, or are they imported? Is there provision for recycling of plastic items?


How is death viewed? Is there life after death? Is the dead person feared? Why? What steps are taken to protect the living?

How soon is a person buried after death? How is a dead body preserved until the funeral takes place? Is there a “wake?” How are friends and family notified of the death of a loved one? How are people greeted as they arrive? By whom? How long do guests stay and what do they do to comfort the family? How do the chief mourners relate to the guests?

Who prepares the corpse for burial and how is this done? How are financial arrangements made if done by practitioners? Who is responsible for making funeral arrangements? How is the gravesite determined? Who prepares it? How is a corpse disposed of? What happens to the person’s belongings?

Describe the customs observed at death and for a funeral. How long does the mourning period last? What are the obligations and responsibilities of the family during this time? What is expected from friends and others (supplying meals, continued visits, prayer, reciting religious texts, etc.)?

What happens to widows or widowers? Who cares for them? May they remarry? Is there a mourning period? How long is it and what signs of mourning are shown?

Is euthanasia practiced? For what reasons? Are there cases of suicide? For what reasons do people kill themselves? Is suicide treated differently from other types of death?


According to folk belief, what is the cause of aging? Why do people get old? What happens to the soul as the body ages?

What is the average life expectancy? What is the attitude toward old age? What age is considered “old”? Are the elderly honored? Are they considered wise? Are they considered burdensome?

What living arrangement options are there for the elderly? What responsibility is taken by the members of the family? Who makes the decisions concerning their living arrangements? Are there nursing homes or retirement centers available as options? Are these government run or private institutions? How are they financed? What happens to old people who are childless, who have no relatives nearby, or are financially destitute?

What responsibilities do the elderly have in family life? in village life? at festivities or ceremonies?


What types of marriage are recognized by the society? Must there always be a ceremony? Are mass marriages performed, and when? Attend a wedding and describe the ceremony and other activities associated with it. Notice who the participants are. As you have the opprtunity, attend various weddings and note the difference between traditional weddings of various tribes or clans, the difference between a Christian wedding and that of adherents of another faith, the difference between a civil wedding and a religious one, etc.

Who officiates at the wedding? Is there a reception or dinner afterwards, and who arranges it? When are the bride and groom presented to the invited guests? When do the bride and groom see each other for the first time after the ceremony? How do they leave the site of the wedding, and where do they go? Are there other dinners and receptions at another time? What is the traditional schedule kept by the wedding party for the first month (or later if applicable) after the wedding?

Who are invited as guests and how are they informed? What gifts are given? When and how are they given, and to whom? What would be expected of you as a guest?

Where does the new couple live? What is the relationship between the man and the woman and their in-laws? Is the relationship dependent on whether the couple lives with the man’s family, the woman’s family, or in their own house? What adjustment problems do newly-weds have? When is a marriage considered consummated?

How many wives/husbands may a person have? Are there wedding ceremonies when succeeding spouses are taken? Is polygamy permitted? What are relations like in a polygamous household?

Is divorce socially acceptable? What are the reasons for divorce? What is the frequency? Describe a divorce procedure. What happens to the original bride price or dowry? Is there any provision made in the marriage certificate for compensation in case of divorce? Can divorced people remarry? How would such a ceremony differ from a regular one? Who gets custody of the children in a divorce? May women divorce men?

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