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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?


At what age do boys and girls become ready for marriage? Describe the method by which marriage arrangements are made. Are the arrangements made by the parents? If so, how much say do the boy and girl have in determining who their marriage partner will be?

What characteristics are looked for in a potential husband? in a potential wife? Ask about physical, educational, financial, religious, political aspects that need to be considered.

Is courting allowed? Do the boy and girl get to know each other at all before the wedding? What standards must they follow if this is allowed. How is courting initiated, and by whom? Are there different expectations if the prospective pair are from the same neighborhood or from another town? Is a chaperon needed?

Are there kinship restrictions as to whom a person can marry? Clan or tribal restrictions? Can two persons marry if they have nursed from the same woman even though they may not be related by blood line?

When marriage is considered, which side takes the initiative in making a formal proposal? Is there an engagement ritual? Who takes part in this? How long is the period between engagement and the wedding? What activities take part in each home (the groom and the bride) during this time? What preparations need to be made by the girl? by the boy? How binding is the engagement? What happens if the engagement is broken? Who takes the initiative in breaking the engagement?

Is a dowry expected? or a bride price paid? If so, what are the expectations? Who does the negotiations? Is the immediate family responsible for the payment (or preparation), or does the extended family also contribute?


When is a child considered to be a real person (from birth? by some physical change? by attaining a certain age? at a naming ceremony?) How does a child get its name? Why is a certain name chosen?

When and how is the child weaned? What happens if the mother’s milk is insufficient? Are there wet- nurses? What relationship does a wet-nurse then hold in the family? to the child? How does the child receive toilet training? By whom? At what age is this begun? At what age do children of either sex habitually wear lower garments?

Are children generally treated well? How is love shown to a child (by the father, by the mother, by siblings, by the grandparents or other relatives)? How are children instructed in the society’s customs and history? Is this done as a situation presents itself, or is a specific program followed? How can a child be protected from illness and injury?

How are children taught proper behavior? Are they told frightening stories to encourage good behavior? or are heroes held up as models to follow? How may they be punished? Are girls punished differently than boys?

Are children of either gender treated preferentially? If so, how and at what age does it begin? At what age are girls treated differently than boys? Are there different expectations for behavior in boys and girls? What qualities of character are considered desirable for each?

With whom does the child have the closest relationship? Does this change as the child gets older? Who seems to love the child most? Who helps care for young children?

At what age are children expected to begin doing chores? What type and are these gender- specific? When are they expected to take part in religious observances and rituals?


Are there local midwives? Are they trained? If not, how do they get their knowledge? Are they contracted beforehand to be on hand for the delivery? How much do they get paid for a successful delivery? for an unsuccessful one? How long after the delivery do they care for the mother? What are their services? What must the mother do after childbirth?

Where and how is the baby delivered? Who may be present? Who is in charge of the event? Who cuts the cord? How? What is done with the afterbirth? What must be done for the child physically and ritually? Who does this?

What is the father’s role before, during, and after the birth? At what point does he see the baby? Who announces the birth to the rest of the family? to the community? How is this done?

What is the meaning attached to events occurring at the birth of a child (guests present, cord around the baby’s neck, etc.)? What is done in the case of twins? What practices and beliefs are associated with death in childbirth?

Is the birth of a child, whether boy or girl, a time of rejoicing? Are gifts given in either case? To whom?

What religious or folk customs are observed at birth, as baptisms, charms, circumcision, etc.?


Make a chart of your own family tree and ask your language helper to help you put the kinship terms for each in your new language. Ask your helper to do the same for his/her family. Compare the charts. Make a combined chart, filling in the spaces from your two charts. Are there still relationships you do not have a kinship term for? Have your helper assist you to name those.

Ask three separate families or households near where you live about their families. Do some of their close relations live in the immediate neighborhood? How far do members of their families live? Are some still in a rural situation and supply milk, grain, vegetables to the family in town? Why have some chosen to live close together and others further away? How often and under what conditions do relatives come to visit? Are some of these visits obligatory?

What obligations do family members have toward the benefit of the whole? Which relatives help with work projects? Which family members borrow from and lend to each other? Who is called on to assist in raising orphans or caring for the elderly? Which are expected to help in case of illness? Who is responsible for making wedding and funeral arrangements? Who carries out ritual obligations for the family?

Who is considered the head (patriarch, primary decision maker, etc.) of the family. Does the oldest son automatically step into this position? At what point in time does this transfer occur (at the death of the patriarch, when the son reaches a certain age, etc.)? To whom and in what proportions does property pass as inheritance? Who controls the money in the family? How is it distributed? In any of the above, what part do women play?

Under what circumstances would a family member be avoided or thought ill of?

What is the status of daughters-in-law? the mother-in-law? girls over boys?

What is the cultural attitude toward adoption? Is it widely practiced within the culture? If so, who holds priority for adopting a child, as an orphan? Do adopted children have the same rights as children born into the family? What is the attitude toward foreigners adopting out of the culture?

Look further in your neighborhood and check if the three families you have studied are typical of the area. How are the households in the neighborhood related? Is there any pattern to the location of related households in the village or town? In what other villages do households have relatives?


What patterns of visiting do you observe in the village or around your neighborhood? When do people generally visit each other (time of day, slack times in the year, special occasions, etc.)? Which people tend to visit each other often? Are they friends, neighbors, relatives? Do they give prior notice before visiting?

Do people visit from out-of-town? Are they friends, relatives, strangers? Are they people of the same ethnic group? Do they give prior notice of their arrival? How often do they come? What do they come for (business, social call, visit a sick person, attend a ceremony, etc.)? How long do they stay? Do they bring their own bedding or food, or is it the duty of the host to provide those?

What is the host’s responsibility to visitors? Is there a difference if the visitor is a close friend or relative in the same village, a friend or relative from another village, a stranger of the same ethnic group, a stranger from a different ethnic group, a person with status no matter where he is from, a woman, etc.?

Looking at these same categories, what is expected of each type of visitor? Should he/she bring a hostess gift? If so, what kind is acceptable? Are these gifts given in kind (same kind of gift you received)?

What words of welcome are used? What are the first topics talked about with visitors? Is this dependent on the reason for the visit (funeral, illness, etc.)? How does a host indicate to a visitor that he is not welcome or that it is time for him to leave? How does the visitor indicate that he/she is ready to leave? Are there certain actions that indicate the termination of a visit?

How soon after arrival is something to eat or drink served? Are visitors ever left alone, or is there always a family member present?


For what occasions do groups of people gather on a social basis? Where do they gather? Are these local, or a localized branch of a national event? Are these initiated by an individual or by a committee?

Inquire about these, and attend one or two if appropriate. Take notes and discuss the activities with your language helper or a local friend. Possibilities: weddings, funerals, religious fairs, art fairs, community dinners, senior centers, any community activity held in a central place like a plaza or community center. How are personal and group social needs met through these events? Note things like the selling of snacks, telling stories, dancing, exchange of gossip, playing of games, etc.

Remember that an event may have several purposes. A gathering for a funeral, for instance, not only is an opportunity to pay one’s last respects but also to show group solidarity in a time of crisis, to bring family and friends together, to provide an opportunity for young people to flirt or court, etc.

What city social activities are you aware of? Are there parades or activities that center around a certain region of the city, to remember a local historical event, or to honor a local hero or pioneer? Who are considered heroes or pioneers? Get information about one or two of them.


Of course, one of the places you can go to eat is as an invited guest for a meal in someone’s home.

  • Try to get the polite phrases to use when invited to a meal, when urged to eat more, and when finishing a meal. Is it appropriate or necessary to finish everything offered or better to leave something on your plate?
  • When you are invited as a guest, is it appropriate to bring a thank-you gift? or send a thank- you note afterward? Find out what words or items would show your appreciation.
  • Is it good to praise the cook? Are there stock phrases that are used for this? Learn some of these and begin to use them!
  • When you are invited to a home for a meal, is it expected that you would return the invitation? How and when is this done?
  • Another option for eating out is the restaurants, tea stalls, and hotels in the area. Find out where your friends go to eat, and as you walk about your neighborhood, observe the small eating places the locals patronize. Is there special seating for families? for women eating alone?
  • What kinds of restaurants are there? Are they well patronized? Do they serve only local food or is Western cuisine or food from other countries also available? How expensive is it to eat out? Are there eating establishments that specialize in only one or two types of food, like noodle dishes, steak, etc.?
  • If there are restaurants from the West, like McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken, is their menu similar to the original? Or have they added some ingredients or items that are more culturally enjoyed?


  • What is the staple food which is found in nearly every meal (bread, rice, maniac, potato, etc.?)
  • How are meals cooked (open fire, gas or electric stove, oven, etc.)? Is there a way to preserve meat, vegetables, or fruit for future use? Describe hearths or stoves and how they are constructed and used.
  • How many meals a day do people ordinarily eat? What is considered the main meal of the day? When is it served? Is breakfast served in most homes? What kind of food is served?
  • Is the main meal served at noon or in the evening? Do men and women eat together? Who is served first? When do the children eat?
  • Is any kind of ritual observed before or after eating? Learn a simple table grace (prayer before the meal).
  • How is the food served (buffet-style, family-style, pre-served portions)? What utensils and dishes are used at meal times? for various types of food? How many dishes are served at a typical meal? for guests?
  • What is served for the main meal? How many times a week is meat eaten? Is the food spicy or bland? What seasonings are used for taste? How does the food taste to you?
  • How much of it is gathered, grown in family gardens, or bought at the market? Who does the gathering or buying?
  • How are people called to come to eat? Do people converse while they eat? Note the sounds which accompany eating (smacking of lips, belching, etc.). Do people drink during a meal or after?
  • Are there breaks in the day for drinking tea or coffee or snacking? What types of things are eaten for snacks? Are they salty or sweet? Should there be a mix of the two?


Living areas

How are the rooms arranged? around a courtyard? in a linear fashion?

How many rooms are there in this house? Are they interconnected? Does one key give you access, or does each room need a key?

How many people live in the house? are they a single family unit, or an extended family?

What kind of furniture is in the room in which you are seated? Note floor covering, curtains, and other decoration on the floor, walls, or ceiling. Is there anything that surprises you?

What other rooms are in your host’s home? Are there rooms that are off-limits to a visitor? If you can see into other rooms, what other furniture is there? Does the furniture tell you what the room is used for? Do rooms seem to be multi-purpose or have a specific use?

Do the furnishings in the house give you a clue as to the economic status of the occupants?

Where do the children play? indoors? outdoors? Is this a secure area?

Working areas

Where is the kitchen located? What kind of stove is used for cooking? What kind of fuel is used for cooking? Where and how is this available?

Where are the dishes, utensils, pots and pans stored? Where are supplies like flour, sugar, onions, etc. stored?

Where do the dishes get washed? What is used to scour pans? Are spotless pans a thing of pride? Are the dishes drip-dried or dried with a towel?

What do you think their standard of cleanliness is in comparison with yours?

Where is cleaning equipment kept, like brooms, sweepers, etc. What kind of equipment is used for cleaning? Does the type of building determine this?

Is there electricity? For how many hours a day? Hot and cold running water? Otherwise, how is water heated? Is this done only when needed, at certain times of the day?

Where is the laundry done? Are bigger pieces (sheets, etc.) sent out to be washed? Is the laundry at home done by hand or by machine? What kind of soap is used? Where are clothes hung out to dry?

Is there a special area for chopping wood? for preparing vegetables or meat for cooking? for keeping seedlings for planting in the garden? for keeping animals?

When you return home:

Draw a diagram of the house with any special observations about the various rooms and use of space. Add to this as you visit more homes.

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