Expats moving to Botswana won’t have to overcome too many obstacles while settling in, but as with any new country, there may be some initial culture shock.
Five key principles define the country's national character: democracy, development, self-reliance, unity and 'botho'. In Setswana, 'botho' refers to the qualities of courtesy, self-discipline and respect for others. 'Botho' is also about fulfilling the needs of individuals, as well as those of the community. Expats who respect these principles will adjust quickly to their new lives in this African country.
Language barrier in Botswana
Botswana’s official and predominant languages are English and Setswana. Expats can get by struggle-free without learning Setswana, but life will be much easier if they learn a few basic phrases in the local language. Expats may also find that English is less widely spoken in the more rural areas of the country.
Food in Botswana
The cuisine of Botswana shares some characteristics with the cuisines of other Southern African countries, but there are certain dishes that are uniquely local. 'Seswaa', for example, is a dish of heavily salted mashed-up beef, goat, chicken or lamb meat. Mopane worms are also eaten in Botswana, commonly served dried and salted as a snack.
While it's worth tasting some of the local fare, expats shouldn’t worry too much about changing their eating habits. There are plenty of Western-style grocery stores and restaurants. That said, Botswana is a landlocked country and fresh seafood may not be readily available.
Traditional values and family in Botswana
Batswana pride themselves on hospitality and friendliness. Respect for elders remains a strong value, and the family plays an important part in the local culture. When doing business in Botswana, expats are advised to treat elders with respect.
Tribal tradition is also important but this is slowly changing as younger generations are influenced by Western lifestyles. While traditional faiths are practised, Christianity is the dominant religion.
Time in Botswana
As with elsewhere on the continent, the concept of 'African time' can be an adjustment for expats settling into their new life. There is often no rush to get things done in Botswana, especially in its rural areas, so expats will need to learn to be patient. Formal business meetings may be more punctual than informal arrangements, where plans with friends may end up much later than originally scheduled.
Arts in Botswana
Many Batswana are highly skilled craftsmen and talented artists. Arts in all forms are traditionally valued and expressed in dance, music and poetry, as well as pottery, carpentry and craftwork. New arrivals moving into an unfurnished apartment will have no trouble finding high-quality locally-made furniture.
►For estimates of monthly expenses, see Cost of Living in Botswana
Are you an expat living in Botswana?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Botswana. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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