10 Things That Surprise Foreigners About Ethiopia


Getting great Ethiopian coffee isn’t easy


Sure, you can find plenty of cool cafes in Addis that serve up excellent coffee, but if you want to experience the Ethiopian coffee ceremony that you might have seen on TV or heard about, you’ll need to venture out a bit further. Some of the best places to head for traditional Ethiopian coffee around the country are Harar, Yirgacheffe and Sidamo — the regions where most of Ethiopia’s coffee is grown. For more information on finding great Ethiopian coffee see our article: Ethiopian Coffee Culture: How, Where And Why To Drink It

They are surprised there are Rastafari


Many tourists often associate Rastafari with Jamaica. While there might be many there as well, it was Haile Selassie from Ethiopia that inspired them and there are quite a few Rastafari in Ethiopia, too (many of which are Jamaicans that moved there).

They get confused on the time


Trying to find the time in a cafe? This might not be the best place to do so. Many clocks in Ethiopia work differently and are set from when the sun rises at 12:00. It definitely takes some getting used to, so best to bring a watch or your cell phone.

They are surprised to find castles


While many tourists come to Ethiopia and expect to find traditional villages and huts (yes there is that, too), their jaws drop when they head to Gondar and see a castle that looks like it was plopped right out of Europe. The castles of Fasil Ghebbi in Gondar are known as Ethiopia’s Camelot and were built in the 17th century.

How much they like the food


The food in Ethiopia is unlike anything else you might find in Africa. The cuisine has been perfecting itself for centuries and if you like flavor overload, you’re definitely going to be pleased when you try Ethiopian food. And while you might have had it in NYC or DC, it’s no comparison to how good it is in Ethiopia. OK, well, some people might not like the food, but if you call yourself a foodie we have money on you that you’ll like it.

But the food customs might take some time to get used to


While the food is undoubtedly delicious, learning how to eat it can take some getting used to. You won’t find forks, you have to eat with your right hand, and picking up the injera can be pretty tricky. There are other customs involved as well, such as the oldest person at the table taking the first food, and guests putting food in another’s mouth (known as gursa).

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Introductions can take some time


Westerners might be surprised at how long certain interactions like greetings and business interactions take in Ethiopia. People are expected to meet each other and ask about how their family is, how their health is, what their job is lik,e and more. Needless to say, meeting a bunch of people might take longer than you’re used to. If you’re from New York City, this one’s for you — have some patience!

Photo courtesy of Ondřej Odcházel / flickr

Most people are Christians


Given Ethiopia’s location across the sea from Yemen and bordered by Somalia and Sudan, many people think Ethiopia is going to be a Muslim nation. However, Ethiopia has long since embraced Christianity and they make up around 60% of the total population. In fact, Christianity in Ethiopia dates back all the way to the 1st century AD, making it one of the first country’s to adopt the religion.



Many people use a “natural toothbrush”


Travelers might notice people walking around the streets biting down on what looks like a cross between a toothbrush and a giant tooth pick. This is called a “chewy stick” or “mafakia” and is scientifically proven to reduce the microbes in the mouth. Tourists are welcome to try it if they want, but we recommend to keep using your toothbrush.


The calendar is way off


Well, if you think the year is 2015 at least. The Ethiopian New Year was on September 12, 2015 for most people, but that date was the first day of 2008 for Ethiopians. The Ethiopian calendar has 13 months a year and is eight years behind the Gregorian calendar. Like the time, the calendar is something you have to be mindful of if you are staying in the country for awhile.