Cameroon: A Business Cultural Mix
Cameroon is home to 230 languages, although English and French are the official ones. The nation strives toward bilingualism, but in reality, very few Cameroonians speak both French and English, and many speak neither. Cameroon is a member of both the Commonwealth of Nations and La Francophonie.
Cameroonian greetings vary between the Francophone and Anglophone areas. In both areas, men shake hands with each other. Since this is a hierarchical society, elders are greeted first. Women tend not to look the other person in the eye even if it is another woman. Gifts are given with two hands or the right hand only; never the left hand. It is important to use a person’s honorific title and surname when conversing. Honorific and professional titles in French or English should be used in the appropriate area of the country. Wait to be invited before moving to a first name basis. Present and receive business cards with the right hand only or with both hands.
Meetings are not as private as those in Europe or North America may be used to. The room can be shared with other people or people may walk into a meeting halfway through and interrupt. This should not be taken as a sign of disrespect or lack of seriousness; once the interruption is over things will get back on track. Agendas are a part of the Cameroonian business culture and there is a formal nature to meetings.
Business communication is also relatively formal and follows rules of etiquette and protocol. It is rude to turn your back on someone who is senior to you, even if it is merely to shake hands with someone else. Cameroonians are expressive communicators who practice conversational overlap – when they think that they know what you are about to say, they will interrupt you to agree, disagree, or change the subject. Many Cameroonians use proverbs when speaking to enhance their communication.
Share any Cameroon business experiences you have enjoyed.