5 Addis Ababan quirks I never noticed, and some I never knew


Three and a half years abroad is not a long time, especially when compared to people who have called the western world home for 30 something years. That being said, I never expected any surprises when I landed under a scorching African sun a few weeks ago. But I guess even three years held a few surprises for me in Addis.  I have made a list, and I am hoping it won’t grow.

  1. Hugging is not an Ethiopian thing

After the third person who resisted my hug, I have come to the conclusion that hugging is a little awkward here. People usually expect the polite handshake or the two pecks on each cheek, they don’t expect you to climb on them the second you meet them.

  1. When taxi attendants hand you your change, you are not expected to say thank you.

People hold a door open for you; you mutter a quick thank you. The Starbucks cashier hands you back your card, you say thank you. But in Addis, you are not really expected to say thank you when the taxi attendant (more commonly known as weyala) hands you your change. I did that a few times; I guess out of pure habit. Only after a few of them paused and gave me a look I can’t really explain, I figured out why.  I now just pocket my change and leave.

  1. The size of the Injera here is huge,

The second day I was back, I was in the Kushina (kitchen) helping my mom prepare lunch, and then I happened to open the messob. I gasped and exclaimed on the size of the Injera. My mother pretended not to hear, but my sister did not take too kindly to my comment.  Incidentally, I am happy to announce that I am now used to the size already and in fact appreciate its hearty round shape.

  1. Suk bederetes have a new name.

The young men and women who walk around with a makeshift container slung on their chests are not called Suk Bederetes anymore. The literal name is directly translated as shop on a chest. They are now called Jubulani. If you need chewing gum or napkins, just yell ‘Jubulew!’, and one will come running to you faster than Haile.  As some of the young people around Edna Mall would tell you: ‘oh my gosh Suk Bederete is sooo 2004.’

  1. If you want food to go, please don’t confuse your server by saying, well, to go.

The correct term in Addis Ababa is take- away.

What are some of the things that surprised you after coming back to Addis? Share your thoughts!