Our Culture

Culture of Pakistan



Culture and Traditions of Pakistan

Pakistan is a multi-ethnic country located on the western border of India and the eastern borders of Iran and Afghanistan. The land the country occupies has a rich history of conquest and migration, which has contributed to Pakistan’s diversity. As such, norms and values vary significantly across the country, and the regions and provinces are quite distinguished from one another. The vast spectrum of ethnic and religious diversity presents certain difficulties when trying to identify consistent practices, beliefs and values. Currently, the country can best be described as a cultural mosaic, where conservatism and traditionalism reside side by side with secularism and liberalism.


National Identity and Changes


Though the country is commonly characterized on the global stage as part of ‘the Middle East’, Pakistanis tend to consider themselves more South Asian. The national identity of Pakistan is heavily influenced by its recent modern history. It only became a nation when it separated from India in 1947 (known as Partition). The formation of the country bore with it an idea of what Pakistani society should look like and embody, enticing millions of people to immigrate from India. Since then, there have been constant negotiations of space and identity, leading to changes such as the secession of East Pakistan as Bangladesh.
Even with its sovereign borders now relatively concrete, significant upheavals have continued to occur in Pakistan. Its geographical position has subjected the country to the consequences of surrounding conflicts, and the political climate has been known to shift depending on changes in direct power. For example, the secular leanings or authoritarian nature of national leaders have significantly affected the social atmosphere. Contemporary world events have also exacerbated differences between some of the diverse lifestyles and cultures that have previously co-existed harmoniously. In turn, Pakistan has become troubled by inter-religious tensions, ethnic conflicts and terrorism.

As a result, Pakistan has an ever-evolving culture and its people have had to be flexible; the past century has been unstable and involved constant compromise on their behalf. Today, the country also has an exceedingly young age structure that may present difficulties in the future. According to the CIA World Factbook, as of 2016, it is estimated 53.3% of the population is under 25. Drastic demographic shifts and turbulent politics have meant that the social security afforded to the average Pakistani citizen is minimal. Instead, adaptability, resilience and self-reliance have become important qualities.


Interdependence and Wasta

Pakistan has a collectivist culture in the sense that people are deeply interdependent and loyal to those who are in their inner circle. Social connections are essential to daily life, as citizens have often had to rely on themselves instead of their government for support and opportunities. Relationships play an important role in completing professional, personal and social tasks. This is understood through the concept of ‘wasta’ – relationship forming. Wasta can be observed when, for example, people turn to a close friend or relative for help, instead of a government institution. This kind of social support network is crucial and gives many Pakistanis a very strong sense of community.

One sees the strength of this support network most visibly within families. The loyalty shown to these relationships is often extremely strong. For instance, individuals may place their family’s interests over their own, even if they conflict. Furthermore, relatives often expect to receive preferential treatment. In return for this loyalty, an individual gains a sense of belonging, protection and unity.

People tend to identify with their family before any other social indicator. Following that, those who are very urbanized generally tend to consider themselves predominantly ‘Pakistani’. However, many other people (particularly those in rural areas) also feel a heightened affiliation to their ethnicity. This pride and identification to their heritage can surpass that of their national loyalty.



The land that Pakistan occupies has hosted many vast civilizations dating back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age of the Indus Valley Civilization. A variety of ethnic cultures have arisen from this rich history, with identities and values specific to them.


The Punjabis are the largest ethnicity in Pakistan and are generally the most dominant and influential people in the bureaucracy and armed forces. The province of Punjab is Pakistan’s most prosperous and populated. It has been the recipient of extensive government funding and is equipped with many high-quality public services that attract thousands of Pakistanis from all over the country. As past and current governments have shown a preference towards economic, educational and agricultural development in the province of Punjab, Punjabis are often considered to be the privileged ethnicity in Pakistan. Pakistanis of other ethnicities can also hold resentment regarding the prevalence of Punjabis in government and positions of power.

Punjab has been subject to numerous invasions and migrations of people from many different cultures, including the Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Mongols and the British. This has influenced the general Punjabi culture to be open and adaptable to external influence. Punjabis themselves are generally recognized as being flexible people, quite vibrant and unreserved. Punjabi culture has also been greatly influenced by Sufism. This is most apparent through the many shrines, literature and festivals in their honor throughout the province.

The north and South of Punjab are quite distinct from each other. While North Punjab is highly urbanized, South Punjab is mostly rural and organized in a feudal way, with Seraiki as a widely spoken language. Social distinctions throughout Punjab are mostly based around people’s occupations.


Pakhtuns (or Pathans)

Originating from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the northwest of Pakistan, Pakhtuns have gained a reputation as ‘hard worn’ people who have survived in rough topography and severe climates. Today, many are highly urbanized and have become known for their trading and business skills in all manner of professions. Those who remain in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have generally retained a strong tribalism and collectivistic social organization. They share many characteristics with neighboring Afghans1 and often have distinctly Central Asian origins and features (resembling the Uzbeks, Tajiks and Turks). Pashto is the most widely spoken language.

Pakhtuns are distinctly recognized for their generosity and work ethic. As hospitality is a core Pakhtun value, they have been known to go to great lengths to please guests of any ethnic or cultural background, and without any expectation of remuneration or favor. They are generally extremely hard working and often exhibit a courageous attitude and honest nature. This often comes through in their business negotiations and deals.



Sindhis originate from the southern province of Sindh. Sindh has an ancient culture dating back to the 7,000-year-old Indus Valley Civilization. It is highly influenced by Sufi doctrine and principles taught by cultural icons and saints of the region. Interior Sindh is distinct from urban areas like Karachi and Hyderabad as it is still largely under the control of a feudal system of land ownership and organization.

Sindhis are generally soft-spoken people. The Sindhi language and culture is characterized by folkloric traditions predominant in rural towns. In Sindh, folk singers and women play a vital role in spreading folklore through musical instruments even older than the South Asian sitaar. The preservation of these tales and instruments is of vital importance to Sindhis, and many have been featured in modern musical renditions. Many Sindhis tend to move to urban areas such as Karachi as businessmen and for public service jobs. Here, they face tough competition from better-educated and urbanized Pakistanis. Nevertheless, they often excel as salesmen, and their traditional arts and crafts are valued throughout Pakistan.



Following Partition, around 8 million people arrived in Pakistan. The number was equivalent to roughly a quarter of the country’s (then) population immigrating in a short span of time. These people were generally Muslims leaving India to join the newly formed country. While they came from many different ethnicities, the diverse group of people and their descendants are referred to under the centralized term ‘Muhajir’ – an Arabic word that translates to “immigrant”. Those who settled in the Pakistani province of Punjab generally originate from the Indian regions of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi. Those who settled in the Pakistani Province of Sindh generally originate from Bombay (Mumbai), Berar, the United Provinces, Hyderabad, Baroda, Kutch and Rajputana Agency.

Muhajirs mainly speak Urdu and live in the cities or urban areas. They do not appear to have maintained much affiliation with their original ancestry, and they tend to be more concerned with their local community than their ethnic roots. However, Muhajirs do reflect the influence of their Indian background. For example, they may communicate more directly and are generally quite business-minded.


Balochis (or Baluchis)

The Balochi people are the indigenous people of Baluchistan, which is split over both Pakistan and Iran. Both these nations have a province named ‘Balochistan’ that most Balochis live in, although many others are dispersed throughout Sindh, Afghanistan and other regions. Balochistan is the biggest province of Pakistan but also the most remote and least densely populated. It is characterized by vast areas of desert-like mountainous terrain. This geographical isolation has generally led to the Balochis being secluded from outside influence, meaning they have retained quite a distinct cultural identity.

Minority Rights Group International has reported that the socioeconomic conditions of the Balochistan province are “abysmal” in comparison to the rest of Pakistan, with over 50% of Balochis living below the poverty line. Due to the difficulties in finding a consistent source of water and food, many Balochis survive as nomads travelling throughout the province. It is believed roughly 3% of Pakistanis are Balochi, although some Balochi nationalists contend that government policies have deliberately underestimated their numbers.

Balochis are predominantly Sunni Muslims; however, there is a substantial regional contingency of Shi'a Balochis. The ethnic group is not culturally homogenous. There are many different clans and tribes that are traditionally organized, led by chiefs. Customs and traditions align with tribal law.


Honor (Izzat)


Among the rich ethno-linguistic diversity of the country, there are overarching values common to all Pakistanis. For example, much behavior is noticeably influenced by people’s perceptions of pride, honor and shame. The concept of honor (known as ‘izzat’ in Hindi-Urdu) is deeply embedded in Pakistani culture. A person’s honor, or izzat, is affected by their personal actions as well as the behavior of those they are associated with (i.e. their family, community or any group they belong to). Therefore, if an individual does something dishonorable, their origins (i.e. family, region or ethnicity) may be implicated as the cause. In this way, there is a cultural pressure for individuals to protect their personal reputation and the image of those around them. This may require people to give a public impression of dignity and integrity by stressing their positive qualities, emphasizing their family member’s achievements and adhering to social expectations.

Doing something embarrassing, socially inappropriate or indecent can bring serious shame (‘sharam’) upon a person. Perceptions of dishonor, and the social ostracizing that can follow, is known to have very real effects on people’s future opportunities and circumstances. To prevent such indignity in Pakistan, criticism is rarely given directly and praise is often generously offered. If faced with criticism, Pakistanis are likely to deny any fault in order to avoid dishonor. It is common for people to deflect blame to someone/thing else entirely in order to protect their honor. Generally, people will only openly concede to error and take accountability when the other person is older than them, doing so out of respect.

It is worth noting that the expectations regarding what is ‘honorable’ and ‘shameful’ can vary significantly between different ethnicities, family backgrounds and social attitudes. For example, the younger Pakistani generation generally do not feel the need to stringently apply the honor code and will often hide certain ‘shameful’ actions they consider reasonable from the older generations who might be deeply offended by such behaviors. In this way, it can be seen that some people may not be personally ashamed of what they are doing, but more concerned that shame from society will affect their personal self-worth. This is often the case for younger Pakistanis acculturating to Australia who adopt aspects of Australian culture that their parents and parent’s friends may strongly disapprove of.



• Greetings are generally formal in Pakistan. When addressing a person for the first time, use their last name followed by “Sahib” or “Saab”, literally meaning ‘Mister’. For people of different professions, use their specified title, for example: “Brigadier” (Doctor) followed by their surname.

• Strangers will speak to each other in the formal register of Urdu. The familiar register is only used when talking to friends and young family.
• The most common greeting among Pakistanis is “As-Salamu-Alaykum” (‘Peace be upon you’).
• Elders are greeted first out of respect.
• Well-acquainted men may hug each other upon greeting. However, when greeting strangers, business associates or those of a very different status (i.e. an elder), one usually shakes hands and respectfully places the right hand over the heart afterwards.
• Women may kiss each other on both cheeks if they know each other well. Strangers generally meet each other with a handshake.
• In more traditional circumstances, men and women will share a verbal greeting but make no physical contact. Business introductions between men and women may involve a handshake if initiated by the women. Physical contact (e.g. hugs, handshakes and kisses) is only considered appropriate between men and women if they are family or close friends.
• A Pakistani may simply place their right hand over their heart and give a gentle nod in greeting if they perceive the other person is unaccustomed to being touched.
• The traditional greeting towards Hindus or Indians is “Namaste” (‘I greet the god within you’).
• Liberal middle-class Pakistanis may say “Adab” (‘Respect and politeness’) while lifting a hand to their forehead.



• Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, meaning Islam is the official religion and laws are written to be consistent with its teachings. The state religion is central to the daily life in Pakistan; mosques are located in almost every neighborhood and the call to prayer heard throughout urban areas five times a day. In the last census, 96.4% of Pakistanis identified as Muslim. While not all these people may practice Islam on a regular basis, the religion’s moral beliefs and tenets are widely recognized and respected.

• Sunni and Shi’a Islam are the two major Islamic sects practiced in Pakistan. Pakistan is a Sunni majority country, with 76% of Pakistanis identifying as Sunni and 10-15% estimated to be Shi'ites (2010 est.). Both variations of Islam have many different religious schools that Pakistanis adhere to. Sufism is quite popular among both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.

• The Sunni Ḥanafiyyah (Hanafite) school is the biggest in Pakistan. This school of thought generally takes an interpretation of Islam that is quite flexible. It leans away from the rigid interpretations, and places emphasis on human reason. Hanafi Islam tends to keep in mind traditional Islamic custom while acknowledging the context of the modern world.

• Interpretations of Islam and levels of conservatism vary throughout the country. Domestic and international political shifts have influenced an increase in the visibility of religious conservatism (for example, through how people dress and the numbers of mosque attendees). Reverence of Allah is also quite evident in the way some people speak; it is common to slip praise into casual conversation. However, many Pakistanis do not adhere to an orthodox understanding of the religion. For example, many Muslim women in Pakistan choose not to wear a hijab. The most common covering is a ‘dupatta’, which is a light cloth that is arranged over the head whilst still exposing most of the neck and some hair.


Religious Freedom


• It is estimated that 4% of Pakistanis belong to a non-Muslim religious minority. These include Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and Bahá’i. There are also minorities among Muslims, the most significant being the Ahmaddiyas who make up approximately 2.2% of the Muslim population.

• Under law, religious minorities are permitted to practice, profess and propagate their religion, and have equal rights to jobs, education and property. However, according to the International Religious Freedom Report 2007, “freedom of speech [in Pakistan] is also subject to any ‘reasonable’ restrictions in the interest of the ‘glory of Islam’”. Thus, while there is an assertion of religious freedom, in reality the government imposes limits and the Sunni clergy has a very strong influence.

• The census does not provide any official figures on minority Muslim sects and it is often argued that these minorities (such as Shi’as or Ahmadis) are not actually Muslim, but heretics of Islam. Religious minorities have been subject to social discrimination, harassment and religiously motivated attacks. Blasphemy laws have commonly been imposed in strategic ways that assert the political predominance of the ruling party. Often, publicly labelling someone as blasphemous is enough to jeopardize their social standing and safety without actually arresting them. Recent terrorist attacks in the country have targeted both Muslim and non-Muslim places of worship.



The family forms the foundation of society in Pakistan and encompasses a wide breadth of relationships. One’s extended relatives have great significance on a daily basis and a vast majority of Pakistanis live in multigenerational households whereby three, four or sometimes five generations reside together (including grandparents, uncles, siblings and cousins). Due to the low socioeconomic condition of most of Pakistan's population, family ties are essential for people to survive economically.

The concept of ‘wasta’ – relationship forming – becomes central to this family dynamic. People generally rely on their relatives more than anyone else for financial, social and employment opportunities (see ‘Interdependence and Wasta’ in the Core Concepts). Furthermore, considering how big the average household is, most of the income is spent on the upkeep of the family home. Generally, only the privileged elite classes or families who have migrated to cities have adopted the nuclear family setup. Even then, most people’s relatives live close to each other and rely on one another for financial support.

The family, being such an intricate and supportive network, is kept quite private to outsiders. Significant precautions are taken to keep all problems, financial matters and gossip away from public knowledge. This is done as a way to protect one’s family honor and avoid the reputation of the family being shamed (see ‘Honor (Izzat)’ in Core Concepts for further explanation on this).

Traditionally, Pakistani families are patriarchal and patrilineal. In this way, the senior male is the head of the household, followed by the senior female, and finally, the children. Individuals are associated with their father's family primarily and, upon marriage, a woman will move in with her husband's family and be considered one of them.


Gender Roles

Men are generally the main source of income in households throughout Pakistan. According to Islamic custom, in the case that both a husband and wife are employed, the woman's income is considered to be rightfully her own and does not necessarily have to be spent on the upkeep of the home. In traditional homes, it is believed to be a man's sole responsibility to provide for his wife, children and any extended family who reside with them or live elsewhere. This will depend on the economic status of the family, but generally across Pakistan, men are expected to earn for the family while women look after the home and general well-being of the family.

Some families still practice the seclusion of women (purdah) by which females can only leave the domestic realm when veiled and accompanied by a man. This custom varies significantly between ethnicities and social backgrounds. For example, Balochis in the highlands generally observe purdah while urban middle-class Pakistanis appear to have stopped doing so.

However, women generally still occupy a subordinate status in Pakistani society. This is somewhat due to the fact that they carry greater expectations of social compliance and are sometimes seen as particularly vulnerable targets that need to be protected. Culturally, women are seen as being more liable to bring dishonor on a family. A mistake or an instance of loss of control by a woman is considered particularly shameful and can be sometimes interpreted as a failure of the patriarch of the family to protect her from doing so.

In some cases, an act of dishonor by a woman has had tragic consequences by which a male relative or community member has murdered her for bringing shame upon the family/group. While acceptance of this practice of ‘honor killing’ is rapidly diminishing in society, it reflects the challenges women face against the strong traditionalists. It still remains a somewhat easy excuse to blame a mistake or problem on a woman.
Ultimately, a woman’s independence and freedom to make choices for herself (i.e. to work, get an education, marry, divorce, bear children or not) varies significantly depending on the attitude of her husband or closest male relative. For example, traditional rural homes in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab are generally more conservative regarding women’s public participation and social roles. Nevertheless, gender equality is progressing and becoming more widespread across many regions of Pakistan. While stratification between the genders is visible, the increase in education is playing a large role in changing this. Through the prevalence of education in urban areas, there is an increase in female employment, and it is more common to see both husband and wife heading the household. Many women are among the country's leading politicians and journalists.


Marriage and Dating

Casual dating is strongly disapproved of among the older generation of Pakistanis. There remains a lot of protectionism and paternalism surrounding women especially, and conservatism regarding their relationships. Some of the younger generation have more liberal understandings of relationships and begin dating during or after they finish their tertiary studies. However, the sight of two people from the opposite gender alone in public is likely to draw varying degrees of judgment. This may range from unspoken curiosity to ambivalence depending on where you are. As privacy is a rarity in the public areas of Pakistan, most people are likely to stare.

Many Pakistani marriages are arranged, brokered by the family elders. As nuclear family households are becoming more common in the urban areas of Pakistan, many young adults are now choosing whom they marry. However, even in these circumstances, it is often necessary to receive parents’ full approval and consent of their choice of partner. Marriages are considered to be the responsibility of the parents; they pay for the event itself to a large extent.

Generally, protection of the family and honor plays a key role in determining prospective partners. Potential wives/husbands are usually chosen from within the same socioeconomic bracket. Marriages are rarely approved between people of different socioeconomic tiers. Interethnic marriages are also not very common; however, they are sometimes approved if all other social standings of the families coincided.
Marriage is often considered to be a healthy way to expand the family ties among relatives. Therefore, it is very common to marry someone within the extended family, such as a cousin. These endogamous marriages are considered to be compatible and, because the larger extended family is implicated if they fail, the couple is usually strongly supported by relatives to ensure it doesn’t. Additionally, such marriages help keep family property consolidated.




• Naming conventions vary in Pakistan throughout ethnic, familial, regional and religious traditions. Typically, Pakistani names derive from Arabic, Indo-Persian or Turkish roots. Tribal and familial identity is strongly respected. Therefore, many people add their tribe's name with their family’s.
• Due to Pakistan's large monotheistic religious contingency, traditional Arabic-Abrahamic (Quranic, Arabic-Biblical and Arabic-Judaic) names are the most prolific; (male) Ali, Muhammad, Yusuf, Bilal and Hamza; (female) Noor, Mariam, Ayesha, Fatima.
• It is common practice to give the father's most commonly addressed name to the child as their last name. This is also applied to some married females, who adopt their husband's most commonly addressed name as their surname. However, Islamic law does not necessitate the custom of a wife adopting her husband's last name at marriage. Therefore, many Pakistani women retain their maiden names.
• There are exceptions to this trend, most notably with the surname KHAN, which is common amongst those of Pakhtun origin. SHAH is another common surname passed between families.
• Western influence following colonization has seen many Pakistanis adopt European-style naming systems.


Dates of Significance


National Dates of Significance
• Kashmir Day (5th of February)
• Pakistan Day (23th of March)
• Union Parishad polls (23rd of April)
• Labor Day (1st of May)
• Union Parishad polls (7th of May)
• Bank Holiday (1st of July)
• Independence Day (14th of August)
• Defense Day (6th of September)
• Iqbal Day (9th of November)

The following dates follow the Islamic lunar calendar, so their date on the Gregorian calendar varies each year.
• Eid e-Rizwan
• Shab e-Meraj
• Shab e-Barat
• Eid-ul-Fitr (holiday lasting 6 days)
• Eid-ul-Azha (lasting 3 days)
• Ashura (lasting 2 days)
• Eid Milad un-Nabi

The following dates vary on the Gregorian calendar each year. Most of the observance of Hindu dates and holidays is regional to the province of Sindh.
• Maha Shivaratri
• Holi
• Raksha Bandhan
• Janmashtami
• Ganesh Charturthi
• Navaratri
• Dussehra
• Diwali/Deepavali
• Easter (April – Varies each year)
• Christmas Eve (24th of December)
• Christmas Day (25th of December)
• Day After Christmas (26th of December)




When initially meeting someone, it is necessary to ask about a person’s well-being and that of their family. Only move onto the matter at hand after these personal questions are asked. Forgetting to ask about a person's family signifies a lack of sensitivity and an opportunist mindset. However, it is best only to enquire about male family members. Conservative Pakistani men may find it particularly dishonorable and disrespectful to enquire about their female family members, unless you know the family or person well.


Basic Etiquette


• People tend to offer regular praise about others’ clothes, hair or personal items.
• Wear clothes appropriate to specific occasions. Forgetting to do so is considered disrespectful.
• It is best to always dress modestly in a way that doesn't over-accentuate one’s figure.
• Laughing loudly in public is considered rude.
• Stand to greet a person when they enter a room.
• It is considered rude to sit with one’s legs outstretched.
• If a Pakistani offers to pay for your food or shopping, do not immediately accept. They tend to make this offer out of politeness and it is expected that the other person insist on paying. Alternatively, if once you have refused their offer, they continue to ask to pay, you may politely accept.
• It is common for people to ask personal questions to ascertain a stranger’s background and status. For example, an individual may be asked where they live or what their parents’ occupations are.
• Generally, Pakistanis are not very punctual and are commonly tardy. However, there are exceptions to this. For example, military families tend to be very punctual.



• Hospitality is a strong aspect of Pakistani culture. It is not uncommon to be invited to a Pakistani's home without much prior acquaintance.
• If visiting a military family's house, arrival should be prompt. More generally, however, Pakistanis are not particularly strict with time. Arriving to an event substantially later than the start time is acceptable, though this depends upon the context of the event.
• With new acquaintances, it is not expected to offer to bring something for a meal. Hosts take pride in preparing everything themselves and may be taken aback by such a question.
• It is polite to bring a small gift, such as chocolate, sweets or flowers to express gratitude for the invitation.
• Offer to remove your shoes at the entrance.
• It is important to praise the host's home. If it is a simple home, acknowledge their décor and contents.
• When visiting a home with children, make an effort to engage with them no matter how young they are. Not doing so displays disinterest in your host and is considered arrogant behavior.
• At social events hosted by conservative families, men and women will socialize and eat separately. Children will generally play with each other; however, some may choose to stay with their mothers. Food is generally served in a common area as a buffet. Men and women will serve themselves separately – it is at the discretion of the host to dictate whether the men or women may serve themselves first. Elders will always be offered food first within their respective genders.
• In more intimate or smaller settings, the entire family will sit together with guests in the living room.
• Avoid discussing politics when initially invited into a household, unless initiated by the host.
• Household staff are an important part of middle and upper class Pakistani homes. When staying in someone's home, make sure to tip the staff when departing and thank them for any food they prepared.




• It’s polite to graciously accept tea and refreshments served in social situations.
• People wait for elders to sit down and begin before eating.
• Pakistanis will often use their hands to eat rather than cutlery. However, it is considered bad etiquette to pass, serve or spoon food to one’s mouth with the left hand. It should be used to hold the plate or assist the right hand in serving food.
• Pakistanis often offer their guests additional helpings of food. It is acceptable to refuse; however, expect the host to insist. It can be easier and also more polite to graciously accept.
• If offered food you don’t like or perhaps a ‘hookah’, you may place your hand on your heart and bow your head to decline the offer.
• If eating out, one person usually pays for everyone’s meals. Paying individually on an outing is usually only done amongst close friends. Don't offer to pay someone back for a meal. Instead, reciprocate by purchasing a gift or paying next time.


• Gifts should be offered and received with two hands or the right hand alone.
• If it is a Muslim household, do not bring alcohol, and ensure that all edible products are prepared to halal standards.
• In more conservative settings, it is not appropriate for men to offer gifts to women. Therefore, they must convey that the gift is being offered on behalf of a female family member. For example, “my wife gave me this for you”.

Do’s and Don’ts


• Expect a Pakistani to behave rather formally and seriously when meeting them for the first time. They will generally relax and become more playful as you get to know them.
• Make an effort to ask about a Pakistani’s well-being and their family when you see them.
• Pay attention to smaller acts of hospitality and courtesy by consistently offering to put others before yourself. It is expected that you are considerate of other’s needs without them having to articulate what those are.
• Expect people to express mild discontent with the country’s state of affairs. Politics, religion, terrorism and conflict are discussed quite frequently among Pakistanis. However, consider that these are personal topics and people may not want to have that conversation with you unless you are a close friend.
• If presenting criticism, offer praise followed by suggestions on improvement that can apply to everyone present. Do not single out the person who made a mistake. Direct statements should only be spoken in private with those you know well.
• Barter and bargain when purchasing handicrafts and homewares. Most shopkeepers are likely to give a substantial discount from the quoted price, and it helps form relationships.

Do not’s
• Never insult a Pakistani in public. This is highly disrespectful and considered a direct act of dishonor.
• Do not criticize a person’s preferred political party, their friends or their choices. All these denigrations can cause deep offence.
• In more conservative settings, do not denounce or critique religion; only provide praise and appreciation. More broadly, a Westerner’s interest in religion can be viewed with suspicion. Therefore, avoid being the one to bring up the topic.
• Avoid rushing or hurrying a Pakistani.
• When expressed in English, sarcasm can risk being misunderstood and causing offence.



• Indirect Communication: The Pakistani communication style is generally indirect as they often seek to avoid confrontation or offence. Conversations are usually long and drawn out; people tend to speak in a roundabout way that reaches their point more delicately. This speech style is to be taken with patience, as there might be long pauses. The best way of reaching an understanding is to ask open-ended questions that allow them to reach their answer in their own time and give agreeable and accepting responses that do not directly disrupt the speaker’s discussion. Avoid cross-questioning them as this might bring about an ambiguous response.
• Language Style: Pakistanis generally have exaggerated speaking expressions. They often come across as strikingly earnest and sincere as they tend to strongly assert what they mean through large statements.
• Refusals: Giving a direct refusal is considered rude and may indicate that the person wishes to end a relationship. It is best to go about saying ‘no’ to requests in an indirect way, such as “I’ll see what I can do”. Often Pakistanis reply with “Inshallah” – meaning ‘if God wills it’ (i.e. perhaps, but if it doesn’t happen, it is the fate of God).
• Criticism: Criticism should always be approached sensitively. It can quite easily be mistaken for mild personal offence unless presented in an indirect way. Therefore, always offer any suggestion of improvement with praise at the same time. Direct comments should only be spoken to those you have a longstanding relationship with and in private.
• Group Discussion: Pakistanis tend to prefer conversing in groups. One-on-one communication between two individuals may be approached with trepidation as the directness of it is usually reserved for those that they have a familiar relationship with.

• Personal Space: Pakistanis are generally not concerned with personal space and will stand closer to their subjects than in Western culture. However, more distance is kept between those of opposite genders.
• Physical Contact: It is common for people to be physically affectionate with those of the same gender. For example, men may put their arms on each other’s shoulders and quite comfortably touch each other. However, public displays of affection between opposite genders is are considered to be very inappropriate.
• Hands: There is a separation between the functions of the hands in Pakistani culture. This custom is tied to Islamic principles that prescribe the left hand should be used for removal of dirt and for cleaning. It should not be used for functions such as waving, eating or offering items. Therefore, one should gesture, touch people or offer items using the right hand or both hands together.
• Eye Contact: It is rude to look someone directly in the eye while talking to them. It signifies arrogance and also can be perceived as seeking validation. Lowering one’s gaze is respectful and shows that one is not yearning for attention.
• Gestures: Pounding one’s fist into a hand or stroking one’s beard/moustache signals revenge. Tapping your hand on your head (as if frustrated) can be interpreted as meaning you feel disdain for the person you are talking to. The thumbs-up symbol and the symbol for ‘Okay’ (with the forefinger and the top of the thumb meeting to form a circle, with the other fingers stretched out) can both be considered lewd or rude; however, many Pakistanis have become familiar with their Western meanings.
• Ears: Holding onto one’s ear can signal remorse or repentance when feeling guilty.
• Beckoning: Beckoning should be performed with the palm of the hand facing the ground and using all fingers. To use a single forefinger is considered extremely rude.
• Pointing: Pointing and gesturing at objects and people should use the whole hand or palm. A single finger is considered rude.
• Winking: Winking has sexual connotations and should be avoided altogether.
• Smiling: Pakistanis tend to have quite a serious front and may not smile at strangers often. Don’t expect to receive many smiles until you have gotten to know them.


Other Considerations


• Pakistan hosts the largest refugee population within its territory in the world – roughly 1.6 million. Most of these people have fled the turmoil in neighboring Afghanistan. Consider that some people who grew up in Pakistan may share this refugee experience.
• It is considered rude to give a direct “no” in Pakistan (see ‘Refusals’ in Communication). Therefore, Pakistanis can sometimes commit to more than they can deliver. Understand that someone may agree to complete favors out of politeness without actually having the means to fulfil their gesture. Be mindful that they may not be able to complete a job they promised on time.
• Friday is a holy day for Muslims. Out of observance of this, there is often a break in the afternoon when commercial activities will close down. Friday is still a working day, but expect people to take longer lunch hours.
• During the holy month of Ramadan, most Pakistanis will abstain from consuming food, water and smoking cigarettes during daylight hours. In Pakistan, it is considered disrespectful to engage in these activities publicly or in front of any fasting Pakistanis in their own household.
• Amongst older, conservative Pakistanis, there is little acceptance of homosexuality.
• Pakistanis are generally very affectionate towards children. It is deemed appropriate to pick up or play with a stranger's child upon first meeting them. Parents are usually at ease with this.
• Pakistanis love cricket. It is usually a good point of commonality between them and Australians.
• Pakistanis use the Persian alphabet.


Business Culture


• It is a good idea to arrive on time. However, consider that you may be kept waiting as Pakistanis may not always start meeting proceedings punctually.
• Wait to be introduced to everyone present by a host or third-party intermediary. You are likely to be greeted in order of age and status.
• Offer your business card with your right hand alone or both hands together, and receive another person’s in the same fashion.
• Meetings usually begin with refreshments and small talk to acquaint everyone present.
• Do not expect any decisions to be reached on the first day or meeting of a business encounter.
• If discussion gets emotional or heated, remain calm and keep your composure. Assertive behavior by which you stand your ground and argue your position may work against you.
• Similarly, high-pressure tactics are likely to be unsuccessful and may actually jeopardize dealings.
• The oldest person present may be deferred to for their opinion. If they take a long time to consider the situation, wait patiently for their reply. Silence should not be pressed or misunderstood as impassiveness.
• Appealing to a win-win outcome usually gains popular support.



• Trust is a big factor in Pakistani business culture; therefore, Pakistanis feel comfortable when well acquainted with their business relations. Pakistanis will often ask personal questions as a method of further acquainting themselves and building trust. Third-party introductions are an effective way to establish a trusting business relationship.
• Generally, Pakistanis prefer to conduct their business discussions in person, rather than conversing over the phone.
• It is considered inappropriate to enquire about a business relation's wife or daughters, unless you are very well acquainted.
• 'Wasta' is dominant in business transactions, when bargaining, and frequenting a family-run convenience store. Many small businesses are family-run and rely on loyal customers. This concept also depicts how the family is of primal importance in the daily life of Pakistanis. See ‘Interdependence and Wasta’ in the Core Concepts for more information on this.
• It is appropriate to bargain for up to a 50% discount in most stores.
• Age plays an important role in the amount of respect enjoyed by a particular person; however, family status is also key. Treating older business relations with particular respect is required.
• It is normal to precede a business transaction by greeting the shopkeeper and asking about their well-being when first walking into a store.
• It is better to maintain indirect eye contact when conducting business, as direct eye contact often infers superiority.
• Family-run businesses are extremely common in Pakistani culture and are generally continued generationally as nepotism is assumed to guarantee trust. Aspects of inheritance culture dictate that the upkeep of the business will be bestowed upon the eldest son.
• Business is generally avoided during the month of Ramadan.
• Many Pakistanis are quite casual about deadlines and punctuality, and will often arrive to an event or social meeting late. However, this is not applicable to all situations.
• On the Corruption Perception Index (2017), Pakistan is ranked 117th out of 180 countries, receiving a score of 32 (on a scale from 0 to 100). This perception suggests that the country’s public sector is somewhat corrupt.

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