How to Show Proper Respect While in Samoa

Samoa is a beautiful, fascinating tropical destination, and it also has an extraordinarily welcoming culture. It's also a culture rich in tradition, and your respect of local customs, especially when interacting with adults or chiefs, will be noticed and greatly appreciated.


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    Take off your shoes while inside the house. This is a must!
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    Be modest. Samoa is tropical, but it's not anything-goes. Avoid public displays of affection, and dress modestly.
    • Nude or topless (for women) sunbathing is discouraged or prohibited, and bikinis and other skimpy attire is frowned upon in villages. In formal situations, such as in church, it's generally preferred that women wear a lavalava (a sarong-like garment) instead of shorts or pants.
    • Sit down with your legs crossed when around others in a "fale samoa." If your legs get tired while you're sitting, and you need to uncross them, cover them with a mat or face them away from everyone else. Exercise care to not point your feet at others while you are seated.
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    Show respect for elders.
    • Never talk to the elders while standing up. It's customary to talk to them while sitting down, and if they're sitting on a chair, squat or kneel down to talk to them. Even if you're not talking to an elder directly, you should not stand if you are in a room where an elder is seated.
    • Say "tulou," which means excuse me, when you pass someone older than you if they're sitting on the floor or in a chair.
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    Bring a gift, preferably food, when you're a guest at someone's house. It's also proper to offer a meal to your house guests.
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    Respect religion. Most Samoans are Christians, and most are very religious.
    • Respect the evening prayer curfew. The curfew usually lasts 10-20 minutes sometime between 6-7 in the evening. The blowing of a conch shell or the ringing of a bell often mark its beginning and end. Avoid traveling during the curfew, and be extra quiet.
    • Respect Sundays. Be aware that most stores will be closed on Sundays, so stock up on what you need. Travel slowly through villages on Sundays, and generally be quiet and respectful. Take it easy.
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    Ask permission before photographing or video recording anyone. Many people will be happy to let you take their picture, but be sure to ask first, and respect the wishes of those who don't wish to be photographed.


  • After eating a meal, it's customary to burp out loud to compliment the cook.
  • Never eat while standing. Always find a place to sit.
  • Most Samoans are proficient in English, but you may come across some people who speak only Samoan. Remember, you're in Samoa, so try to communicate as well as you can with native speakers, and maybe even learn a little Samoan before you go.
  • Do not make eye contact in public restrooms.
  • The Samoan Chiefs speak a separate language known as Matai, so if you need to say something to them, speak to their translator instead of directly to the chief.
  • Children may come up to you and ask for money. Don't give it to them.


  • Never show disrespect to the elders or to other adults. Not only will you be unwelcome, you could be slapped, even if the person doesn't know you.

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Categories: Australasia & Oceania