Bengali is the official language. However, many staff at CRP speak fluent English and there will always be several other English speakers available. Volunteers are advised to spend some time each day learning essential phrases. Bengali classes are held for newly arrived volunteers.
There are several language books available (see reading list below). Prior to leaving home try to learn some Bengali (counting, days of the week, parts of the body, food, directions etc.).
Bangladeshi women wear a sari or a shalwar kameez (long tunic, baggy trousers and scarf). Female volunteers are advised to wear the same, or long loose fitting tops with loose trousers or ankle length skirts.
Shalwar kameez can be bought in local shops and in Dhaka from Tk. 250 upwards. They can also be made-to-measure in CRP, nearby roadside shops, Savar or Dhaka.
Shoulders and bottoms should be covered, though females will not be expected to cover the head. Female volunteers should not wear sleeveless tops or tight fitting or short clothes. Western clothes can be worn in the expatriate clubs in Dhaka.
If you should arrive without suitable clothing, clothes may be available from previous volunteers while you wait for your own shalwar kameez to be made.
Men have no real restrictions except shorts should not be worn in public.
Humidity is very high in the summer so cotton is essential. During the winter (December and January) it can get quite cold at night so vests, jumpers, socks and pyjamas may be useful.
Bangladesh is a predominantly Muslim country and local customs and conventions should be followed. CRP is well used to advising volunteers accordingly.
Females should not visit Bangladeshi men alone in their rooms and vice versa. However innocent this may seem, this would be interpreted as compromising behaviour and is not acceptable.
Students and staff at CRP are discouraged from visiting volunteers in their rooms.
Bangladeshis have closest friendships with their own sex and hand holding is acceptable between members of the same sex. However, men and women do not show affection in public, including holding hands.
Giving to beggars is not encouraged by locals. Know that your work at CRP will make a long-lasting impact appreciated by all.
Bangladeshis often do not have the same concept of privacy as many other nationalities have; they derive security from togetherness. Conversations or the contents of a letter may appear to be for all to share. This can seem inquisitive or rude but would not be intended as such.
Urgency vs tradition:
The western sense of 'wanting to get things done' is very different from the Bangladeshi more ‘laid back’ calm approach, which may be misinterpreted as laziness. Tradition is important and change is hard to implement. It is important to question whether changes are sustainable or will actually make long-term improvements. When words or actions puzzle, question rather than taking offence. Sometimes volunteers feel frustrated at the way things are done and feel a simple change could make all the difference. Do not jump to conclusions - discuss matters in a constructive manner during your stay at CRP. Remember that you are a guest in this country.
Smoking and Alcohol:
Smoking is forbidden within the grounds of CRP. In Bangladesh it is inappropriate for a woman to buy or smoke cigarettes. Alcohol consumption is not allowed openly. CRP staff should not be invited to join you to drink alcohol as this causes problems in a Muslim country. Alcohol is available at the expatriate clubs in Dhaka. Drug taking is strictly forbidden.
Hospitality is of great importance to Bangladeshis. Any request made by a foreigner is likely to be met - even if it is very inconvenient. Please be sensitive.
If you are invited to a Bangladeshi’s home for a meal, try to take a small gift such as local sweets, flowers, or something from your home country.
The left hand is considered unclean so use your right hand when giving or receiving anything and for eating. Because the right hand is used for eating (not knives and forks) a bowl and jug of water is passed round before a meal in order to wash the right hand. However simple a home or basic a cafe, there will always be some way of washing your hands. The custom is to eat all that is provided on your plate, so ask for a small portion while the food is being shared out if that is all you can manage.