How to Master Business Etiquette in Papua New Guinea

How to Master Business Etiquette in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is located in Oceania. This location is also known as Oceanica which is a region central to the Tropical Pacific Ocean. There are three sub-regions of the area: Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The entire region encompasses the area between Asia and the Americas; this includes Australia and Malay Archipelago. The major ethnic groups native to the country are: Melanesian, Papuan, Negrito, Micronesian and Polynesian. Papua New Guinea has a Constitutional Parliamentary Democracy. Due to the diverse nature of the country it is vital that you learn how to master the unique business etiquette of Papua New Guinea.


The official language of Papua New Guinea is Melanesian Pidgin, or “Pidgin English”, which is the lingua franca. That linguistic term is defined as a combination of a variety of languages which are used as “common or commercial tongues among peoples of diverse speech.” (Source: English is spoken by 1 – 2 % of the country. It is taught in the majority of schools and is mainly spoken by educated individuals. Bureaucrats and business people also speak English. Motu is spoken in the Papua region. The country also has over 820 indigenous languages that are spoken.


With regard to greetings, there are etiquette rules which should be adhered to. Men who don’t know each other commonly greet with a handshake. This pertains to women greeting women also. Good friends and family members generally hug each other in greeting. However, usually refrain from hugging others, especially men and women. A general a nod of acknowledgment or a handshake is common amongst men and women in the business setting. According to, “sometimes people will greet you, take your hand in a hand shake and hold it against their chest.” Apparently, that is a sign of friendship and respect in Papua New Guinea.


When it comes to communication, individuals are inclined to speak directly on general topics. However, the majority are culturally sensitive and easily humbled. Since that is the case, business people should take the indirect communication approach when in the country; especially as it pertains to delicate issues. It is important to stop and chat with others. If you walk by without greeting, locals may be offended and think you don’t care. According to their culture, they consider it better to share any criticisms through another colleague rather than in a face to face conversation.

Business Attire

If you’d like to do business in Papua New Guinea, you should consider the conservative nature of the culture. Women should not wear tight fitting clothing; however, the tropical climate makes it necessary to keep the business attire practical and casual. Women are expected to wear light-weight dresses, short-sleeved summer suits, slacks or cotton skirts. Evening wear is informal and usually consists of elegant cocktail dresses or pants suits. For the black tie events, ball gowns are expected. Men are expected to dress in informal professional business attire with slacks and short-sleeved, open-necked shirts. Evening attire usually consists of slacks and shirts and tuxedos for the black tie events.  

Business Meetings and Punctuality

Locals in Papua New Guinea run on “Melanesian Time”. In their culture, they don’t consider punctuality to be the most important thing. It is also not uncommon for you to be given an impromptu invitation to a dinner meeting or party. Their culture is more laidback and lateness is not considered rude. If you have been invited to a “chiefly” community, be prepared that some of the food will be placed aside for the chief and his family only to eat. The local villagers perceive hospitality as the embodiment of proper decorum. Foreign business people who can reciprocate this gesture will be well received amongst this culture.

According to, local village society etiquette “centers on reciprocity and being hospitable to guests and unexpected visitors.” In their culture, there is something called a “feasting exchange partner”. This is the urban equivalent of colleagues or “wantoks” who are permitted to bring their spouses or children. In the pidgin language, wantok literally means “one talk”. However, figuratively it represents one’s family or close friends. The culture dictates that reciprocity is expected amongst people. Yet, that is impossible sometimes due to cultural barriers from varying income levels.

Loyalty is highly regarded in Papua New Guinea. The culture has cultivated a strong affinity to national pride and obedience to the government amongst the educated elite. However, for the majority of Papua New Guineans, the “wantok system” is how the local villagers operate. As previously mentioned, this system has its roots in the common language of the native clansman, relatives and friends. According to, “the wantok system involves people in an intricate network of rights and obligations extending well beyond the primary family.”

When working in Papua New Guinea in a business capacity, it is important to closely observe the customs and proper etiquette of the country. Learning the appropriate methods of communication and greeting others will help you to succeed in cultivating relationships with the locals. Discerning the difference between the educated elite and those natives in the wantok culture is vital to understanding the Papua New Guinean people as a whole.


Image: istock