Do's and Don'ts in South Africa

South Africa Etiquette Tips

Flying to South Africa? South Africa is a melting pot, with people of African, European, Southeast Asian and Indian subcontinent backgrounds, and it is reflected in their culture. Below is a list of South African etiquette tips, but when in doubt, follow the lead of those around you!

1. Dress Attire

  1. DO wear what you normally would wear when in urban parts, but dress nicely. In South African urban cultures, people usually wear typical Western attire.
  2. DON'T wear sneakers or shorts unless it's a casual affair, such as a barbecue, taking a walk, or going to the beach.
  3. DO wear a suit for formal business meetings, and for less formal meetings men should wear a sports coat without a tie, and women should wear smart, yet casual clothes.

2. Table Manners

  1. DON'T cut bread rolls. Instead, break them into small bite-sized pieces on a side plate.
  2. DON'T leave food on your plate when you're done eating.
  3. DO cross your knife and fork on your plate to indicate that you are still eating.
  4. DO place your knife and fork closely together next to your plate to indicate that you are done eating.
  5. DO put your napkin on your lap upon being seated.
  6. DO be adaptable with your table manners; because South Africa is such a diverse country, table manners can vary depending on your dining partners.

3. Tipping

  1. DO tip 10-20% at a restaurant, but check the bill to ensure that the tip hasn't been included already.
  2. DO tip tour guides and bus drivers at the end of the day. Usually it is R10.00 (South African Rand) per person on a day tour. The guide and driver will split it.
  3. DO pay hotel porters R3.00 (South African Rand) a bag.

4. Gift Giving and Accepting Gifts

  1. DO open your gift immediately.
  2. DO use either both hands and your right hand to give or receive a present. Don't use your left.
  3. DON'T spend more than fifty U.S. dollars.
  4. DO give gifts such as cigars, whiskey, wine, a souvenir from your hometown, or flowers. There are no taboos in terms of giving flowers, although carnations are sometimes associated with funerals.
  5. DO send a thank you note. Either a handwritten note or an email will do.

5. Body Gestures

  1. DON'T touch someone's arm or stand too close to someone.
  2. DO keep your hands and arms at your sides when standing or keep them loosely folded on your lap when sitting.
  3. DON'T put your hands in your pockets, on your hips, or cross your arms in front of you.
  4. DON'T yawn without covering your mouth, bite your nails, spit, or chew with your mouth open, audibly sniffle, or pick your nose.

6. Greetings

  1. DO shake hands upon meeting someone.
  2. DO expect women to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek.

7. Visitors Etiquette

  1. DO bring wine or flowers when visiting someone's home.
  2. DON'T remove your shoes unless entering a Muslim home.

8. Business Meeting

  1. DO give a gift to your business associates.
  2. DO use titles and last names when talking to associates.
  3. DON'T rush negotiations.
  4. DO schedule meetings two weeks in advance.
  5. DON'T use slang or bad language in a business meeting.
  6. DON'T be late! In fact, try to arrive to an appointment five minutes early. South Africans are punctual and being late is considered rude.

9. Beach Etiquette

  1. DON'T sunbathe nude unless you are at a designated nude beach.
  2. DO wear a bikini if you're a woman or a pair of swim trunks if you are a man. Men can wear Speedos if they want, but they might get laughed at!

9. Socializing and Conversation

  1. DO be aware of South Africa's racial terminology. Black is the preferred term for those of African ancestry and white is for those of European ancestry.
  2. DON'T call Afrikaners “Dutchmen.” Afrikaners don't consider themselves Dutch.

9. Photo Etiquette

  1. DON'T take photos of government/military buildings or police stations.

9. Safari Etiquette

  1. DON'T imitate animal sounds, throw objects, or corner a wild animal. You never know how an animal will react, and it could be dangerous.
  2. DO listen to the guide. Respect their judgment; they're the expert!
  3. DON'T smoke while on a safari.
  4. DON'T litter. It's disrespectful and can be dangerous to animals. If you bring something in, take it out with you.
  5. DON'T take anything you find while on a safari.
  6. DON'T feed animals.
  7. DO tip the rangers USD per guest each day. In a private vehicle, pay USD per guest each day. Gifts are also nice in addition to a tip.
  8. DO tip other safari staff members (such as valets, butlers, waiters, cleaners) USD per guest each day.

South Africa is a very diverse country with a variety of customs. Keep the above etiquette tips in mind and enjoy your trip to South Africa!

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