After being inspired by Debbie’s Trip to South Africa, we asked our Etiquette Guru Adam Barralet to give us some more insight to the life and culture of South Africans. Having been all over the world, Adam has learned a lot of valuable tips along the way. Each week he takes us to a different country and offers his tips on what to expect and what manners are acceptable. After taking us to China, Japan, Mexico, Egypt, France, Germany, Spain, and Greece, today he shares his etiquette tips on South Africa:
South Africa has one of the most diverse countries in the world. English is the language of administration however there are 11 official languages. In addition to the indigenous people of South Africa, colonialism and immigration have brought in Europeans, Indians, Indo-Malays, Chinese and many more. This makes it more challenging than usual to generalise about South African etiquette. When it doubt, simply refer back to my number one rule, good manners is simply ensuring everyone around you feels comfortable. If you are not sure what is appropriate, politely admit it and humbly ask.
Amongst the diversity there are some trends that are generally accepted around the country. Overall South Africans may seem or relaxed than others but they are still quite courtesy-conscious. For example men will often stand when a woman or senior enters a room. When meeting someone for the first time a firm handshake with eye contact is acceptable. Introduction will usually be done in order of seniority.
When you are out and about don’t point your index finger at someone and wag it as this is seen as a challenge. Getting aggressive and raising your voice will not help you as it is insulting, challenging and will rarely get you want you want any faster, if at all. On the other hand be sure not to whisper as this may be interpreted that you are gossiping or speaking about someone. During a conversation, be conscious of where you place your hands as sitting them in your pockets is rude.
When it comes to eating out the customs are quite similar to those in the West, only differing more in rural areas where you may eat just with a spoon or fingers. Eating on the street is not recommended. Remember that waiters are on a low wage in South Africa so tip at least ten percent of the bill.
If dining at someone’s home always bring a gift of flowers, chocolates or find a good, local wine. Contact the hostess ahead of time to see if she would like you to bring a dish. In Johannesburg, casual is dressier than in other parts of the country. Do not wear jeans or shorts unless you have spoken to the hosts. Once there, offer to help the hostess with the preparation or clearing up after a meal is served.
When visiting South Africa the last thing you want to do is feel uncomfortable about the diverse customs and social graces. Embrace the diversity and as long as you are respectful, you can do little harm.