Africa Travel Tips
Africa is an amazing region with dozens of ethnic groups with different languages and culture. With such a vast variety of culture it's important to have intercultural awareness and the following etiquette tips are basic rules to assist you in your travels.
With such a large and diverse country there is a shared etiquette across the continent: African people are known for their generosity and passion for entertaining.
Respect your elders
This kind of behaviour is expected in Africa, and should be expected across the world. If approaching an older person people usually bow or nod the head in respect. Avoid disagreeing with an older person in public as this is seen as shaming them and is frowned upon.
The left hand should stay by your side
The left hand is associated as being used for personal hygiene (you wipe with your left hand after using a squat toilet) and therefore you should always take and pass things with your right hand. Do not shake hands or even wave "Hello" or "Goodbye" with your left hand.
Don't leave hands in your pockets
This is considered a rude gesture on many areas of Africa, particularly in South Africa.
Don't point with your finger
This is considered an obscene gesture.
Don't show the bottom of your feet
People with Muslim faith consider feet as the dirtiest part of the body because it touches the ground. Therefore, don't ever show the soles of your feet (or even shoes!) and sit with your feet flat on the floor. Don't touch someone else with your foot. In South African Muslim homes you will be requested to remove your shoes before you enter so ensure that you don't expose your bare sole during the visit.
Be conscious that Ramadan is practiced by those of Islamic faith
Africa has areas rich in Muslim tradition who typically fast from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan lasts for a lunar month and to ensure you do not cause offense do not eat in front of people practicing Ramadan during the day.
If visiting a home, try not to admire an item too much
If you compliment an item, for example a clock or a painting in someone's home, try not to continually show a fondness for it as the host will feel obliged to offer it to you to represent a great sacrifice.
Bring a small gift of appreciation if invited to a home
Give a gift from your home country, a box of chocolates or pastries. Expensive gifts are not recommended.
Do not take photos of the military, government buildings or police stations. Always ask for permission before you take photos of the locals. Children in African towns often love having their photos taken and enjoy seeing their pictures on a digital camera.
Basic ettiquite while on safari
Listen to your guide and be respectful. Do not smoke cigarettes whilst on safari. Do not feed the animals or try imitating their noises. It is good etiquette to tip the safari guide and never take anything you may find on the safari (ie. local fauna, bones, rocks etc.).
Expect to haggle at the markets
When you are offered a product at a certain price it's almost certain that you will be paying at least double the actual value of the item. Friendly banter and bargaining with the vendor will add some spice into their day and hopefully get you a better price.
Entering a mosque
Always enquire with the locals about visiting sacred buildings. Some mosques in Africa do not allow people into the mosque if they are not Muslim. Also females may not be allowed in some mosques.
Prepare before you go
Before you go, spend some time researching the area you'll be visiting. This will ensure you will have a better idea of what to expect when you get there. North, South, East and West of Africa may have rules of etiquette that vary depending on many factors including religion, demographics and population.
Find out more by visiting smartraveller.gov.au's page on Africa.