Etiquette in South Africa

South Africa, at the southernmost tip of the African continent, is home to close to 53 million people.

Representative of the multi-ethnic society, South Africa has 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, Southern Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. The most popular languages spoken in South African homes are Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans. English is spoken by about 10% of the population.

South Africa is a constitutional parliamentary republic.

Approximately 80% of the population identifies as Christian, including Zion Christian, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Dutch Reformed, Anglican, and others. About 15% claim to have no religion and the remaining population identifies with Muslim, Hindu, Judaism, or traditional African religions.

The currency is the South African rand.

South Africa: Dining Etiquette

Greetings may depend upon the ethnic heritage of the person you meet.

South Africans shake hands with a smile and direct eye contact when greeting foreigners.

Wait for a woman to offer her hand before offering yours. She may prefer to nod.

Business is transactional and doesn’t require a close relationship. However, businessmen do look for a long-term business relationship.

You may require a formal introduction to do business with key leaders.

Avoid confrontation when discussing issues with South Africans.

Most businesses are closed from mid-December to mid-January, Easter week, and Jewish holidays.

South Africans prefer face-to-face meetings.

If invited to a South African’s home, bring quality chocolates, South African wine, or flowers for the hostess.

Wrap the gift nicely to demonstrate your willingness to go the extra mile.

Gifts are opened when received.

If invited to dinner, arrive on time. It is also considered polite to contact the hostess ahead of time to see if she would like you to bring a dish.

Generally it is appropriate to wear casual clothes, however in Johannesburg, casual is dressier than in other parts of the country. Check with the host to ensure that jeans or pressed shorts are appropriate.

After you arrive, offer to help the hostess with the preparation or cleaning up after the meal.

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