Although each country in Africa has its own local way of greeting, one can never go wrong with a traditional handshake (although in light of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, the custom has shifted to bumping elbows), coupled with a smile and a friendly “Hello”. Africans are warm and jovial people and a smile goes a long way here. I have learned through my travels, that the best way to overcome the language barrier is to convey a friendly demeanour and make an effort to learn at least to greet and say “please” and “thank you” in the native language of whichever country I travel to. It shows respect and a willingness to try which is always appreciated, so do make an effort to learn these before travelling.
Respect the traditions
Westerners will never completely understand the deeply rich cultures and traditions which date back to the very emergence of the African people and no matter what your thoughts and views are, be respectful to each religious and tribal belief. Take time to understand and appreciate them and in so doing, you are not only enlightened and enriched, but you are welcomed and held in high esteem as guests and friends. Respect especially the elders for they are the pillars of their communities and the foundations on which those values are based.
It’s all about family and relationships
Again, growing up with Western values, we tend to overlook the importance of family and just simply the relationships we foster with others. In Africa, this is one of the most important traditions we are taught from an early age. Living alone and personal space are practically non-existent in this part of the world. This is something I have witnessed drives some people crazy, like standing on an escalator and having another person stand on the step right behind you instead of one or two steps away. Or sitting on a practically empty bus and then someone gets on and chooses the seat right beside to you. The next time that happens to you, consider this: growing up in single room with ten other people to share with; your concept of personal space might be a little different in African terminology.
Giving and receiving a gift
Never give a gift with the left hand. Graciously giving and accepting a gift with both hands outstretched is a non-verbal way to show extreme thankfulness.
Constructive and positive communication
Always bear in mind that African people are not aggressive people by nature. Be positive in your communication and refrain from showing frustration and anger. Despite the fact that situations may become frustrating, it is critical not to publicly express any negative feelings. Africans have remarkable self-control and are wary of offending or humiliating others in public.
Despite the fact that clocks are used to tell the time, African clocks work a little differently; events flow naturally. Here, we focus rather on the now than the future although emphasizing past events and current occurrences. Scheduled times cannot be rushed, and attempting to do so will only add to one’s frustration. You will learn to be adaptable in Africa. Schedules aren’t always at the forefront of lifestyle, which is closely related to how future-time is less important. If a plan is cancelled or dramatically altered, there isn’t always anything you can do but accept it and keep a pleasant attitude.
Eat with the right hand
You might have heard before that the right hand is for eating and the left hand is for the very unsanitary task thereafter. Whatever you do, DO NOT touch food with your left hand!
Many of us are quite accustomed to motion calling someone with our hands facing upright and waving the hand inwards, however, this is frowned upon in Africa. The preferred way to call someone over to you, is to face your palm down and pull your fingers inwards. Refrain from pointing with your index finger at anyone as this is considered rude (as in most cultures). One way to point would be to turn your head in the direction of your target and widen your eyes.
Clicking your tongue
This is considered extremely offensive to the person in your presence. It voices irritation and frustration to the point of giving up and is considered one of the ultimate offences.
Silence is golden
While we may find silence to be awkward and difficult, in Africa, it is seen as a calm time when you may enjoy the company of those around you. Africans live by the motto that if there is something to be said, it will be said or else silence will prevail. As a result, it’s critical to understand before travelling to Africa that you don’t always have to try to fill the silence with discussion; instead, simply enjoy the presence of its people.