Etiquette in Africa


Etiquette in Africa

As expectations regarding good manners differ from person to person and vary according to each situation, no treatise on the rules of etiquette nor any list of faux pas can ever be complete. As the perception of behaviors and actions vary, intercultural competence is essential. However, a lack of knowledge about customs and expectations within African cultures can make even the best intentioned person seem rude, selfish, or worse.

Generalizations

Although Africa represents an enormous expanse of geography with an incalculable amount of cultures and customs, noting the following points of etiquette can be useful when dealing with people around the world who have been raised according to African traditions:

Expectations

*Many travelers to Africa find their expectations about social life dashed by the realities of much of the continent. In many regions, schedules for such things as trains and buses should be regarded with skepticism. When one enters a taxi, even the expectation that the vehicle can make it to the destination without breaking down might be overly optimistic, never mind believing the driver’s claim that he knows of the destination. [ [http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Africa/Transportation-Africa-BR-1.html Virtual Tourist] ] Many Africans are remarkably resilient in dealing with these realities. Allowing oneself to become angry can be a breach of etiquette that alienates the people upon whose assistance one must depend.
*On the other hand, life in places such as South Africa is more akin to that of places like the United States than uninformed people might realize. As was the case in the United States and Australia, Europeans established their culture in Africa centuries ago and it has largely replaced indigenous culture in many regions. Suggesting that an inhabitant of Johannesburg, South Africa or Nairobi, Kenya comes from a remote region or should worry about lion attacks on the way to work would almost certainly be an unwelcomed breach of etiquette.

Islam

A number of countries in Africa have many traditions based in Islam and share values with other parts of the Muslim world. As such, guidelines regarding etiquette in the Middle East are often applicable to these places. This holds especially true in Muslim majority countries which include many of the West African nations such as Senegal, Chad and Mali. Even though most people would consider themselves as Muslim, many mix it with local animism. Animism is based on the belief that natural objects and idols or fetishes have magical power. Many, whatever their religious adherence, to some extent believe in supernatural forces and that certain people, primarily doctors, herbalists, diviners, or marabouts (religious figures) have the power to utilise these forces. It is common to see people wearing amulets (called “gris-gris”) around their waist, neck, arms, or legs. People consult with diviners or marabouts to protect themselves against evil spirits, to improve their financial status or bring them love, to cure chronic illnesses, to settle disputes, or to place a curse on another person. [ [http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/senegal.html Senegal - Etiquette and Customs] ]

Luck

Certain customs regarding good and bad luck are important to many Africans. Although these might be regarded as superstitions by some, these customs are often tied to religious traditions and are an important part of certain belief systems, even among well-educated folk and affluent sectors of society. They should be respected accordingly.

Tribal and ethnic groups

Africa is home to innumerable tribes, ethnic and social groups, some representing very large populations consisting of millions of people, others are smaller groups of a few thousand. The political map of Africa bears little resemblance to the "cultural map" of Africa, and national borders often cross through territories of people who consider themselves unified. Many Africans identify more closely as a member of a given ethnic or linguistic group than as a member of the nation in which they were born and hold citizenship. Accordingly:
*Oppugning someone's ethnic identity through ignorance or deliberate intention can be a grievous breach of etiquette. Africans themselves may engage in vicious slander along these ethnic lines, even between ethnic distinctions which seem trivial to an outsider, so tread carefully.
*Adoption of a "Western lifestyle" has little to do with a person's affinity with their ethnic group. A lawyer in a three-piece suit en route to London, able to converse in Afrikaans and English, may also be a native speaker of Zulu and as proud and assured of his specific ethnic identity as the Welshman sitting next to him is of his own.
*Conversely, pride in tribal identity means that wearing traditional dress does not necessarily indicate a lack of education or an unfamiliarity with the ways of the world. A man dressed in traditional Maasai attire may have been educated at a university in Canada.
*As many Africans self-identify in terms of tribal or linguistic identity, Black people who visit from other parts of the world expecting to be accepted with a feeling of affinity may be disappointed. Acting on a naïve assumption about such a reception may offend the very people whom one hoped to feel kinship with.

See also

*Africa
*Culture of Africa
*Etiquette in Asia
*Etiquette in Australia and New Zealand
*Etiquette in Canada and the United States
*Etiquette in Europe
*Etiquette in Latin America
*Etiquette in the Middle East
*Worldwide etiquette

References


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