We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.

In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:

A primer on how to avoid mistakes in

South Africa culture photo

Photo by Di.Malealea

South Africans are generally polite, friendly and accommodating to tourists. Public behaviour is very similar to what you might find in Europe. Heterosexual displays of affection in public are not frowned upon unless you overdo it. Homosexual displays of affection may generate unwelcome attention although they will be tolerated and respected in the more gay-friendly and cosmopolitan areas of Johannesburg (Sandton, Rosebank and Parkhurst), Cape Town (Greenpoint, Clifton and De Waterkant) and Durban.

South Africa is the first and only African nation where the government recognizes same-sex relationships and homosexual marriages are recognized by law. Men generally greet with a firm handshake, while women will do the continental kiss on the cheek. Except for designated beaches, nude sunbathing is illegal, although topless sunbathing for women is sometimes acceptable along Cape Town’s Clifton and Camps Bay beaches. Thong bikinis for ladies and swimming trunks for men (speedos if you really must) are acceptable. Eating places are casual except when otherwise indicated. Eating is generally done the British way with the fork in their left hand and the tines pointed downward. Burgers, pizzas, bunny chows and any other fast foods are eaten by hand. It is generally also acceptable to steal a piece of boerewors from the braai with your hands. Depending on which cultural group you find yourself with, these rules might change.

Indians often eat biryani dishes with their hands, a white person from British descent might insist on eating his pizza with a knife and fork or a black person might eat pap-and-stew with a spoon. Be adaptable, but don’t be afraid to also do your own thing; if really unacceptable, people will generally tell you so rather than take offence. South Africans are proud of their country and what they have achieved. Although they themselves are quick to point out and complain to each other about the problems and shortcomings that still exist, they will harshly defend against any outsider doing so. One thing you need to understand is that South African people are very straight-forward.

If you do or say something that offends a South African, they will tell you so, in a very straight-forward manner. So, you must not be offended if this happens, but just apologise and change the manner in which you do things so that you don’t offend any other people.

With this, you had the primer on key facts about South Africa, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on South Africa food and drinks:

Local food you should try in South Africa and No miss drinks in South Africa.

Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in South Africa? Please comment below.