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Afrikaans Etiquette in South Africa: What You Need to Know

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If you’re looking to find a formal Afrikaans school of etiquette, South Africa will disappoint you, as there is none. This is mainly because the country is home to over a dozen different ethnicities and cultures, and they all have their own etiquette! Some overlap, but this is often called a South African trait, such as their gregarious nature. Most Afrikaners will treat you as well as—or better than—you treat them!

Don’t let the lack of distinct etiquette guidelines worry you, though, because at AfrikaansPod101, we teach you culturally-relevant lessons! This will prepare you properly for a visit to the country, speaking Afrikaans.

In this lesson, we look at etiquette in Afrikaans-speaking populations in South Africa and how it’s used in different situations. The Afrikaans culture is a hot-pot of a mix, as said, but it’s mostly modeled after the U.K. English and the Dutch culture. Therefore, a lot of the Do’s and Don’ts are still somewhat British or Dutch, yet with a distinct South African flavor. As a guest, you’ll soon know what’s accepted and what’s frowned upon in South African culture!

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Table of Contents

  1. Afrikaans Etiquette in General
  2. Dining Etiquette in South Africa
  3. Make Use of AfrikaansPod101’s Lessons & Tools to Learn About South African Culture!

1. Afrikaans Etiquette in General

So, what is the meaning of etiquette in Afrikaans-speaking populations?

Afrikaners are, by nature, a friendly, loyal, and gregarious—but also no-nonsense—bunch of people. The latter may be due to their Dutch heritage, a nation known for its straightforward manner. This behavior can be somewhat disconcerting, as Afrikaners may come across as blunt and rude to some. Yet, the upside is that you’ll always know where you stand with an Afrikaner. They tend to avoid playing games, and as a rule, what you see is what you get.

Also, Afrikaners are pretty pragmatic. If there’s a problem, they tend to fix it, no questions asked. They’re usually trusting, and their nature is to be generous and helpful when they can be. Rural communities in particular can be incredibly close-knit and supportive of one another, as well as visitors. In cities, Afrikaners tend to be a bit more reclusive, as are most city-dwellers across the world; but if approached, they’ll rarely turn down someone in real need. You can say they’re somewhat gruff on the outside, but softies on the inside!

1- Do’s

1. Do be Straightforward and Honest

What does all of this mean, in terms of general social etiquette in South Africa? Simply this—do return the favor. Straightforward, honest dealings will win you friends and influence people in South Africa. You’ll find that you make loyal friends when you’re transparent in your actions, and when you make an effort to show heartfelt respect and loyalty.

Women Sticking Out Hand for Greeting

2. Greeting Etiquette in South Africa: Initial Greetings

In terms of behavior, this means that when you meet someone for the first time, greet them immediately and by their title. Allow your newly-met Afrikaner to indicate that you don’t have to address them formally. Look them straight in the eye, smile as you introduce yourself, and reach out for a handshake, especially if you’re male. Wait for the lady to extend her hand first. This shows respect for the other person, as well as an openness in your dealings with them—traits Afrikaners appreciate in everyone.

3. Making Friends & Body Language

If you get to know them better and become friends, the women may greet you with a friendly, casual hug, and men may hand out pats on the back with lots of guffawing and “How are you?”s. Some gregarious men may even hug you too. This may not be great workplace etiquette in South Africa, but in private social settings, a male hug means a lot.

Usually, Afrikaners will be sensitive to your body language, and won’t overstep personal boundaries. Yet, if they start hugging you, it most often means you’ve been accepted into their inner circle of friends. Cherish this, because it’s not easily won, and you can know that you’ve made friends for life. They tend to forgive a lot, but their friendship can be easily lost at any sign of disrespect and/or duplicity.

Party People Laughing Toast

4. Ask How They Are

When you greet, don’t forget to inquire after your Afrikaner friend, host, or acquaintance’s wellbeing, as this is considered respectful and shows that you care about them. Paying close attention to their response and reacting appropriately will go down well and will demonstrate even more respect. Afrikaners like to see and connect with people, and in return, they like to be seen and appreciated (or, at least, respected). This is a fairly common human need, but among Afrikaners, it’s an easily-detectable, important aspect of cultural etiquette in South Africa.

Here’s an AfrikaansPod101 blog post to learn How to Say Hello in Afrikaans; it has some pointers with regards to etiquette, too.

5. Gift-Giving Etiquette in South Africa

Thanks

Afrikaners don’t expect their guests to bring gifts when invited to a social event or a get-together. However, such a gesture is always appreciated, and the more thoughtful and personal the gift, the bigger their appreciation often is. Wine and/or chocolate are common gifts to offer a host you don’t really know.

Taking something pertaining to your culture or country, especially if it’s very different from the South Africans’, is normally welcome. Offering a friendly thank-you card written by yourself in Afrikaans will also very likely win you a lot of favor! Any person likes it when you make an effort to learn their language; it warms the cockles of the heart. Learn in this blog post how to say thank you in Afrikaans!

6. Wedding Etiquette

Regarding South African social etiquette for weddings, South Africa is a country with diverse habits dictated by the culture you find yourself in. Afrikaans newly-weds greatly appreciate, but don’t expect, lavish wedding gifts. Your presence will very likely be the only present they want. But simultaneously, a gift will remind them of your good wedding wishes. In the cities and more sophisticated Afrikaans societies, wedding gift-lists are made available by the bride prior to the wedding, often at the shop where the items are sold.

Wedding Couple

7. Etiquette Rules in South Africa for Expressing Condolences

If an Afrikaner acquaintance or friend loses someone to death, it’s proper etiquette to express your condolences, either in person or with a bouquet of flowers and a sympathy card. Especially if your relationship is close, a call or personal email will be well-received.

8. Hygiene and Dress Code

Hygiene

Hygiene is an important part of both social and business etiquette in South Africa.

Most Afrikaners are appearance- and hygiene-sensitive, especially given the climate they live in. Going without a bath or a change of clothes for days could result in unhygienic personal care. While your host won’t ban you from their company if you’re not up to standard, it’s considered a subtle show of respect when you arrive at any event clean, neat-looking, and smelling fresh.

While they like to dress up for the occasion, Afrikaners aren’t sensitive about ostentatious clothing, and the Kardashians are not huge on their radar. So, as long as you stick to the basic standards of cleanliness, you’ll be welcome in any garb you choose!

Dress code is important and mostly determined by the event. Creative expression in clothing will certainly attract attention, but it’s unlikely to get you ostracized anywhere. So, if you want to make a good impression, don’t arrive in old shorts and sneakers at a wedding or a meeting with your new CEO, for instance.

2- Don’ts

Because Afrikaners are a pretty fuss-free people, there aren’t that many societal don’ts. These tips about the etiquette of South Africa are also apparent and not difficult to fathom.

1. Don’t be Disrespectful or Dishonest

Bad Phrases

Afrikaners don’t take kindly to people who play games with them (except in jokes or sport), or abuse their generosity. This is true of business etiquette in South Africa, and also in social relationships. So, acting disrespectfully and dishonestly will get you pushed out into the cold very swiftly. Also, don’t show any disrespect to an Afrikaner’s family or close friends. They’re very loyal, and if you seriously offend one, you may find yourself unwelcome in the whole community.

2. No Spitting in Public

Don’t spit in public, and take care to cough and sneeze away from people. If you’re sick with a cold or flu, blow your nose often and discard dirty tissues in the dustbin.

3. Cover Your Mouth When Yawning

Don’t yawn with your mouth open. Cover your mouth with your hand.

Man Yawning

4. Avoid Political Discussions

Business

In both social and business etiquette in southern Africa, it’s best to refrain from discussing politics.

South Africa’s history of apartheid and social injustice is all but addressed, and still painfully raw in the minds of her citizens. If such a conversation starts, let your Afrikaans friends speak and listen sympathetically, with sensitivity. If you find the conversation offensive (this is possible in the company of some, unfortunately), find a way to change the topic, or discreetly excuse yourself. It’s always good to remember that every person in the country was negatively affected in some way by South Africa’s political history, and the topic is complex. There’s no easy answer to anyone’s problems.

5. Avoid Religious Discussions

Also, don’t discuss religion, especially if your Afrikaner friend, colleague, or host is a Christian and you’re not. Many Afrikaners align themselves with the Christian faith, and their religion is often a cornerstone in their lives not to be trifled with! Again, discretion and sensitivity are advisable if you don’t want to offend.

2. Dining Etiquette in South Africa

Women Restaurant

1- Table Manners

Table manners in South Africa among Afrikaners are pretty upper-middle-class British—eat with a knife and fork, don’t take humongous bites, chew with your mouth closed, and don’t slurp when you drink anything. Also, refrain from talking with your mouth full of food. Remaining attentive to your companions’ needs at a table is usually viewed favorably.

2- Tipping Etiquette in South Africa

Tipping etiquette in South Africa is pretty standard. If the service was good, 15% minimum is acceptable, while more will be highly appreciated. Less will indicate that you weren’t pleased with the service.

If you feel very aggrieved about any experience in a restaurant or hotel, it would be in order to complain. Afrikaner business owners pride themselves in making their guests feel welcome, and they normally take complaints seriously. Avoid being rude or offensive, as this behavior is very unlikely to draw the best from your hosts. Polite and respectful are good go-to mannerisms.

3- Saying Thank You

Saying thank you is big among Afrikaans people. It’s considered somewhat rude not to say thanks when someone hands you a drink, passes the salt, etc.

3. Make Use of AfrikaansPod101‘s Lessons & Tools to Learn About South African Culture!

Do any of the Afrikaans do’s and don’ts remind you of those in your own country? Are any of them very different? Be sure to let us know in the comments; we always love to hear from you!

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