Often a visit to Africa can be overwhelmingly full of exciting, wonderful and unique things. From its vast landscapes to its bustling metropolises and an array of fauna and flora to see between, a vacation to the African continent can feel like a whirlwind adventure.
While there is already a lot to prepare when choosing to embark upon a journey to Africa, it’s important you also take the time to prepare yourself as best you can for the interactions you’re sure to have with the people who call Africa their home. With centuries of tradition behind them, you’ll make memories and friendships that will last a lifetime if you just pay attention to these signs of respect for African people and their cultures.
It’s in your hands…
A lot of respect and insult in African culture can be conveyed through the use of your hands. And as a visitor to this beautiful land, it’s probably likely that an insult is definitely not the kind of thing you want to go throwing around unawares! As a first tip to keeping things respectful in the company of African people, it’s important that you avoid using your index finger to point. Doing so is considered very rude in some cultures and will probably leave your curiosity unsatisfied when those around you walk in the opposite direction rather than sharing in your delight at the item you’re pointing to. If you do want to draw peoples’ attention to something, use your chin or elbow while verbally indicating what you’d like others to take note of.
Another potential scenario in which you could end up accidentally offending someone is in the case when you’d like to call someone to come and join you. In Western Culture, there is nothing wrong with doing this with your palm facing upwards, but in Africa, this can be considered a sign of disrespect. Rather keep your palm towards the group and draw your fingers inwards to request that the person comes closer.
As in many other cultures around the world, eating with your hands can be considered the norm, however it’s important that you only ever do so with your right hand. The left hand is considered unclean and kept only for use during ‘unsanitary acts’, which therefore makes it unacceptable as an eating utensil in the company of African people.
Silence is still golden
Although Africa is a land with peoples whose cultures are deeply entrenched in the art of storytelling, silence can sometimes take over. While in Western culture, we often find silence to be awkward and painful, it’s considered a peaceful time in Africa, during which you’re able to really enjoy the company of those around you. When there is something to be said, it will be said. If not, then silence will reign. Go outside your comfort zone and see how golden silence really can be during your trip to Africa.
Above all else, respect
Respect is important in Africa and ought to be used towards the people, the land and the animals that live there. When greeting people, it’s important you make a point to do so properly. A confident “hello” accompanied by a heartfelt handshake will ensure that you get your interactions with people off on the right note.
When interacting with African people who’re older than you, it’s important to remain respectful at all times. The cultures of Africa have held elders in high regard for centuries and the tradition of doing so remains steadfast in the 21st Century. Always acknowledge an elder by greeting them in the manner mentioned above. If they have questions or comments, let them make them. If you’re dining in the company of elders, allow them to get served first so as not to offend anyone unnecessarily. Elders hold incredible value in the African culture and should always be treated with kindness and respect.
Keep negativity to yourself
While there may be times that arise when you feel frustrated or upset, airing your negative feelings in public is considered unacceptable in African culture. Anger and frustration must be confined behind closed doors, which can often require a degree of self-control. No matter the situation, publicly shaming someone or offending them is incredibly taboo in Africa and will no doubt sour the positive experience you’re trying to have.
As a continent, Africa is large, beautiful and diverse. A melting pot of cultures, you will encounter things, people and places that are unlike anywhere else in the world. If you do want to make the most of your travels here and immerse yourself in your encounters with the local peoples, then do your research and remember to always act with respect. African people are gracious, kind and caring, and they will always laugh with you and enrich your experience, so long as you give them the respect that they deserve.