8 African Cultural Values You Need to Know Before You Travel

When travelling and visiting new countries it’s important that you take time to learn and understand their cultural values as a sign of respect, especially when there’s a language barrier, actions can often speak louder than words.

If you’re travelling to Africa there are certain cultural values you should be aware of before you travel. Don’t forget, to protect you whilst you’re overseas, protect yourself with expat insurance.

Handshake Hello

Greeting people in Africa is one of the most important and most respectful things you can do. Saying “hello” with a handshake is the best way to make a good first impression. Women often go in for a kiss on the cheek but if you’re unsure a handshake is the safest bet.

Don’t point

In Africa, pointing at someone or something is generally considered rude and offensive, so if you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the Africans it’s best not to wave that finger around. Different ethnic groups have different ways of pointing but using the chin or elbow to draw people’s attention to something is a popular way of communicating.


In South Africa, tipping is generally expected whenever someone has performed a service for you. A 10-15% tip in bars and restaurants is normal and then for other services such as petrol station attendants, tour guides, taxi drivers, hairdressers and hotel staff you can tip whatever you think is appropriate according to the quality of service given.

Silence is golden

While we might consider moments of silence to be awkward and painful, in Africa it’s considered a peaceful time during which you can take advantage of enjoying the company of those around you. Africans live by the motto that if there’s something to be said, it will be said but if not silence reigns. So, it’s important to know before travelling to Africa that you don’t have to always attempt to fill the silence with conversation, just enjoy the presence of the people.

Don’t be negative

It’s often an automatic reaction when feeling upset or frustrated to air your negative feelings but in African culture this is unacceptable. If you feel angry or have any adverse feelings these must be dealt with privately and not displayed in front of others.

Respect elders

Elders in Africa are very well respected and one of the main reasons for this is that African cultural values are based on a foundation of the past and present. It’s important to always acknowledge elders and engage in conversation with them. Ask them questions and always serve them first during mealtimes.

You’ll be called ‘Mzungu’

When travelling in Africa there will probably be more than one occasion when you’re called a ‘Mzungu’ by locals. But, don’t panic, it’s not an insult. The literal translation is ‘person who wonders without purpose’ but most Africans these days use it to describe any white foreigner. Locals will often smile at you and wave whilst shouting ‘Mzungu’ but don’t take offence, it’s said in a friendly, joking way.

Gift-giving etiquette

If you’re planning on giving a gift while in Africa it’s vital to understand the African etiquettes when giving presents or gifts. Never use your left hand when giving a gift, you must always give with your right hand or both hands. Although alcohol is a common gift given in the UK, it doesn’t hold the same value in Africa. Don’t bring alcohol when visiting African acquaintances unless you’re certain that they drink it. Gifts should always be wrapped but not necessarily expensive, however gifting children is always greatly appreciated.

Don’t forget to purchase your travel medical insurance or international health insurance before you visit Africa. We also offer cashless health insurance to our corporate customers.

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