Africa’s Travel Taboo Guide For All Expatriates

Charles Ayitey May 03, 2016

Travelling to Africa can be one of the fondest experiences you may ever have in your lifetime, but there are a few things to note for those of you who are just about to touch down for the first time. Being a continent rooted in traditions and culture, Africa remains one of the most conservative places on earth!

Just as there are rules to every nation you may visit, there are some taboos that are common among Africa’s  many countries and cultures. These social norms may cause residents to frown upon the very acts and practices you deem as casual or even a way of life. You are bound to have an awkward or even hostile experience should you fail to take note of the items listed here in Africa’s Travel Taboo Guide.

  1. Never stop a taxi cab with your left hand. It is considered disrespectful because the left hand is believed to be used for unclean things.
  2. Do not start a conversation with an African without inquiring of their well being. Greeting is a must in Africa, especially among the elderly folks.
  3. You dare not fiercely and openly criticize an African for their behavior, way of life or looks. This is considered gravely disrespectful.
  4. African mosques are not meant for the public but rather exclusively for Muslims. Never enter a mosque unless you are truly coming to pray.
  5. Do not take pictures of animals or dancers unless you have made the necessary payments.
  6. It is insulting to enter an African taxi without first negotiating the fare with the driver.
  7. Desist from wearing skimpy clothes while in Africa. Yes it may be hot but you may want to consider putting on moderate clothes. Skimpy dressing will portray you as immoral in the eye of the typical African.
  8. Never turn on the television set of your African host. It is a sign of disrespect.
  9. Avoid the use of terms like ”negro” or ”black” to address an African. It is considered a serious offence in the continent as you will be tagged racist and disrespectful of the African liberation struggle.
  10. Never point with your index finger while in conversation with an African. This act is seen as offensive to many an African.
  11. Talking with your hands in your pockets is severely rude and pompous – never try that in Africa!
  12. Avoid public displays of affection (PDA), which means holding hands or kissing in public. This is never done in Africa, so you should not also.
  13. It is awkward to be eating with your left hand in Africa as Africans mostly consider the left hand as unclean. If you are left-handed you may first want to indulge the concern of your African hosts.
  14. In Africa, it is disrespectful to rush the greeting process. Never extend your hand first but rather wait for your African host to do so; then bow your head slightly as a sign of humility and respect.
  15. Never put up an obnoxious or ignorant look. These kinds of expressions signify hostility and pride, two traits highly frowned upon by Africans.
  16. Always maintain an open mind during your stay in Africa. Taking sides with specific religions or practices is often deemed as being judgmental and perfectionist.
  17. Keeping eye contact is fine but never overdo it; it may be seen as you being intrusive.
  18. You dare not address an African by his or her maiden name alone! Always look out for their titles (be they academic, religious, political or marital) before addressing them.
  19. Do not make jokes about bombs or security threats; you may be seen as a terrorist.
  20. Never show up at an invitation without a gift. Presenting a gift at any occasion is a sign of appreciation.

Last Edited by:Sandra Appiah Updated: May 3, 2016


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