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Business Etiquette in Africa

The northern countries countries bordering the Mediterranean are Islamic, and you can expect that the kind of lavish generosity, indirect business discussions, expansive sense of time, and second class citizen status for women found in the Arabic countries is found here too.


Soft handshakes are common across Africa. In countries with large populations, such as Kenya and South Africa, you can expect European style handshakes from the white people you'll meet. In South Africa, handshakes between whites and whites, in the one hand, and blacks and whites on the other differ. Although white people shake the hand of another white person in much the same way as in northern Europe, whites and blacks shake hands with an additional flourish. After shaking the full hand, they grasp thumbs and then return to a full handshake.

In the Muslim countries of northern Africa, you may find men holding handshakes so long that they become a handhold. Do not be offended. This is a common practice.

Names and Titles

You can never go wrong by using last names and titles when you first meet. Academic titles add a great deal of luster.

Business Attire

Conservative is the keyword. In particular hot countries, some easing up on the dark business suit is permitted. And, of course, your host will not be bound to Western dress. He may show up in dressy traditional attire.

Dining and Entertaining

Africans are justly famous for the pleasure they take in eating and entertaining and for their generosity. If you are invited to someone's home almost anywhere in Africa, be prepared - your host will go all out to impress you. In many countries, you will find no utensils of any kind and will be expected to eat with your hands. Remember, in Muslim countries, not to eat with your left hands. Watch your hosts in other countries for similar taboos. When in doubt, do as your host does.


In Jewish homes, a gift of flowers to the host is preferred. but gifts to the host are frowned on in Muslim homes. and under no circumstances, should you give a Muslim a gift of alcohol, a picture of anyone or of any animal or anything made from pigs.

Social Taboos

In most of the Middle East, it's bad manners for an outsider to discuss politics or religion. Showing the soles of your shoes or feet is rude in Turkey and in the Arabic countries, as is openly disagreeing with someone. And in Turkey, fist names are only used when you know the person very well.

The thumbs-up sign is rude in Muslim countries.

Designed by Joseph Boike, Eliana Ibarra & Justin Cox