Mind Your Manners – How to Behave in South Africa

South Africa is a diverse and multicultural country which welcomes visitors with open arms, but the friendship extended to guests can soon be withdrawn when simple courtesies are overlooked. Here are the top five things you should know when it comes to the proper etiquette in South Africa.


Just like in the UK, it’s customary to tip waiting staff in restaurants and taxi drivers for good service. The standard amount is around 10%. However in South Africa it’s also customary to tip any tour guides, hotel porters, petrol and parking attendants.

Usually parking bay attendants will be wearing a brightly coloured bib or vest over their clothing and charge anything up to R5 for watching your car, protecting it from theft or damage while you’re away. The vast majority of these workers are honest and reliable, but in most cases they aren’t officially employed by any sort of local authority so if they aren’t there when you return, don’t be surprised. If you are unsure, park the hire car in a designated car park, there are usually plenty to be found, particularly in the cities.

An Invite for Dinner

Barbeques are most often associated with Australia, but the beautiful weather and abundance of outdoor spaces means that they’re also hugely popular in South Africa. When you’re invited to a braii (BBQ) take along whatever you intend to eat plus a little extra for the group. If your host insists that you don’t need to bring anything, take along some wine or flowers as a gift to thank them for their hospitality.


Although the vibe in South Africa is a generally informal, laid-back one, don’t make the mistake of becoming culturally insensitive. Any view which sees the communities here as either black or white or rich or poor is a simplistic and naïve one. There are a multitude of nationalities and faiths in South Africa and the values and attitudes of individuals differ accordingly. The secret is to never assume anything, this is the Rainbow Nation and it will always surprise you.

Female Gender

It’s not uncommon for men to show their appreciation for the female form by either whistling at, or asking a woman to stop and talk a while. This should not be met with any sort of hostility but graciously accepted as the compliment with which it is intended. A smile is enough of an acknowledgement, but don’t feel obligated to stop and engage in conversation.

In some rural villages which have been less exposed to Western gender freedoms, female outsiders are often shown more respect and courtesy than native women. However, in these smaller communities, women who drink or work are frowned up as being ‘less virtuous’ than those who don’t. This does not mean that you have to alter your behaviour dramatically, just be aware of the local behaviours and be discreet about your own.


Unless you’re attending a city meeting or catching a flight, don’t expect punctuality. Time is treated more gently in South Africa and there is often no need to rush. In particular, when it comes to public transport and journey times you can expect to hear the phrase, ‘plus/minus.’ This means that if your tour should get back to Cape Town at 5pm, plus/minus, it could arrive any time between 5 and 9pm. However, this does not mean that punctuality won’t be expected of you! Make sure you arrive on time, and if that means travelling any distance, the best bet is to arrange car hire.