South African Culture

Greetings

  • It is important to greet everyone respectfully and immediately upon seeing them. This is especially important in rural villages of South Africa, where it is respectful to greet everyone you pass by.
  • The most common greeting is a handshake accompanied with eye contact and a smile. This is appropriate among most South Africans.
  • Handshakes may be light or firm depending on the person you are greeting. 
  • People from rural villages may use two hands to shake/greet.
  • When shaking hands with a person of the opposite gender, men usually wait for women to extend their hand first.
  • People may greet with a hug if they know each other well.
  • It is polite to address people by their title and last name until they have signalled that it is appropriate to move on to a first-name basis.
  • Elders are often addressed in local language with titles for father, uncle, mother or aunt, such as Tata (Xhosa for father) or Mama (Xhosa for mother).
  • South Africans usually like to take the time to exchange pleasantries and engage in social discussion after greetings. It is appreciated to ask about someone’s health.
  • Interactions may also vary depending on the location, with more traditional approaches being used in rural areas and people adopting more cosmopolitan approaches in urban areas. For example, a Xhosa man might greet everyone in a small village, but barely acknowledge strangers in a large city.
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