When in Rome, do as the Romans do! This saying is plausible and self-explanatory. But it should go
without saying to inform oneself about specific manners and customs of a country as well as to act
according to these. Unfortunately a lot of people set their own rules when being abroad. Most of the
times, ignorance is the reason, a sad reason. Sheer arrogance is another reason, an inexcusable one.
So please inform yourself about the destination of your desire, about its religion, taboos, DOs and DONTs.
And always try to keep in mind: You are guest, therefore some lapses are connived at a certain degree but
not all of them.
Concerning conversation: In many countries it is regarded as very indecent to come to the point too straight,
to go like a bull at a gate. So take the time for a friendly chat, to satisfy your vis-a-vis' curiosity,
to find some complimentary words about country and people before getting down to bedrock. In this way you'll
obtain informations which are more honest, more interesting and, first and last, more precise. If you are interested
in subjects concerning economy or health (especially AIDS), please exercise caution as these are classing among the
most delicate ones. Avoid to be the one who first touches upon such subjects. Better try to sound out your conversational
partner by beating around the bush inconspicuously and give him the chance to raise the problem himself. If you are not able
to provoke any positive reaction, please change the topic and do not insist; your questions seem not be very welcome.
Speaking of questions: whenever you are in need of precise information be beware of asking any leading (suggestive) questions
like "Does this road lead to XY?" In most cases the answer will be a YES, although it doesn't correspond to the truth.
In many countries it is considered as quite impolite to contradict or disagree just like that. The better way to ask is:
"How do I get to XY?" Thus you don't force your vis-a-vis on the horns of a dilemma but to answer your question best possible.
Of course there is no guarantee for a reliable and correct answer but it minimizes the risk of misinformations.
Whenever communication fails due to a lack of knowledge of spoken language, body language, including hands, has to be deployed.
But please exercise caution when using your hands, especially the left one, which is considered to be impure in islamic countries.
To use this hand for a handshake or as substitution for cutlery is an affront to every muslim and will severely shake your reputation.
But not only using the left hand rates among shocking behaviour. To wear scanty shorts, tummy tees, spaghetti strap tops or minis,
to sunbathe without wearing a top or to present oneself in tight trousers or a snug dress is a breach of etiquette in most situations.
At the best you'll expose yourself to ridicule, at the worst you'll be liable to prosecution.
As I already said: we're are guests, we're (supposed to be) different and therefore expected to behave adequately.
There are different reasons that cause such expectations: religious principles and poverty as well as a potential feeling of
(economic) inferiority and educational deficiencies on the side of African people. This situation is exacerbated by tourists
who clearly display an attitude of I'm-on-holiday, I'm rich, I'm privileged, I'm better and therefore I have the permission
to behave like that. Only bridging these contrasts with friendlyness, respect and conformed behaviour opens the floodgates
to a cultural exchange that is enjoyable for both parties.
The last chapter in my little book on etiquette deals with the way of taking pictures. The only thing I can say is:
Not at any price. By no means at the price of invading your human subjects privacy, nor at the price of getting into a
tangle of endless discussions, fruitless negotiations and steep financial transactions. Sometimes the best decision is just
to enjoy the performance around you and to keep it in your mind, without camera. Before drawing your camera and pressing the
button, activate your intuition for other peoples privacy. Further informations are to be found on my
There are a thousand more things to say but this would go beyond the scope. Best you get yourself one or more guidebooks and read
up on the peculiarities of your destination.
On the following pages you'll find wide-range informations about recommendable travel guides
www.lonelyplanet.com (general catalogue for Africa)
www.lonelyplanet.com (specific search)
You also can ask your questions or discuss various topics
in the forum of The Thorn Tree (lonelyplanet).
Should you have any supplementary informations or suggestions please don't hesitate to inform me
by mail or share your experiences
with all visitors of my page in my guest book.