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South African Etiquette

South Africans are a courteous people. Etiquette is a way of life. People who do not show proper manners are "common".

In greetings, people exchange handshakes to new acquaintances. Women who know each other well will exchange kisses, mostly on the lips. Men will do this also (even married men) with female friends. This is also common for young people. However, this is not a daily greeting, but extended to those whom you haven't seen for some time. Even though they are physical in that aspect of their greetings, South Africans are not boisterous (they don't even yell across the street to one another, but will wait and cross over to catch you or just wave.)

In the Afrikaans community, older male friends of the family will often be called "Oom" or "Uncle" by younger children. Older women are called "Tannie" or "Auntie." Very close friends of the family might even feel disliked by younger children if they do not address the elders as "Oom" or "Tannie." Once this title is given to someone, it remains for life. Acquaintances should be addressed by the proper Mister or Misses; first names are only used among close friends.

When families visit one another, it is appropriate for the children to greet both the hosting adults before they wander off to play. Adults sometimes bring the hostess a small gift (such as wine or a dessert, like a tart) that can be enjoyed by everyone. Remember that time is not a factor during social visits, so do not rush through your visit.

You will probably never be in a South African home for more than ten minutes before someone brings drinks and a small snack for you. In unconventional situations, for instance, when there is a group of young people at a boy's house, several girls will offer to get drinks for everyone even though it is not their house. In the afternoon, tea time (around 16H00) is usually the perfect time to go visiting and find homemade cookies. Usually the maid or the hostess will offer the goodies. This is a LIGHT snack, not an early dinner of cookies and eating too much is considered ill-mannered. There is an unofficial tea time at 10H00, more or less just a coffee break.

When you leave a South African home, your host will walk you to the door if not all the way to your car. The final farewell completes only after you are stepping into your car or walking down the street. Most people will wait on their stoop (front porch) until you are out of sight before they go indoors.

Many Afrikaans children always use a formal tone when addressing their parents. Typically you might hear a child ask,"Mommy, when will Mommy come home from the store so Mommy may help me with my homework?" Yes, they really do repeat the title that many times. Just ask a South African youngster how he would ask for pocket money and you will get a perfect example of using parental titles well! When speaking Afrikaans, do not use "jy" and "jou" with anybody other than your peers and children or when you are invited to address someone by his or her first name. In all other instances use the formal "u".

Dating in South Africa tends to follow a more rigid approach than in America. Young people begin dating at about the age of fourteen or fifteen in large group activities, such as parties or school functions. As they become older, they will continue to go out in groups, but the size diminishes and the activities change to movies, video parties, or dinner. Single dating is not as common as in the States. Often a boy will visit his girlfriend after school (high school) and will eventually be invited over to spend time with the family. Most boys still ask the girl's parents' permission before taking her out--especially on the first date. When the boy comes for the girl, she will answer the door and invite him in. She then will introduce him to her parents (usually in the lounge or TV room) and they may all chat for a few minutes. This is the parents' opportunity to find out about the boy, where they are planning on going, and suggest an appropriate time to return. As the couple spends more time together, this friendly interrogation dwindles, but the boyfriend is still expected to greet the girl's parents. South African girls tend not to date as often as many American girls do because this often leads to a bad reputation.

There is a great deal of respect in South African society for the country, the people and families. Sometimes this can be viewed as stiff and confining compared to more liberal American tastes. Children do not talk back to their parents--the final word or decision is always the parents' and always `right.' There is little place or tolerance for rebellion in institutions like the family or at school. The feeling is more "It works, so why mess with it?" There is respect for tradition that bonds South Africa to its past.