Travel Etiquette 101: China & South Africa

When traversing the globe, we should never forget that we are guests in the countries we visit. Acting respectfully of the local customs is not just preferred but expected, so you should be prepared and know which actions are acceptable. With that in mind, here are general etiquette introductions to China and South Africa.


Bow Now? While bowing slightly from the shoulders is a popular way to respectfully greet someone, shaking the person’s hand is also acceptable if that person initiates the hand-to-hand contact. Their handshake may be gentle, so respond in a gentle manner. Also, when meeting a group of people, you should address the most senior person first.

Last is First – Respect and formality are important in China, so address someone with their title and surname, which is their first name when they were introduced to you. For example, international basketball star Yao Ming would be addressed as Mr. Yao, since Yao is his surname.

Saving Face – Public displays of emotion are frowned upon in China, since self-control and self-respect—two concepts behind “mianzi,’ or the public face one puts forth—are held in high regard. If someone appears shy or aloof when speaking with you, it is a sign of respect, not unfriendliness.

Hold Your Hand – Hands do not play a part in Chinese conversation, so do not gesticulate wildly when conversing. Yet hands do come into play when two same-sex friends are in public, for you’ll often find them holding hands. Do not mistake this as a public display of affection, which is not tolerated. Additional hand-related no-nos: don’t put your hand in your mouth, bite your nails or point with your index finger—all considered rude.

Table Manners – Forget what your mother told you, for burping, slurping and talking with your mouth full are all acceptable and, in some cases, signs of gratitude.

South Africa

Respect the Community – Since South Africa is a very multi-cultural nation, citizens form tight bonds within their families, tribes and communities, so never show disrespect to the greater group.

Dress for the Greens – While most occasions call for informal dress in South Africa, one place where jeans are not allowed is at the golf course. Another thing that is looked down upon during a round of golf is skipping the halfway house, which is a small restaurant golfers visit after the ninth hole for a drink and a snack. Even if you’re not hungry, other golfers find it rude to skip this pivotal break.

Voice Volume – When speaking with a resident, raising your voice will make you appear overly aggressive and challenging, while lowering your voice to a whisper will make it seem that you are spreading gossip. Speak at a normal tone if you want keep the conversation civil, and keep your hands out of your pockets while speaking, since this is considered rude.