South Africa: Let’s Make a Deal!


Let’s Make a Deal!

South Africa forms part of an international community and, especially in business, follows acceptable etiquette that will not offend or discriminate against other parties regardless of race, gender, culture and religion. By the same token we all need to learn to be tolerant if people inadvertently follow incorrect etiquette in this regard, when dealing with us. This is mostly due to a lack of knowledge and can often be addressed in a way that will lead to better understanding and relationships.

Greeting and Meeting

White culture is often referred to as a Western culture and is often characterised by people with English as their mother tongue in both South Africa and internationally. Western culture is often defined by peoples need to be recognised as individuals and not as part of a group. Greetings between strangers are polite but restrained and reserved. Strangers often don’t greet. There is not much small talk in business and it is not acceptable if people are too loud. Punctuality is very important and completing a task is often considered more important than social niceties.

In the African culture meetings and greetings are very sociable and friendly. You will be expected to greet everyone at the meeting and respect those in authority. African men traditionally remain seated when being introduced. You can expect a traditional African person not to look you in the eye when having a conversation. This must be seen as sign of respect and not that of arrogance. In traditional societies time keeping is not as important as socialising. Arriving late is not considered bad manners but leaving early might be. These cultures usually speak very loud as a sign that there are no secrets between themselves.

The Muslim cultures have much in common with the Western and Communal cultures. Do not schedule meetings with this culture in their prayer time and also don’t interrupt prayer times. A conversation between Muslim people is generally quieter and physical contact is frowned upon in public. South African Muslims are regarded as punctual but traditionally events and time are regarded as being controlled by God. Avoid business meetings on Fridays.

Formal Business Meetings

At a formal business meeting there is always a chairperson, agenda and minutes from the previous meeting. The chairperson could be either a male or a female. When you want to speak, you must first address your comments through ‘the chair’. You will be expected to ask for permission before you can speak. Do not do your own thing or become irritated. It is up to the chairperson to open and close a subject at a business meeting.


In a business environment, especially in the cities, the Western handshake is more common.
The handshake is firm and the two people who meet maintain eye contact during the handshake.

The traditional African culture has a soft, fingertip handshake for friendliness. Woman may bend their knees showing respect, and both men and women may touch their elbow with the other hand. A modern African handshake indicates cross cultural friendliness and acceptance. This handshake is basically a standard western handshake alternated with gripping of the thumb, and then again the standard western handshake (basically 3 movements).

The Muslim Culture usually has a soft western style handshake and traditionally a man should not extend his hands out to a Muslim woman, but a woman can do so with a man. Don’t use your left hand to greet someone, this hand is seen as “unclean”.

Hindu culture is traditionally a communal culture background and is influenced by the Western culture. These cultures’ handshake is mostly the Western handshake. The traditional Indian woman greets you by putting the palms of her hands together with a slight bow, instead of a handshake.

As a businesswoman always ensure to keep your distance and be professional with businessmen. Never be overly friendly as this can create the wrong impression. If businessmen opened a door for a lady or let them through a door first, they should be thanked politely.

As businessmen, show respect for the women and always treat them in a businesslike, professional manner. Avoid outbursts of chauvinism. Do not make suggestive jokes and comments. At a meeting or network function it is always wise to have your business cards at hand. Business cards have no formal protocol in South Africa. Network functions are used by men and women to make valuable business connections. Do not rush deals. South Africans are very casual in their business dealings. South African’s prefer a “win-win” situation when making deals. Information on company deals, finances, staff information, etc should at all times be treated as confidential.