Whether you’re a seasoned or a first-time traveler, research forms a big part of any holiday planning. Similar to reading up about the best things to do and see, the weather and what to pack, it’s always interesting to do some research into the cultural norms of the city or country you are visiting. Understanding a little bit about a culture also allows you to have a more immersive experience. So, here are 7 handy tips about the culture and etiquette in Tanzania.
1. What to wear
Tanzanians value the way you dress. And a well-dressed person is more respected in their culture. Even the poorest in Tanzania will try their best to dress well. When going out in public, it’s best to dress modestly. Tourists with a bit of bare skin is tolerated, but it’s better be on the conservative side; especially in the light of the fact that half of Tanzania’s population is Muslim. At the hotel, resort or beach you can dress more casual.
For those heading to Zanzibar, remember the the island is predominantly Muslim. So, men…keep your muscular torso for the beach, and cover up with a shirt when heading into town. Similarly, ladies please avoid revealing, skimpy clothes when you’re heading out for a jaunt round town.
2. Greeting People
Handshakes are an important part of Tanzanian social etiquette. If you’re the first to extend a hand, make sure it’s your right hand. And when your handshake starts to feel more like you’re holding hands for the duration of your conversation – don’t panic. Most Tanzanians do this. A prolonged handshake indicates friendship.
Something to be aware of is that your left hand is usually used for toilet duties – so best to use that right hand for eating, greeting, and giving or receiving objects.
From an early age, children in Tanzania are taught to always wash their hands before meals. So, as adults, Tanzanians only start eating after their hands are washed. So, when your host offers you a bowl of water – this is why. It’s for you to wash your hands in.
You’ll also notice that some dishes are eaten sans cutlery, using only fingers. If you’re unsure of how to do this, ask your host. It’s a great experience. Remember the right hand rule – especially when reaching for food on a communal plate. When dishes are passed around for the first time, only take a small helping. This will allow you to accept seconds later, when offered. Once you have received your food, do not smell your food. This is seen as rude.
4. Public affection
Traveling and romance go together like sundowners and cocktails. Our speciality 🙂 But having said that, public display of affection is taboo in Tanzania. Hugging, kissing and holding hands is something that should rather be kept in private. You might see same-sex hand holding in public – which is simply a sign a friendship and culturally acceptable.
5. Taking photos of locals
Please remember to ask before taking a photo of a local person as it is deemed very rude not to. Some ethnic groups believe that when a photo is taken of them, a piece of their soul is taken along with it. So, be respectful by asking permission beforehand, or just keep a lid on the lens.
The official language in Tanzania is Swahili but many people speak English. Having a few key phrases up your sleeve will make all the difference in your engagements with locals. One word you’ll get to know very well is: Mzungu. It means “person who walks in circles’, ‘aimless wanderer’, ‘nomad’ or ‘traveller’. Locals use it to describe Western tourists, and is in no way intended to be offensive.
7. Respect for Elders
Tanzanians consider elders as wiser and more knowledgeable and treat them with higher levels of respect than anyone else. There’s no prescribed way of doing this, but be cognisant of your behaviour when interacting with elders.
If there is anything that we have missed, or you are unsure of, let us know by commenting below or sending us a message on one of our social media platforms.
Interested in visiting Tanzania — but not sure which tour, or agency to take? Easy Travel pride themselves on their 30+ years of experience providing amazing encounters, from safari tours to hiking tours as well as day tours. Check out our selection of tours here!