Although Johannesburg has a rich and varied cultural heritage, there are certain customs that are universal across all groups.
- A 10 percent tip is standard in restaurants. Tables of more than 8 people often have an automatic service charge added to the bill.
- A tip of R5 to R10 per piece of luggage is customary for porters in hotels and at airports.
- In some shopping areas, uniformed attendants will either take a fee or offer to mind your car for a tip.
- It is not obligatory to tip an informal ‘car guard’ for services rendered. If you choose to tip, that is permissible, but informal guards are not allowed to ask for money, either before or after the service is supplied. A tip of R1 to R5 is acceptable.
- When parking in metered bays in the CBD (Central Business District), parking marshals wearing luminous bibs will approach you and ask you how long you intend to stay. You can pay by the half-hour in advance, and pay the balance upon your return if necessary. Ignoring the marshal is a popular local pastime, but, then again, so is imposing fines on motorists!
South African Culture
- The basic unit of South African society is the family, which includes the nuclear family and the extended family or tribe.
- In traditional African society, the tribe is the most important community as it is the equivalent of a nation. The tribe provides both emotional and financial security in much the same way the nuclear family does to white or coloured South Africans.
- The coloured and more traditional Afrikaans cultures consider their extended family to be almost as important as their nuclear family, while the English-speaking white community places more emphasis on the nuclear family.
- While the nuclear family is the ultimate basis of the tribe, tribal and family units are undergoing transformation, often as a result of changes in the economic reorganisation of the country.
- As more people move into the urban areas, they attempt to maintain familial ties, including providing financial support to family members who have remained in their hometown or rural community.
The Rural/Urban Dichotomy
- There are vast differences between the values of the rural and urban dwellers.
- The majority of the whites living in rural areas are Afrikaner farmers who are descended from the Calvinists. Their views on the world are sometimes narrow. At the same time they value human decency over materialism.
- City dwellers live life in the fast lane, which affects their outlook.
- People from Johannesburg can quite often be regarded as having materialistic values, and being more interested in what you own rather than who you are. They prefer to see themselves as urbane and their country cousins as less sophisticated.
- People from Cape Town are very proud of their city, and often appear to have a superior attitude about their city versus the rest of the country. Family ties, long-term friendships and social standing are all important to Capetonians.
- The many rural black communities are still rooted in the traditions of their heritage, whereas the increasingly urban black community combines their roots with the urban environment and international influences that surround them.
- Depending upon the ethnic heritage of the person you are meeting, there are several options of greeting styles in South Africa.
- When dealing with foreigners, most South Africans shake hands while maintaining eye contact and smiling.
- Some women do not shake hands and merely nod their head, so it is best to wait for a woman to extend her hand first.
- Men may kiss a woman they know well on the cheek instead of giving a handshake.
- Greetings are leisurely and include time for exchanging pleasantries and social discussion.
Gift Giving Etiquette
- In general it’s customary for South Africans to give gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Two birthdays in particular (21 and 40) are often celebrated with a large party in which a lavish gift is given. It is common for several friends to contribute to this gift to help defray the cost.
- If you are invited to a South African's home, bring flowers, good quality chocolates or a bottle of good South African wine as a gift to the hostess.
- Wrapping or packaging a gift nicely is appreciated.
- Gifts are usually opened when received.
If you are invited to a South African's house:
- Arrive on time if invited to dinner.
- Contact the hostess ahead of time to see if she would like you to contribute a dish.
- Wear casual clothes. This may include jeans or pressed shorts. It is a good idea to check with the hosts in advance.
- In Johannesburg, 'casual' is dressier than in other parts of the country, so it’s advisable not to wear jeans or shorts unless you have cleared this with the hosts.
- Offer to help the hostess with the preparation or clearing up after a meal is served.
Relationships & Communication
- South Africans are transactional and do not need to establish long-standing personal relationships before conducting business.
- If your company is not known in South Africa, a more formal introduction may help you gain access to decision-makers.
- Networking and relationship building are crucial for long-term business success.
- Although the country leans towards egalitarianism, businesspeople respect senior executives and those who have attained their position through hard work and perseverance.
- There are major differences in communication styles depending upon the individual's cultural heritage.
- For the most part, South Africans want to maintain harmonious working relationships, so they avoid confrontations.
- They often use metaphors and sports analogies to demonstrate a point.
- Most South Africans, regardless of ethnicity, prefer face-to-face meetings to more impersonal communication mediums like telephone calls, emails, faxes or letters.
Business Meeting Etiquette
- Appointments are necessary and should be made as far in advance as possible.
- It may be difficult to arrange meetings with senior-level managers at short notice, although you may be able to do so with lower-level managers.
- It is often difficult to schedule meetings from mid-December to mid-January or the two weeks surrounding Easter, as these are prime vacation times.
- Personal relationships are important. The initial meeting is often used to establish a personal rapport and to determine credentials and mutual trust.
- After a meeting, send a letter summarising what was decided and the next steps to be followed.
- It is imperative to develop mutual trust before negotiating.
- Do not interrupt South Africans while they are speaking.
- South Africans strive for consensus and win-win situations.
- Include delivery dates in contracts. Deadlines are often viewed as fluid rather than firm commitments.
- Start negotiating with a realistic figure. South Africans do not like haggling over price.
- Decision-making may be concentrated at the top of the company and decisions are often made after consultation with subordinates, so the process can be slow and protracted.
- Business attire is becoming more informal in many companies. However, for the first meeting, it is best to dress more conservatively.
- Men should wear dark-coloured, conservative business suits.
- Women should wear elegant business suits or dresses.
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