A young woman’s tweet (below) which recently went viral has brought up the topic of awkward tourist behavior in Africa. It is clear that a lot of people do insensitive things because they don’t understand or know better. Here is a short list of some behaviors to avoid while visiting an African country.
Tourism should be fun, exciting, eye-opening and even challenging, but it should never be exploitative of you, others, or the countries you visit.
go to africa and dont film a random group of children challenge
— shereen (@delashereen) March 13, 2018
Taking pictures without the permission of the people you photograph
In this age of social media, most of us like to share pictures of us interacting with people of the countries we visit. But especially in the African context, it may appear exploitative, depending on the context and narrative within which it is used. It is always best to ask for permission to take a picture, and when posted, to provide context for what is happening. Although a picture can say a 1000 words, it may not always say the words that you want.
Parading nude on public beaches
Many tourists want to feel free on vacation. For some, this means wearing less or nothing.
While this is permitted in many communities around the world, many African cultures shun public nudity for religious or traditional reasons. Be sure to ask the locals of whatever country you are in about the beach/nudity culture before you divulge in such activity.
Using one’s left hand
Many African cultures find the use of the left hand in handshakes, greetings, eating and to offer things to others quite offensive due to beliefs that the left hand is used for unsanitary purposes. Regardless of whether you are left or right handed, it pays to find out what the culture believes about hand gestures.
Connecting Africa or Africans to animals
The love for connecting the second largest continent by landmass and population to animals has a deep colonial history and is highly insensitive to the traumatic past of portraying Africa as a jungle or its people as uncivilized monkeys. Sure, share your pictures on reserves or zoos in the African country you visit but be sure to also share that this is not all there is to the country you are visiting.
Speaking loudly at local people because you believe they don’t understand you
Although many tourists can get by without a guide in a number of African countries, the nuances in language and diction can be cause for misunderstanding and miscommunication even between people who speak English. Many tourists get loud, frustrated, or derogatory in these cases. Raising one’s voice is culturally insensitive in many African countries and should be kept at bay.