Etiquette

Although there are a lot of rules of social etiquette within Batswana culture, foreigners are not expected to know or abide by most of them. Of course, you should maintain common sense – wearing shorts and T-shirts to church, for example, won’t endear you to anyone. In general, you should always err on the side of modesty when interacting with locals. For instance, despite the way people dance at the club, Batswana traditional culture frowns on excessive public displays of affection between couples, married or not. Even public hand-holding is pretty rare. With that said, Batswana, who are used to riding in cramped combis (minibuses) and growing up in rural villages, may not have the same sense of personal space you possess, and might think nothing of resting a hand on your leg on a crowded bus.

Greetings are an important formality in Botswana and should not be overlooked. You tend to get better answers to your questions if you greet people with a friendly ‘Dumela’, followed by a ‘rra’ (for men) and ‘mma’ (for women). It is also important to emphasise that a two-hand handshake (ie your left hand on your elbow while you shake) is preferable to a Western-style handshake. Putting your left hand on your elbow is also important when money is changing hands.

Because the national culture is so defined by hierarchy, it is not common for children to question or talk back to parents, or for underlings to contradict overlings. This shouldn’t affect most visitors to the country, but it may explain why lodge or other employees are so deferential towards their bosses and sometimes unwilling to offer an opinion that may contradict their superiors.