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Home » Country Etiquette » Senegal

Senegalese Etiquette Tips

Flying to Dakar? Senegalese people are very friendly, warm, and polite. However, Senegal has many customs and traditions, partially shaped by their religion. Respect the country you're in and its heritage by learning a bit about their etiquette. Below is a list of Senegalese etiquette to help you out on your trip.


Senegalese Etiquette Tips : a lady carries a tray on her head with fruit

1. Dress Attire

  1. DO dress modestly, as Senegal is 95% Islamic. Women should wear long skirts and dresses. Long pants for women are also becoming more acceptable in urban areas.

2. Table Manners

  1. DO wait to be shown to your seat before sitting down for a meal.
  2. DO be aware that men and women sometimes will eat at separate tables or even separate rooms.
  3. DO sit cross-legged if the meal is served on a low table or on the floor. Don't let your feet touch the mat with the food on it.
  4. DO wash your hands before eating. A washing basin will be brought out before you eat.
  5. DON'T start eating until the eldest male begins.
  6. DO understand that food will usually be served in a communal bowl, and it's impolite to reach across the bowl to get something from the other side. Eat only from the part of the bowl that is in front of you.
  7. DON'T use your left hand for eating.
  8. DO sample everything and save room for second helpings.
  9. DO leave a little bit of food left on your part of the communal bowl when done eating. It means that you are full.

3. Tipping

  1. DO tip about 10% at restaurants and hotels.

4. Gift Giving and Accepting Gifts

  1. DO wrap a gift nicely.
  2. DO give gifts with both hands. Never just the left hand.
  3. DO follow the lead of those you are exchanging gifts with. Sometimes they are opened when they are received, sometimes they aren't.
  4. DON'T refuse a gift. It may offend the gift giver.

5. Greetings

  1. DO shake hands upon meeting someone. Prolong the handshake a bit, and ask about the person's health and family.
  2. DO hug or cheek kiss with close friends. Cheek kisses begin with the left cheek, then the right, then the left again.
  3. DO be aware that very religious Muslims may not shake hands with the opposite sex. However in Senegal touching the opposite sex is much more common than in other Muslim countries.
  4. DON'T use your left hand when greeting. If your right hand is dirty, wet, or occupied, you may offer your left hand while saying, "Baal ma camon." That means "Excuse my left hand" in the Wolof language. Alternatively, you may offer your right wrist if you can't shake with your right hand.
  5. DO shake hands with all who are present, including children.
  6. DO understand that the Senegalese show that they are angry with someone by refusing to greet the person.

6. Visitors Etiquette

  1. DO bring a gift for your hosts. Fruit, desserts, or tea are nice gifts.
  2. DO expect a gift from your hosts if you are staying for a long time.
  3. DO be careful about complimenting the belongings in a Senegalese home. Your hosts may feel obligated to give you what you are admiring.
  4. DO remove your shoes.
  5. DO understand that due to water shortages, toilets may not flush. You will have to pour a bucket of water into the toilet in order to flush it. It's perfectly acceptable to ask for water before using the toilet. Water is also used instead of toilet paper.

7. Business Meeting

  1. DO have one side of your business card translated to French.
  2. DO present a business card with either your right hand or both hands. Never the left hand.
  3. DO treat business cards with respect. Don't write on a business card handed to you and make sure to take a moment to look it over before putting it away.
  4. DON'T be too confrontational. Being indirect can be seen as being polite.
  5. DO be flexible.
  6. DON'T rush the greeting process.
  7. DO understand that building relationships is very important.

8. Socializing and Conversation

  1. DO understand that the Senegalese tend to use lots of metaphors and analogies when talking, as opposed to being direct. They believe that indirectness is polite.
  2. DO understand that nicknames are common in Senegalese culture.
  3. DON'T look an elderly person straight in the eye. It's a sign of disrespect. In general, eye contact is not as commonly maintained in Senegal as what you might be used to.
  4. DO understand that in Senegalese culture, crying is reserved for disasters and grieving. If you are seen crying, Senegalese people may flock to you to get you to stop crying.

Although Senegalese culture might be somewhat different than what you are used to, you will learn as you go. Be well-mannered and avoid being confrontational, and don't use that left hand! Have a wonderful trip to Senegal.  
 
 
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