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How to Make a South African Business Trip Successful

South Africa is the economic hub of Africa, so Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, or Bloemfontein might be one of your business travel destinations. Going on a South African business trip means you need to know some cultural norms:

  • Language: South Africa has 11 official languages. However, most businesspeople speak English. English is the language of administration and is spoken throughout the country. South Africans often use metaphors and sports analogies to demonstrate a point.

  • Appropriate dress: In many companies in major South African cities, business attire has become more informal. For first meetings, however, dress conservatively. Women should wear business suits, dresses, or skirts with blouses and jackets; men should wear dark-colored, conservative suits.

  • Greeting rituals: You may encounter many greeting styles in South Africa, depending on the ethnic heritage of the people you meet. You can never go wrong by using last names and titles when you first meet someone.

    A white, and black person shake hands with a bit of a flourish. After shaking the full hand, they grasp thumbs and then return to a full handshake. Normally, women don’t shake hands; they merely nod.

  • Handling meetings: Major differences exist in communication styles, depending on each individual’s cultural heritage. Most South Africans, regardless of ethnicity, prefer face-to-face meetings to more impersonal media such as e-mail messages, letters, and telephone calls.

  • Dining and entertaining: A majority of business in South Africa is done while dining out, either at a restaurant or in someone’s home. Expect to discuss business before the meal starts or at the conclusion of a meeting. Always arrive on time if you’re invited out to eat, especially in someone’s home.

  • Giving and receiving gifts: If you’re invited to a business associate's home, bring flowers, good-quality chocolates, or a bottle of good South African wine.

  • Social taboos: Africans, as a rule, are religious, reserved people. Women should always dress conservatively, even if they’re attending an evening event. Wearing revealing clothing is disrespectful.

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