Social Life

Expatriates should be aware that language, customs and conventions differ according to the ethnic group and culture, interacting and socialising. In general however, South Africans are outgoing, hospitable and informal/casual in modes of address, dress and entertaining. Please refer to our Expatriate Guide for more detailed information.

A handshake is the normal form of greeting for business associates and strangers. A light embrace / kiss on both cheeks are appropriate for better known acquaintances and friends.

South Africans enjoy entertaining at home but equally enjoy eating out. Unless it is a business function, both tend to be informal. Home entertaining is typically casual – more often than not a braai (barbeque). The traditional braai involves an almost ritualistic male bonding session with the men congregating around the fire, cooking “boerewors”, other marinated meat, and drinking copious quantities of beer. This form of socialising has now become much more sophisticated and you will often find prawns, fish, beef fillets, kebabs etc. on the menu, as well as traditional South African fare.

If you are invited to a South African home, it is appropriate to bring a bottle of wine and/or flowers - anything more elaborate might embarrass your hosts. Dress is informal, except for a dinner or cocktail party, when something a little more formal is appropriate (jacket for men and a dress for women). A formal dinner is usually served at around 8.00pm and generally consists of a two or three-course meal, with cheese, coffee and port or brandy served at the end. Plan to socialise for a while following the meal. A telephone call afterwards is appreciated. Reciprocity is also appreciated and certainly does not have to be elaborate or expensive. Be warned though, on the whole, South Africans love their beer and wine and may consume more than you are used to!

Business entertaining is rather more formal than social entertaining and like any other international city in the world, there are many different options for business functions – from large catered cocktail parties to smaller sophisticated formal dinner parties, either in restaurants, your home or private clubs. If you are hosting a large business function, written invitations are typically sent, if more intimate a telephonic invitation is more appropriate. Dress is much more formal and unless you have been invited to the business colleague’s home, it is not appropriate to take a gift or bottle of wine. A written thank you note is appreciated.

South Africa is home to a delightfully eclectic variety of cuisine, restaurants and eateries from fine-dining establishments to bistros, deli’s, family steakhouses and fast food franchises.  South African’s love for the outdoors is reflected in the many street side restaurants and café’s in various suburbs in the main centres of the country. We have included a wide variety of options in the Directory, but there are many more and an excellent website with a substantial listing is:

In restaurants and bars, a tip of 10% - 15% of the bill is customary. Unless there are more than eight people at a table, restaurants do not usually include the gratuity on the bill, leaving it up to you to decide how much tip the service warranted.

South Africa’s anti-smoking laws are some of the most progressive in the world. There are restrictions on smoking in public places and all restaurants, bars and clubs are obliged to enforce a no-smoking rule except in designated smoking areas, which are mostly out of doors. Smoking in private homes is at the discretion of the host, though typically, smokers will go outside to smoke.

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